Ballparks in the Bigs

I always find it pretty cool when, in any sport, two teams in the same league and city play right around the corner from one another. In England’s top-tier *football* league, for example, Liverpool and Everton play their home games less than one mile apart from one another. Part of what fascinates me there is the mutual distaste for another that fans of both sides possess. The same could be said for the Manchester United / Manchester City rivalry, as well as Arsenal / Tottenham Hotspur, though their respective stadiums are 4-5 miles distant.

In the US, we have relatively few examples of such apparent vitriol combined with proximity. Though both of the NBA’s Los Angeles teams share the Staples Center, but the running joke there is that denizens of that area simply support whichever team is better. In the Eastern Conference, the Knicks / Nets has been fairly humdrum in recent years, even with Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center less than six miles apart, due largely to a lack of winning on one or both sides.

In the NFL, the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium, but due to the current schedule configuration, the two teams only meet during the regular season once every four years.

MLB, meanwhile, has been able to foster cross-town and regional rivalries, even with teams playing in separate leagues, thanks in no small part to interleague play and the hefty 162-game schedule. While there is undoubtedly some animosity (or, perhaps more accurately, jealousy) between Dodgers and Angels fans, and Giants and A’s fans, Yankees / Mets and Cubs / White Sox generally tends to ratchet the tension up just a little bit more.

Indeed, both New York and Chicago, among a handful of other cities, have hosted major league-caliber teams since the advent of professional baseball. For the purpose of this post, I’ve included teams from the respective cities that played in the American Association (1882-1891), Union Association (1884), Players’ League (1890), and Federal League (1914-1915).

You may also notice that, while I did list the ballparks that hosted two founding members of the National League under the “MLB Parks” header, I didn’t do so for others. I elected to list the Chicago White Stockings (modern-day Cubs) and the Boston Red Stockings (Atlanta Braves) as MLB parks because those teams are still active and playing in the National League, despite their confusing nicknames. Three other teams in the 1876 NL also bore names that were later adopted by teams to join the NL or AL, but I chose to list them as non-MLB parks (as well as two others), because none lasted more than a few seasons:

  • Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia: Expelled in 1876. No relation to the Oakland, nee Kansas City, nee Philadelphia Athletics.
  • Cincinnati Red Stockings: Expelled in 1880. No relation to the 1881 club that began play the following season in the AA–today’s Reds.
  • St. Louis Brown Stockings: Folded in 1877. No relation to the St. Louis Browns that relocated from Milwaukee in 1902 and moved to Baltimore after 1953, or to the present-day Cardinals who began play in the AA in 1882 as the Browns, as well.
  • Milwaukee Grays: “Promoted” from the League Alliance in 1878, only lasted that one season.
  • New York Mutuals: Joined the NL in 1876 but were expelled after the season for financial reasons.

Naturally, I started right here in St. Louis. From 1902-1920, the Cardinals and Browns played practically right around the corner from one another on St. Louis’ north side, at Robison Field and Sportsman’s Park, respectively. What actually made St. Louis’ major league ballpark history a little less visually-compelling than others was the fact that the Cardinals and Browns shared a home (Sportsman’s Park) for over 30 years, and that the Cardinals have been the sole tenant in a one-team town ever since. As such, the city last had two major league-caliber clubs playing in separate stadiums simultaneously in June 1920.

On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to see the present-day neighborhoods and businesses occupying these former fields of dreams. Do yourself a favor and click the “View larger map” option; it opens in a new window, and isn’t quite so claustrophobic as the preview.

 

St. Louis

Again, not the most intricate map. Keep reading for those; you can probably guess which one has the most pinpoints. Nevertheless, interesting to see how teams and/or the hub of the game sort of “grew up” in one part of a town, and ended up migrating elsewhere.

Incidentally, all five teams in the NL Central today play in cities with long, proud traditions of professional baseball (well, maybe not so much the pride thing in Chicago’s Friendly Confines, but definitely loooooooooong). The Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds all got their respective starts in the AA and jumped to the NL no later than 1892. The Cubs, of course, are founding members of the Senior Circuit, and even Milwaukee, though it didn’t acquire an MLB club for two seasons or more until the Boston Braves moved to town in 1953, fielded top-tier teams from 1878-1901.

