The Happy Years

October 14, 2017
 2017-53

The Happy Years

 

              If I said that the Cleveland Indians were deserving of a World Series championship, that wouldn’t be a confusing concept, would it?   You would understand what I meant by that, wouldn’t you?   If I said that most of the nation was happy to see the Cubs finally win it in 2016, because they deserved a championship, that would make sense to you, wouldn’t it?   The Indians ALSO were deserving of a championship, but the Cubs had waited a long time, and it was their turn.   It’s not a hard concept.

              The genesis of this article goes back to a conversation that I had with Roger Angell at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque on October 17, 1980, which was the day of the first World Series game ever played in Kansas City.   It was actually the first time that I had met Roger.  Mr. Angell was coming to Kansas City, and he had apparently reached out to my friend Jim Carothers, asking Jim to put together a group of friends to meet at a restaurant before the game.   (I have asked Jim how he knew Roger, but it’s been 40 years and he doesn’t really remember the details.)  Anyway, I remember this conversation.   Somebody had asked Roger who he was rooting for in the World Series; I hope it wasn’t me who asked this, because it is kind of a rude question, but then it probably was me because I was kind of a rude young man.   Roger looked uncomfortable but said that he was probably rooting for the Phillies, because their fans had been waiting such a long time. 

              "What do you mean?" I asked.  "We’ve NEVER won.   How much longer can you wait?"   So I have been thinking about this since then:  How do you decide whose turn it is to win?

              If you’re me, you decide those things, eventually, by making up a stupid formula.   I’ve piddled around with the formula every five or ten years since then, never published anything about it, but this time I have kind of made it work.   The "Deserve to Win" formula has three elements:

              1)  How long it has been since your team has won the World Series (which I call the Cubs rule),

              2)  How long it has been since your team was even IN the World Series (which I call the Atlanta Braves rule.   The Braves didn’t win the World Series very often, but they were in the damned thing nearly every year in the Bobby Cox era, and we all kind of got tired of seeing them there.)

              3)  How strongly the team has been knocking on the door in recent years (which I call the Dodgers rule, after the Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson’s era.)

              Rules 2 and 3 work at cross-purposes to one another.   Rule 2 says that if your team has been IN the World Series recently, even if they didn’t win. . .well, you had your shot, and it is time for somebody else to get a chance now.    But Rule 3 says that if you have had a good team, if you had a good team last year and the year before and the year before, if you have had a good team over the last 20 years but just haven’t been able to get to the top of the mountain, then it should be your turn.   Sometimes these rules work against each other and cancel each other out, but then other times they don’t.

              I suppose I should explain the whole silly system, since it is just three rules.   The first rule, we give the team two points for each year it has been since the team won the World Series, up to a limit of 120 points.   If it’s been more than 60 years since your team won, then I don’t figure it matters a lot whether it has been 68 years (like the 2016 Cleveland Indians) or 108 years (like the 2016 Chicago Cubs).    In either case it has been a lifetime, and the fan base has completely turned over. 

              The second rule is, add one point for each year that it has been since the team has been IN the World Series. 

              The third rule is a little more complicated, but it’s basically a count of how many good years your team has had in the last 20 years, but without winning.   What’s a "good year"?   A good year is any season in which the team

              a)  Wins 90 or more games, or

              b)  Appears in post-season play, but

              c)  Without winning. 

              Then you total up the points for that, in this way:  20 points if you had a good year (but didn’t win) last year, 19 points for the year before, 18 points for the year before that, etc., 1 point if the franchise had a good year 20 years ago, but didn’t win.

              The Rule 3 points are different than the other two rules, in that they fade away, whereas the points under the other rules just build up until the team wins.   That’s a kind of necessary condition of the system; otherwise, one team would just move into the lead and stay there forever.   This rule makes it possible for one team to be Most Deserving in 1974, a different team in 1975, and a different team in 1977.    You need for that to happen; otherwise it is just a count of who has gone the longest without winning, and it is boring.  

              Again, these points are limited to a maximum of 120, since we don’t want any one of these three rules to dominate the system, and also, when a team wins the World Series, then their score under Rule 3 is automatically "0" for the next five years.    We’re measuring the frustration buildup.  It’s like the Dodgers; they were in the World Series in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1953, but they lost to the Yankees every time.  At some point, it is their turn to win.

