BEWARE THE “POSTSEASON” STATISTIC IN BASEBALL

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

It’s that time of year again.  You’ll see inflated “postseason” statistics or, rather, you’ll see the deflated World Series statistics of the old-timers.  They will be presented to you as the gospel, as if all postseason players and managers were created equal.  It’s nonsense, of course.  But that won’t stop the networks from bombarding you with it throughout the baseball postseason.

    

The first one this year was shown last week on ESPN.  Maybe you saw it:  Joe Torre, by managing the Dodgers into the playoffs, is second on the “All-Time Postseason Consecutive Appearances” list.  Bobby Cox (1991-2005) is first with 15 consecutive appearances.  Torre, with 13, is second.  Then, according to the announcer, Mike Hargrove (1995-99) and Casey Stengel (1949-53) were a distant third with 5 each.

    

Scary stuff, no?

    

As most of you know, once upon a time, baseball was a sport for winners only.  Until 1969, only the winner of the pennant (there are no more pennant races nowadays) played in the World Series.  In 1969, the two “division winners” in each league played each other for the right to go to the World Series.  Then, over time, baseball lost its mind and created more divisions and, then, the dreaded wild card and, for the first time, baseball became like other sports; that is, you didn’t have to finish first to win the championship.

    

Virtually everyone has jumped on board for the great excitement the wild card leads to; so many teams are still in the running in September for a postseason berth that it makes baseball more exciting.

    

And, of course, they’re right.  But never forget, the beauty of baseball for decades was that winners won and losers went home.  But not anymore. 

    

Hey, why not have 10 three-team divisions?  Better yet, why not have 15 two-team divisions?  Then you could have the 15 winners make the postseason and have the 15 losers vie for the wild card, the 16th playoff spot.  Think of the excitement!  Think how many teams would still have a chance for the “postseason!”  Think of the money the owners would make!

    

Back to the postseason stat.  Here’s the problem with the managers.  Stengel, as many of you know, won five World Series in his five consecutive “postseason” appearances.  Bobby Cox is one for 15, Hargrove zero for five.  Torre, of course, is four for 13.

    

If you’re scoring at home, that means that Stengel has as many World Series wins in his five consecutive appearances as the other three have COMBINED in their 33.  And, of course, Stengel would go on to win two more World Series later in the 1950s.

    

Now I hear many of you screaming that it was easier to win the World Series back in the pre-1969 days.  And that’s true, of course.  The regular season meant everything back in the good old days.  Now, it doesn’t mean as much, as you can struggle around .500 (as Torre’s Dodgers did this year) and still, with a late spurt, win the division.  Or, you can sneak into the Wild Card.

    

But, when you’re talking about any statistic in the postseason, today’s players and managers have a much greater advantage.  For example, the 1954 Yankees, coming off five World Series WINS in a row, won 103 games.  But they didn’t make the “postseason” because the Cleveland Indians won 111 games.  Maybe they could have won the “division” if they had divisions back then.  They would have, at least, won the Wild Card back then, don’t you think?  Then (1955-58) the Yankees won four more pennants in a row.

    

In 1959, the Yankees finished third.  Maybe Chicago and Cleveland, who finished far ahead of them, would have been in one division and the Yankees would have won the other.  Maybe the Yankees would have won the Wild Card.  Then (1960-64) the Yankees won five more pennants in a row.      

    

Hopefully, you get the point.

    

And, while it’s easier to make the playoffs now but harder to win the World Series today, the argument cuts both ways.  For example, in 2001, the Seattle Mariners were the Cleveland Indians of 1954.  The Mariners won 116 regular season games (playing eight more than the 1954 Indians).  The Yankees were never close to them in the regular season, winning only 95 games.  If that was the 1950s, the Yankees would have been about 20 games out of first (and the postseason).

    

Again, you get the point.

    

So, please keep in mind, when you’re bombarded with “postseason of all-time” stats, they were achieved under a different set of rules.  Manny Ramirez hit his 25th postseason home run Wednesday night and good for him.  But he’s hit only four on the biggest stage, the World Series.  Bernie Williams?  He’s hit 22 in the postseason, but only five in the World Series.

    

Those World Series numbers pale in comparison to the 18 that Mickey Mantle hit in the World Series or the 15 that Babe Ruth hit, or even the 12 that Yogi Berra hit or the 11 that Duke Snider hit in the World Series.

It would be best if TV and radio, internet writers and newspapers always publish two lists when discussing any postseason record: one for the World Series stat and one for the postseason stat.  Then people can compare, to a better degree, the greatness of the old-timers versus the greatness of the modern day players on the greatest stage, the World Series.

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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