 

Milwaukee

Clearly a city proud of its adult beverage-producing heritage. Keep in mind how there seems to be a general lack of cohesion between the stadiums, aside from Miller Park being built next door to old County Stadium.

 

Pittsburgh

Two things I learned while reading up on the Steel City: (1) After calling the municipality of Allegheny home for their first 25 years, the Pirates moved in to Pittsburgh proper two years after that city absorbed their former home north of the intersection of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers; and (2) while they played in Forbes Field, some four miles and a river away, for over sixty years, the club moved back to almost the same spot where they played before when Three Rivers Stadium opened in 1970.

 

Cincinnati

Interesting how the Reds played in several stadiums within a few blocks of one another for a period just short of 90 years, then moved a couple of miles away to be closer to the river. It’s like the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds all got together at some point in the ’60s and decided baseball was better played near a river that drained in to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Chicago

Pretty crazy how, though the Cubs have used it for 100 years now, Wrigley Field looks like an outlier in Chicago ballpark history. The bizarre twist, given the north side / south side rivalry in the Second City, is that the Cubs actually played basically right on top of the modern-day site of the White Sox’ US Cellular Field for a couple seasons in the 1890s. Just imagine how many stadiums would be on this map if Comiskey and Wrigley didn’t last 80 and 100 (and counting) seasons, respectively!

 

Cleveland

Pretty impressive that a team founded in 1901 is still only on its third stadium. For sake of comparison, the Mets (1962) are also on their third, and the Expos/Nationals franchise (1969) is on its fourth (fifth if you count the 44 games they played in Puerto Rico in 2003-04). I also elected to count the Blues’ and Spiders’ first homes as non-MLB since neither survived in to the 20th century. It just happened to work out that the latter’s primary home, League Park, also hosted the Indians for 46 seasons.

Out of the Rust Belt and in to the Beltway!

 

Baltimore

Much like Milwaukee’s Brewers, here’s a city proud of its ornithological connection. So, I guess that’s something. I like how the old American Association / National League O’s pretty much stayed around the same area, near Johns Hopkins University, building and occupying three stadiums in a radius of a few blocks, in the span of about a decade. Also, no connection between the AA / NL Orioles, the AL Orioles (who moved to New York and became the Highlanders, and eventually Yankees, in 1903), and the *other* AL Orioles, who moved from St. Louis in 1954.

 

Washington, D.C.

The capital’s professional diamonds seem far-flung, but that should be expected from a rapidly-expanding city that built stadiums for three different franchises in three different time periods: the original Senators in 1901; the expansion Senators in 1962 (they played in the former’s home in their inaugural season, 1961); and the Nationals in 2008 (who used the 2nd Senators’ home for their first few seasons in town.

Side note: That must have been weird for members of the 1961 Minnesota Twins who had been with the franchise the previous season–Harmon Killebrew, for example. They played 1960 in Washington at Griffith Stadium as the Senators, then played eight games there the following season as the Twins against the expansion Washington Senators (present-day Texas Rangers).

Side side note: Seriously. We can’t come up with better nicknames than “Senators” or “Nationals?” Eight major league clubs have called the nation’s capital home, yet only one bore a different nickname–the short-lived Statesmen (1891) of the American Association. By my count, the score is currently Nationals 4, Senators 3.

And from the capital to the hub of places intimately associated with the founding of our beloved country…

 

Boston

I was actually a little surprised at how comparatively boring Boston’s map looks, considering the Braves played there for over 75 years and the Red Sox, going on 116. The unique thing here is, each team only occupied two stadiums while calling Boston home. Even cooler, I think, is that, from 1901-1911, the two teams played about a home runs’ distance apart. The Sox moved less than a mile northwest to Fenway Park in 1912; the stadium the Braves occupied from 1915 until their departure following the 1952 campaign was still just over a mile away from Fenway. Also, it’s a good thing, given the city’s apparent penchant for the color red when affiliated with baseball, they didn’t name the *other* club the Red Braves. That would’ve been pretty racist.

 

Philadelphia

Another city where two MLB franchises played mere blocks apart–the AL Athletics moved in to Shibe Park less than a half-mile from the NL Phillies’ Baker Bowl in 1909; the two teams shared the former from 1938-1954, after which the Athletics departed for Kansas City. I like how seven of the ten stadiums depicted were all less than two miles apart (albeit not concurrently). Then the Phillies got the same idea several other teams did in the ’60s, and moved in to The Vet, a cookie-cutter stadium near a river, in 1971. Citizens Bank Park, their current home, is right next door. That’s almost literally the same story as the Reds.