              So using this formula, we are now in a position to say, every year since 1903, whose turn it was to win the World Series.   If the team that MOST deserves to win the World Series actually does win the World Series, then we’ll call that a Happy Year.   There have been ten Happy Years in baseball history, and this season—2017—actually has a very good chance to be the 11th, but let’s go back to the beginning.

1909

              The first Happy Year was 1909, the Pirates first World Championship.   Well, I should get to this first.   I think that any objective historian, reviewing  my list of the ten happy years, would have to agree that these were "special" years in baseball history, that the excitement which emerged from these ten World Series WAS, in fact, greater than in most other years.   It’s a stupid formula, yes, and sometimes it may be arbitrarily wrong, yes, but nonetheless it points to results that any objective observer would have to agree are related to reality.  

              So let’s start with the 1909 Pirates.   The Pirates had good years, but did not win the World Series, in 1901, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1908.    Having had all of those good years, the Pirates by 1909 had a Deserve to Win Score of 137, which was by far the largest in baseball.   The Tigers had the second-highest Deserve to Win Score, 55.   Those two teams met in the World Series, and the Pirates won, 4 to 3, with Babe Adams winning three games for the Pirates.   Justice Prevails.   It is a Happy Year.

              The Pirates had actually been the Most Deserving Team from the very beginning, from the first year there was a score for anybody, which was 1902.   Their scores had gone 23, 45, 63, 63, 83, 102, 120, 137.   They were way ahead of everybody else, because they were the only team that was good every year but hadn’t won.   They finally broke through in 1909.

1921

              After the Pirates won in 1909 their score went from 137 to zero; the year after you win your score is always zero.   For one year, 1910, Ty Cobb’s Tigers were the team that most deserved to win, and then the title shifted to.  . .

              Here’s what I didn’t know, before I did this study, if you can call this a study.   You think you know a lot about baseball, but here’s what I didn’t know.

              You know that thing, where a manager just can’t win The Big One?   It is a curse which has attached itself to a thousand coaches in every sport, to Bobby Cox and Tony Bennett, to Sean Miller and Bill Snyder, to Gene Mauch and Marty Schottenheimer and Bud Grant and Al Lopez and Dusty Baker. 

              Well, if it makes you feel any better, Dusty, nobody ever had that curse worse than John McGraw did.   You talk about a manager who could not win The Big One, John McGraw was THAT guy for a long time.   That’s what I never realized until now.

              Yes, John McGraw did win the World Series in 1905 (after refusing to play in the series in 1904), but then it started.   In 1906 the Giants won 96 games, but finished second.  In 1908 the Giants had to replay a tie game after the season should have been over, a game for all the marbles, made necessary by an infamous blunder.   They lost.   In 1909 they won 92 games, a good year, but not good enough.   In 1910 they won 91 games, but not enough.  In 1911 they made it to the World Series, but lost.  In 1912 they were back in the World Series, but lost again.   In 1913 they were back in the World Series, lost again.   After a couple of tough years they were back in the World Series in 1917.   They lost.   In 1918 they finished second; in 1919 they finished second; in 1920 they finished second. 

              In all of baseball history, you’d have a hard time finding a tougher run of seasons than that.   It was their turn to win, it was their turn, it was their turn, but they never did.  

              In this era, the World Series being a new thing, nobody had been waiting 60, 70, 80 years since their last World Championship.    Rule 3 controlled the system because the points under rules 1 and 2 were lower than they would be later.   From 1911 to 1921 the New York Giants were always the team that Most Deserved to Win, with Deserve to Win scores of 102, 114, 130, 145, 140, 135, 130, 141, 135, 129 and 123.   Finally, in 1921, they were able to get it done.    It was a Happy Year. 

 

1924

              After the Giants’ score went from 123 to zero, the team that Most Deserved to Win in 1922 and 1923 was the Cubs.    The Cubs were falling out of contention, though, and their "frustration points", their Rule 3 points, were decaying because they were no longer having good years.  

              By 1924 the Washington Senators had been waiting 23 years for a World Championship, which is 46 points, and they had never even PLAYED in a World Series, so there’s another 23.   They had, however, had some kind of good years with Walter Johnson, so they picked up another 19 points for those, and by 1924 the Senators eased in front of the Cubs, 88 to 86, as the team that Most Deserved to Win.   Actually it was closer than that; the Tigers were at 87, the Cubs at 86, the St. Louis Browns also at 86, and the Pirates at 83.    The Senators won.   Happy Year.

