Friday, October 20, 2006

Why I'm Rooting for the Cardinals

Disclaimer: This post is not befitting of the stated serious sabermetric focus of this blog. Of course, neither are a lot of others. But this one in particular.

First, I hate the Tigers because I hate all things from Michigan. But even as a baseball fan, I would root for the Cardinals.

My ususal approach, unless it is a team that I would consider myself a fan of in any degree whatsoever (Indians, Reds, Yankees), or a team with a particular favorite player of mine (Nick Swisher, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Abreu are probably the best recent examples), is to root for the team that I feel is better. Some like to root for the underdog. This is a foreign concept to me, unless the degree to which the favorite has been hyped as invincible is particulary nauseating.

So why the would I pull for the Cardinals, who if they win would have the worst record of any World Series winner? They are definitely underdogs, and they don't have a particular favorite player of mine, and I am certainly not a fan of theirs.

But I think reasonable people can agree that the playoffs are largely a crapshoot. Does this mean that they are completely random, that there are no factors above and beyond sheer team quality that can help us predict the outcome? Of course not. Does claiming that the playoffs are a crapshoot mean that I am denying that the winners deserve their titles? No, of course not. For whatever reason, Major League Baseball has decided that you need to win 3 consecutive series in order to be crowned world champion, and all of the teams know this, and so whoever wins has won the championship as MLB has defined it. Fine.

Anyway, the Tigers clearly had a better season in 2006 then did the Cardinals. But who was better in 2005? 2004? What team in the National League was better then St. Louis is those years? None that I know of.

The point is that the Cardinals, had "luck" gone there way, were a team that was perfectly "worthy" of winning a World Series in 2004 or 2005. And so if they were to win this year, when they aren't "worthy", would this be some sort of injustice? Well, as stated above, the "better" team losing can never be an injustice. But the point is that if the Cardinals could have won in 2004, but they came up on the wrong end of the crapshoot, and they shouldn't win in 2006, but happen to have the dice fall their way, then hasn't a "wrong" just been righted?

I am not expressing my feelings on this well, but they are crystal clear in my mind. Maybe this approach: If you were an owner, and you accept the premise that the playoffs is largely a crapshoot, what would you order your general manager to do:
1. Build a team that will win the World Series in a given year
2. Build a team that will consistently be a playoff contender and hope that the crapshoot works out in one of those years

I don't know about you, but I would pick option 2 every day of the week. So if that is the standard by which I judge the worthiness of teams, who is more worthy between the Tigers and Cardinals? Clearly the Cardinals, who have a mini-dynasty in the NL Central and have been consistent contenders over the past decade.

Now of course we can't know the future--perhaps the Tigers are on the cusp of such a run and this is the beginning of it. I have serious doubts that this is the case, but I wouldn't say it was impossible. What I do know is that the Cardinals have done it and the Tigers have not yet.

Anyway, I mentioned near the beginning that the Cardinals would have the worst record for a World Series winner, 83-78. The current holder of that distinction is the 1987 Twins, who went 85-77. In the ALCS, they beat the AL East winner, with a much better record, the Detroit Tigers. In the World Series, they beat the 95-67 National League pennant winners--the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Detroit Tigers were 95-67 this season. Does this mean a darn thing? No; any yahoo can go back and fit a supposed historical pattern to a current event. But I'm just sayin.

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