 

New York

The pièce de résistance, the Big Apple.

For starters, the Giants and Yankees shared Polo Grounds III (the Giants’ home for over twenty years prior) for a decade until 1923, when the Yankees opened the aptly named Yankee Stadium directly across the Harlem River. You may recall, from a previous post, that the Yankees and Giants contested three consecutive World Series (1921-1923) without bothering to invite anyone else. The first two, then, were played solely at the Polo Grounds, and the third required quite the road trip. They would contest three additional World Series (1936, ’37, and ’51) before the Giants skipped town for the Bay Area following the 1957 season; the Yankees, naturally, won all three.

polo13963

The proximity of those two teams for over 50 years (the Yankees began life in New York on the island of Manhattan, still less than a mile from the Polo Grounds) makes you wonder if the Dodgers, 11+ miles away down in Brooklyn, ever felt like the third wheel. On the other hand, with all the intra-city World Series that were played in New York from 1921-1957 (13 over those 37 years), perhaps it’s the rest of the baseball world that should have felt like they were being left out.


 

If you feel like I missed some important ones, don’t worry, I didn’t. The Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park is only their third stadium, and the city only had one other major league club in its history (the NL Wolverines, from 1881-88). The Twins, too, are on their third. With neither Minneapolis nor Detroit hosting two teams simultaneously, it didn’t make for quite as visually-appealing a map.

The Bay Area, while still accommodating two teams, hasn’t seen significant stadium turnover. The A’s are still in their original home, and the Giants are only on their third. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers and Angels have been playing in their current abodes since 1962, which is pretty crazy considering everyone out their gets a new face, hair, and boobs every six weeks or so.

If there’s one you want me to do, feel free to mention it in the comments, and send me money.

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Wild card: It’s raining cats and dogs (nicknames)

It occurred to me several years ago that there’s a whole lot of unoriginality in college sports when it comes to institution nicknames and mascots. Simply perusing the list of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, still I-A if you’re an old fogey like me), you see quite a few Tigers, Wildcats, and other felines.

Teams, fortunately, have avoided the “House Cats” and “Kittens” monikers to date.

Canine nicknames, while not as prevalent, are still used by a handful of teams, as well. As best as I can tell, 31 of the 128 teams–nearly one in every four–playing at the FBS level this season possess nicknames of cats and dogs, albeit not of the domesticated sort. If you add in birds and bears, you start closing in on half of the division. But for the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick with cats and dogs for now.

Some FBS conferences are worse offenders than others when it comes to derivative nicknames. Only two of the fourteen teams in the Big Ten; three of fourteen in the ACC; one of ten in the Big 12; two of thirteen in C-USA; two of twelve in the MAC and Pac-12; three of twelve in the AAC; and three of eleven in the MWC use canines or felines. In the Sun Belt, four of eleven programs are transgressors, but the Southeastern Conference takes the cake. Six of the fourteen member institutions make use of relatives of dogs or cats for their nickname. Even worse, two of the four schools in all of FBS known as “Bulldogs” are in the SEC, as well as three of the five “Tigers.” Worse, still, is the fact that two other teams, while possessing nondescript nicknames, still employ dogs as their mascots.

Given the prevalence of cats and dogs in the SEC, I thought it would be fun to look at how many intra-conference games feature at least one such school. I compiled a list of the 2015 conference schedule. In it you’ll see, by week, feline (Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, and Mizzou) and canine (Georgia and Mississippi State) schools highlighted in the two shades of blue; nondescript-nickname-with-canine-mascot schools (Tennessee and Texas A&M) in red; and all others (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Vandy) in orange.

In the fourth column, I marked an ‘x’ by all games featuring at least one canine or feline institution. The ‘y’ signifies those match-ups between Tennessee or A&M and one of the innocent parties, as it pertains to this topic. The ‘o’ denotes games between two teams from the last category.

On the season, the fourteen-team SEC contested 56 games–eight games by each school. For starters, ten games were between both schools of the canine or feline persuasion. Fortunately, only one of these was between two identically-name schools: Auburn at LSU on September 19. Thanks to the scheduling gods, East division Mizzou avoided both West division Tigers–they play Arkansas every year, and Mississippi State this year. And Mississippi State (Kentucky and Mizzou) and Georgia (Alabama and Auburn) were not drawn against one another, either.

Not too crazy, right? Thirty-eight included at least one school named after a cat or dog. And if you throw Tennessee and A&M into the mix, only eight conference contests in 2015 featured two teams with slightly more original nicknames. Indeed, of those six schools, no other FBS program uses the same nickname. That means 48 of 56 games played within the SEC this season featured at least one team bearing the wholly unoriginal Tigers, Wildcats, or Bulldogs moniker or employing a live dog as its mascot.

Fortunately, the only hope for a cat or dog to make it to the SEC title game was dashed when LSU lost to Arkansas last night, while Alabama destroyed Mississippi State. Florida already clinched the SEC East and a trip to the Georgia Dome a week ago; only the Crimson Tide and Ole Miss Rebels could possibly do so now from the West. Ultimately, though, it’s just a tiny bit annoying that several teams, despite unique origin stories (well, despite Mizzou and LSU both being named after Civil War-era regiments), arrived at similar nicknames.

Managers as position players

When I took a look at the League championship series a few weeks ago, I noted that three current managers–Mike Scioscia, Ned Yost, and John Gibbons–all played professional ball, primarily, at catcher. That stood out to me, as I am also fully aware of Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny’s former position. And while it certainly makes sense that former catchers would make adequate managers due to the amount of game-planning and strategy they used as players, relative to their teammates, as well as interaction with the pitching staff and umpires, I was curious just how many major league managers had significant experience as a backstopper, whether in the bigs or minors.

I started with managers who spent at least a month at the helm of an MLB franchise for at least a month during the 2015 season, whether as the manager, one with the “interim” tag attached, or one who got the ax fairly quickly. I also listed those who had been fired, quit, or retired going back to 2010, just for a broader sense. Overall, I counted 71 men who met those criteria–34 who lasted at least a month in 2015 alone, plus another 37 who managed at some other point between 2010-2014 but no longer held the same title.

You’ll notice, in the “position” column, that several managers have multiple positions listed. While almost every man on the list played at least one game in another capacity, I’ve singled out those who played similar quantities of games at numerous positions. I’ve made brief notes pertinent to any such splits involving catchers, explaining why I chose to count them as such. Joe Torre, for example, played almost exclusively at catcher when with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves; when he was traded to St. Louis, that position was occupied by Tim McCarver, so he moved to first base. The following season, another trade forced him to spend most of his time at third base, where he spent most of the rest of his time as a Cardinal.

Catching: so easy, a caveman could do it.

In 2015 alone, 33 of the 34 managers played professional ball, in the very least, at the minor league level. Dan Jennings, who moved from the Marlins front office, where he had served as general manager since 2013, to the bench after the club canned Mike Redmond (former catcher!), is the only one this season and, indeed, only one of two since 2010 with no playing experience. Altogether, fourteen of this past season’s big league managers primarily played catcher in Major or Minor League Baseball. No matter how you compare that to the composition of an average MLB team–two or three catchers on a 25-man roster (8-12%), or one of nine defensive players on the field at a time (11%)–the 41% rate there is exceptional.

Even by expanding the range of years, there have still been an abnormally high number of managers who played as catchers in recent years. Twenty-four of the 71 (34%) managers counted spent at least the plurality of their time in the majors or minors as a catcher. So while it might not be so unreasonable to expect one of every nine managers to have played catcher at some point, the reality is that one of every three has done so.

But what about other positions? I mean, starting pitchers are divas and pitchers, in general, have trouble relating to position players, so they might not be cut out for managing the way a catcher is. Or a middle infielder, who must consider potential outcomes of batted balls and runners more so than a left fielder waiting for a ball hit out of the infield and a subsequent throw to one of two or three cut-off men, or the designated hitter who has to consider ways not to injure himself while nine of his teammates are out playing defense in the field.

Indeed, the next most common playing positions among recent managers are second base and shortstop (among outfielders, five were listed as left fielders, three in center, one in right, and four, according to bbref, as just that). Even combined with former third basemen, they still only account for as many managerial positions held from 2010-2015 as do former catchers.

Of course, the other way to look at just how good the catcher-turned-manager has been is based on postseason experience. And sure enough, in the National League, two of the five managers to make the 2015 postseason–Mike Matheny of the Cardinals and Joe Maddon of the Cubs–previously caught as a player. Even crazier, on the AL side of the bracket, all five franchises’ managers played behind the plate–Joe Girardi (Yankees), Jeff Banister (Rangers), AJ Hinch (Astros), John Gibbons (Blue Jays), and Ned Yost (Royals). Exactly half of the former catchers who managed in 2015 made the postseason (where, evenly distributed, you would expect one-third, or three to four instead of seven). And seven of the ten participating teams were managed by former catchers (based on the numbers a few paragraphs up, to expect more than two might be ludicrous). Of course, three of the four teams to advance to their respective league championship series were helmed by former catchers.

Gibbons & Yost

Gibbons & Yost

Just so that doesn’t seem like an aberration, in:

  • 2014: Two of the five NL teams (Cards/Matheny and Giants/Bochy) and four of the five AL teams (A’s/Melvin, Tigers/Ausmus, Angels/Scioscia, and Royals/Yost) were managed by former catchers.
  • 2013: Two in the NL, three in the AL
  • 2012: Three in each league
  • 2011: Three in the AL (eight team postseason then)
  • 2010: One in the NL, two in the AL

So, basically, if your team is managed by a former catcher you’ve got a pretty good shot to at least make the postseason. And while it would be fun to point out that five of the past seven World Series champions were managed by a former backstopper, the reality is that Bruce Bochy accounts for three of those.

As we turn the page on 2015 and look ahead to 2016, several clubs have already begun hiring new managers for the new campaign. Two of these, Don Mattingly and Dusty Baker, are already on the list. Of the other two, Andy Green of the Padres and Scott Servais of the Mariners, the latter is a former catcher, as well. So you can pretty much book a postseason appearance for the perennially-sub-.500 M’s for 2016.

One other fun fact I discovered while compiling this list: Charlie Manuel, formerly of the Phillies, is the only manager over the past six seasons to go by a first name greater than five letters long. But as a player, he even went by “Chuck!” No Anthonys, Roberts, Richards, Daniels, Josephs, etc. It’s always Tony, Bob/Bobby, Rick, Dan, Joe, etc… I’m not sure how that compares to the general population, but I’m fairly certain that more than one in every 71 males is known to his family, friends, and colleagues by a name six letters in length or greater.

Dusty Baker

Within the past few days, Dusty Baker was named manager of the Washington Nationals. He replaced Matt Williams, whose 179-145 record in 201415 wasn’t satisfactory for a team whose championship aspirations, with the likes of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and an opening day rotation (this season) of Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister, went bust when they missed the postseason altogether this year.

The inexperienced Williams appears to have been generally disliked in the Nats’ clubhouse; with Baker, Washington gets one of the most experienced (17th in MLB history for both games and wins) and best-respected (in the clubhouse) managers around. He is one of only two men to win National League Manager of the Year (established in 1983) three times (Bobby Cox is the other). However, if was a Nationals fan, I would not be thrilled with this hiring.

For starters, and speaking of starters, Baker came under scrutiny for his use of a pair of Cubs twirlers during his tenure in Chicago. In 2003, he ran the highly-touted 22-year old Mark Prior out for 211+ innings, while averaging 113 pitches per start over the course of the season (for the uninitiated, 100 pitches is generally when a manager will seek to remove his pitcher, rookie or veteran, from the game). From 2004-2007 Prior suffered pitching-related injuries, and was let go after that last season, all of which was spent on the disabled list.

Kerry Wood also had success and a high work-rate during the 2003 season, but, like Prior, made regular trips to the DL in the following three seasons, after which Dusty Baker was fired by the Cubs. Ultimately, during Baker’s tenure with the club (’03-’06), Wood went 26-26 in a mere 68 starts with a 3.56 ERA. Prior was 36-23 in 87 starts with a 3.55 ERA under Baker. But while these stats, missed starts aside, seem good, they certainly fail to live up to the hype surrounding both pitchers in their respective rookie seasons and thereafter. In fact, looking at 2004-6 alone, Wood and Prior went a combined 30-32 in 93 starts with a 4.12 ERA.

Baker is also staunchly “old-school,” insofar that much of his managerial style contradicts tenets held by the sabermetric community. That’s not to say that making decisions based on “feel” or traditional decision-making are inherently wrong, but in many cases Baker seems to refute otherwise overwhelming statistical evidence that points to the contrary (e.g. a sacrifice bunt).

Lastly, Baker, for all his regular season managerial experience, still has yet to claim the ultimate postseason prize: a World Series ring. In the aforementioned four seasons with the Cubs, they never won 90 games, and only made the postseason once–in 2003, when their inevitable championship was derailed by a bespectacled fan wearing a green turtleneck listening to the game on his Walkman.

Prior to leading Chicago, Baker oversaw the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons, from 1993-2002. Seven of those ten teams finished above .500, with five of those exceeding 90 wins. Yet for all that regular season success (89.75 wins per season in the eight not impacted by the 1994-5 players’ strike), the Giants only made the postseason on three occasions, winning only one of seven games before 2002.

And in 2002, of course, the Giants were sitting on a 5-0 lead (and 3-2 series lead) heading in to the bottom of the 7th inning in game 6 in Anaheim. After starter Russ Ortiz recorded the first out of the inning, the Giants had about a 97% chance to win the game and the franchise’s first World Series since moving to the Bay Area in 1957. Ortiz and the rest of San Francisco’s ‘pen couldn’t make that seemingly insurmountable lead hold up, and the Angels won that game, plating three runs later in the 7th and three more in the 8th. The Giants went out with a whimper the following night; after the season, the Giants elected not to renew Baker’s contract, and he moved on to Chicago.

After driving the Cubs in to the ground in just a few short years, Baker moved on to Cincinnati, where he would win two division titles and 90 games on three occasions in six seasons (2008-13). During his tenure there, he received familiar criticism for his overuse of Edinson Volquez. More to the point, in the Reds’ three postseason appearance, they went 2-7 under Baker.

Those two wins came in among the more epic postseason collapses in baseball history. Cincinnati won the first two games of their 2012 National League divisional series against the Giants in San Francisco. In the best-of-five series, all they needed to was win one of the next three at Great American Ballpark and they would advance to the NLCS. They couldn’t even pull that off, and the Giants won the series and, eventually, the World Series.

Overall, in his twenty seasons managing (one of which omitted the entire postseason due to the aforementioned players’ strike), Baker’s teams have made the postseason on seven occasions. Only two of those teams–the ’02 Giants and ’03 Cubs–advanced beyond the first round. Three teams–the ’97 Giants (NLDS), ’10 Reds (NLDS), and ’13 Reds (Wild Card)–failed to win a single game and were unceremoniously swept out of contention. He concluded 2013 with a 19-26 postseason record, and only two series wins to his credit.

Those 2013 Reds also lost their final five regular season games prior to the Wild Card round, including the final three at home against Pittsburgh, which enabled the Pirates to host their subsequent postseason showdown. General manager Walt Jocketty admitted the Reds’ abysmal week was a significant factor in the club’s choice to fire their manager.

In the end, it doesn’t seem as though Washington took a particularly close look at how Baker worked out at each of his previous three clubs. It’s not as though he took underdog clubs and ran with them all the way to the NLCS or World Series. He managed numerous MVP and Cy Young candidates and some stacked teams, but still has yet to win it all. Realistically, that’s what the Nationals are working with. They’re not a rebuilding franchise looking for a no-nonsense guy to straighten out a few bad apples; with the talent on their 40-man roster, there’s no way they shouldn’t have advanced to the NLCS this year (let alone made the postseason). And I’m not so sure, based on his track record, that Baker’s the guy to get them there.

Head-to-head in the World Series

I thought of a couple of fun ways to look at historical head-to-head match-ups in the World Series, dating all the way back to 1903.  As I’d been looking at different Fall Classics, especially prior to expansion in 1962, it became apparent that the Yankees had faced off against their former cross-town rivals in the Giants and Dodgers quite frequently, and had come out on top way more often than not.

In fact, for the first table, I was toying with a couple of different ways to portray it.  I initially conceived of this as a “Yankees vs. the NL” thing, but figured, while 40 is fun, 100+ is better, especially when over half the Yankees appearances have been against the Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers.  Next up was whether to put all the NL teams on one axis and the AL on the other.  Fortunately, for the sake of cleanliness, the flip-flopping Brewers and Astros have yet to make an appearance as the representative for each league.  More importantly, though, was that by using this method, I couldn’t as cleanly portray the record between the two teams, just the overall number of meetings.

As such, I elected to put all teams on each axis.  After I completed the tally, I eliminated the Mariners and Nationals as they have 0 appearances, as well as the six further teams with no World Series wins from the vertical axis (column A), and the four additional teams with no losses from the horizontal (row 1).  To read it, a number in a box corresponds to the number of wins by the franchise in column A against that in row 1.  So, looking at box C16, you see a ‘1;’ this indicates that the Mets (the team in A16) have one World Series title at the expense of the Orioles (the team in C1).  Moreover, if you look all the way to the end of row 16, you’ll see that the Mets have 2 World Series wins, while the O’s have 4 losses in the Fall Classic.

Some other observations:

  • The Yankees have won 8 of their 27 titles against the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers/Robins.  Only the Yankees, Cardinals, and A’s have more than eight World Series championships
  • Overall, the Yankees have owned teams that, in the past or present, occupied or occupy real estate in the New York metropolitan area.  They’re a combined 14-5 against the Dodgers, Giants, and Mets franchises.  That leaves a *mere* 13-8 record (.619 winning percentage) against all other opponents, which is still more titles than anyone else has; of the nine other franchises with at least nine World Series appearances, only two (the Red Sox and Athletics) can boast a higher winning percentage.
  • Of the twelve franchises to have faced the Yankees in the World Series, only the Diamondbacks (1-0), Marlins (1-0), and Cardinals (3-2) have won more championships head-to-head.
  • Of the nine teams whom the Cardinals have faced, only the Royals and Twins (1-0, each) have winning records.

Taking that a step further, I thought it would be fun to see how metropolitan areas, regardless of league affiliation or franchise, stacked up against one another.  After all, Milwaukee has seen more World Series than the one their expansion team contested.  And while Washington, D.C.’s current franchise has yet to make it to the World Series, they’ve had a few appearances over the years, albeit long, loooooooooong ago.  Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all had multiple teams at one time or another, and you need several hands to be able to count the number of times New York teams have squared off against one another.  I elected to omit Seattle and Montreal from the list entirely, as those cities haven’t seen any sweet World Series action in their respective runs as big league towns.

  • New York franchises have faced one another 14 times.  That means 12.6% of all World Series contested to this point have featured two teams from that area.  These match-ups notwithstanding, New York teams are 21-19 in the World Series.  Doing some *tricky* addition here, that’s 14+14+21+19, or 68 of 222 World Series participants from the Big Apple–30.6%!
  • The only other metro area with at least 10 World Series titles?  St. Louis.
  • Chicago is 4-9 against other towns.
  • New York teams have faced all current and past major league metro areas except for Dallas (Texas), Denver (Colorado), Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, Tampa, and Toronto.  It blows my mind just a little bit that the Giants, Dodgers, and Mets have never faced the Tigers in the World Series.  Everyone else isn’t all that surprising given that they came into existence after New York ceased to be a three-team town.
  • Of cities that have had or currently have multiple franchises simultaneously, Boston, LA, and Philadelphia didn’t get to revel in a cross-town title tilt; Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and the Bay Area all have.
  • While the Braves franchise has managed to win 3 championships, only one has come in Atlanta; if you remember the team’s run in the ’90s, that helps explain why the city is a disappointing 1-6 in the Fall Classic.
  • No big surprise that Miami, Toronto, and Phoenix are the only cities to have contested a World Series without a loss; the former two are 2-0, the latter 1-0.

Wild card: Todd Gurley’s elite company

Rams RB Todd Gurley has already made quite a name for himself less than halfway through his rookie season.  More to the point, through five games, he has four in which he’s gained at least one hundred yards.  All four, in fact, have come after a disappointing debut against the Steelers in week 3.  In fact, only two other St. Louis Rams have recorded such a streak, and it’s precisely whom you would expect.

  • Steven Jackson did so most recently, in the middle of the otherwise forgettable 1-15 2009 campaign.  Over the stretch, he ran for 530 yards on 95 carries for a solid 5.58 yards / attempt and three touchdowns.  The hapless Rams did manage to win their only game of the season in the stretch, though it’s fortunate that they drew 2-14 Detroit on their schedule that year.
  • Marshall Faulk accomplished the feat twice.  In his first season in St. Louis, on the Rams’ march to Super Bowl glory, he racked up 500 yards on 90 carries (5.56 per) and three touchdowns.  He barely equaled the feat again in 2003, rushing for a *mere* 413 yards on 86 carries (4.86 per), punching the ball in to the end zone on four occasions.  Perhaps more importantly, St. Louis won all eight games over those two stretches.

Over this current stretch, Gurley has rushed for 566 yards on 88 carries–6.43 yards per attempt!  He also has three touchdowns and, moreover, the Rams are 3-1 during the streak.  But just how good has he been, compared against the franchise’s entire history?  After all, in addition to Faulk and Jackson, the Rams have also had Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson.

  • Bettis never exceeded 100 yards in his sole season in St. Louis, but did surpass the century mark four consecutive games in each of his first two seasons (1992-93), both in Los Angeles.  The stretch in his rookie season was statistically superior to Gurley’s, but, come on, he waited until his 11th game to really get things going!
  • Charles White recorded five consecutive games of 100+ rushing yards in ’87, in the first of which he exceeded 200.  He also averaged 31 attempts over those games, which is one higher than Gurley’s high-water mark in any game this season; White average a “mere” 4.63 yards / attempt those five weeks.
  • Dickerson, of course, had a handful of such streaks.  There’s a five-game stretch in ’86 (only 4.02 yards / attempt); separate four-game and six-game runs in his record-setting ’84 campaign; and another four-game stretch in his rookie season in 1983.

That’s it.  Gurley is the sixth Rams RB in the Super Bowl era, beginning with the 1966 season, to have four consecutive games of 100+ yards rushing.  Dickerson, Faulk, and Bettis are all Pro Football Hall of Famers; Jackson is in the top 20 of all-time rushing leaders, though will probably end up on the outside looking in after playing for some really awful Rams teams; White was a Heisman winner and is a College Football HoFer, so that’s something, too.  I’m not exactly getting ready to enshrine Gurley in Canton, but he should definitely be fun to watch over the remaining two months that Sith Lord Kroenke‘s Rams have in St. Louis.

The Mets’ chances

A loss last night, due in no small part to defensive and offensive miscues, has put the New York Mets on the brink of elimination, down three games to one against the Kansas City Royals.

(sean m haffey / getty images)

Game 5 is tonight at Citi Field, while games 6 and 7, if necessary, will be at Kauffman Stadium.  At this point, the Mets can only win in seven games, but I was curious how many teams had won a best-of-seven series in the Fall Classic after being down 3-1 and lacking home-field advantage.  Luckily, I already had this spreadsheet at my disposal.

Going through that, I’m essentially looking for a 7-game series in which the road team wins the final two games after winning game 5 at home.  The two most recent series to match the first criteria, 2014 and 2011, don’t fit the other one pertaining to home-field advantage.  In fact, initially skimming back over the past few decades, it seems like it may be an impossible task facing the Mets.  But you may recall from my most recent piece that home-field-advantage prior to the 1970s wasn’t what it is today.

+ 1979: Pittsburgh Pirates def. Baltimore Orioles – The O’s won game 1 at home, lost game 2 there, but then picked up games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.  Pittsburgh turned the tables and won the next three games: one at home, and the final two in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.  They outscored the Orioles 15-2 over those three games.

+ 1968: Detroit Tigers def. St. Louis Cardinals – Cards took game 1 at home, lost game 2 at Busch, then bounced back in games 3 and 4 at Tiger Stadium.  The Tigers survived three first-inning runs by the Cardinals in game 5 and win 5-3, then blow out the Redbirds by a combined score of 17-2 in games 6 and 7, both back in St. Louis.

+ 1958: New York Yankees def. Milwaukee Braves – This one would be most akin to this year’s scenario.  The home-field advantage-possessing Braves won games 1 and 2 at Milwaukee County Stadium (including an extra innings affair in the debut tilt); the Yankees won game 3 at home, but the Braves took game 4.  New York won game 5 at Yankee Stadium, then swept the final two in Milwaukee to clinch the series.

And that’s it, at least dating back to 1924.  In the ninety World Series contested since then, 35 have gone the full seven games.  And only three times has the team lacking home-field advantage fallen behind 3-1 at home, only to storm back and win the final three games–8.57%.  So things aren’t looking too great for the Mets right now.  On the other hand, if they could pull it off, well, that would be historic.