 

1925

              That left the Pirates as the team that Most Deserved to Win in 1925.   And they did.   Two Happy Years in a row.

              Actually the Pirates had been tied with the Dodgers, both teams scoring at 100 Deserve to Win Points.  

 

1955

              It would be 30 years before there was another Happy Year.   You could make an argument, almost, that the 1926 Cardinals were the third straight Most Deserving Team.   It doesn’t score that way, however, because the Cardinals had never had a good year before they broke through in 1926.    They just came out of nowhere and won. I would say that the 1926 Cardinals were a team that deserved to win.   Their Deserve to Win Score was 75, which is a high score although it isn’t the highest.   St. Louis had been waiting a long time.

              After the 1925 Pirates the Most Deserving Team for several years (1926 to 1928) was the Dodgers.   By 1930 John McGraw had put up several more years of frustration, and his success in 1921-22 was moving into the rear view mirror, so in 1929 and 1930 the Giants were back in that position.  By 1931 the Cubs had not won anything for 23 years, which seemed like a long time at the time, so after the Cubs had good years in 1928, 1929 and 1930, it was their turn to win in 1931.  

              They didn’t win.   They held the position in 1932, and they made it TO the World Series in 1932, but Babe Ruth called his shot in that series, Gehrig hit .529 with three homers, and the Cubs didn’t win.

              The Cubs would remain as the team that Most Deserved to Win from 1931 to 1946.    By 1946 it had been a long time since they had won (1908), and the Cubs were contenders for most of that team, winning the National League—but never the World Series—in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945.   It seemed like it should have been their turn some time, but the Yankees and the Cardinals just kept winning, mostly, and there was never a happy year.   

              1935 should be mentioned; in 1935 the Tigers had a Deserve to Win Score of 89, which is a pretty high score, but it was only the 7th highest in baseball.  

              In the late 1940s the Cubs were fading, while the Dodgers, as I mentioned earlier, were getting TO the World Series, but couldn’t win The Big One.   In 1947, Jackie Robinson’s first year, the Dodgers took over as the team that Most Deserved to Win, and they held that position through 1955.   By 1955 their Deserve to Win Score was 229, which was a record at that time, and which would remain a record into the 21st century. 

              Johnny Podres.   Sandy Amoros.   Happy Year.

 

 

1975

 

              After the Dodgers finally broke through, the position of team that Most Deserved to Win passed to the Chicago White Sox, the Al Lopez team.   

              Of course the White Sox had not won the World Series since 1917, so that was a factor in their favor.   They were also perennial contenders.   They won 94 games in 1954, 91 in 1955, 90 in 1957.  In 1959, the Go-Go Sox, they won 94 games and made it into the World Series, but lost.  After win totals in the high 80s for three years they won 94 in 1963 and 98 in 1964, finishing just one game short of the American League pennant.  They won 95 in 1965, finishing second for the third straight season.  In 1967 they lost the pennant in the last week of the season.   It should have been their turn to win, but they never did.

              I should mention the Pirates in 1960.   The Pirates in 1960 had a Deserve to Win Score of 105, which is a high score, and it was a big deal when they finally did win.   But they weren’t the highest-scoring team, because, like the 1926 Cardinals, they came out of nowhere to win it. 

              After 1968 the White Sox fell out of regular contention, and their Deserve to Win Score started to fade.  They finally lost the position as the team that Most Deserved to Win in 1975.

              To the Cincinnati Reds.

              Happy Year.

 

1980

 

              After the Reds, by winning, eliminated themselves as the team whose turn it was to win, the title reverted to the White Sox.   The White Sox score was going down every year; from 1966 to 1976 their scores were 204, 200, 196, 192, 188, 184, 180, 176, 172, 168, 165.   Nonetheless, when the Reds were out of the contest the White Sox moved back into first, for a year.

              By 1977 the Philly fans had been waiting a long, long time.   The Phillies won the National League in 1915, but not the World Series, and won the National League in 1950, but not the World Series.   Their points under Rule 1 had maxed out at 120.   Under Rule 2, they were up to 27. 

              In the mid-1970s, with Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, the Phillies started to get good, started to have good years, although they didn’t win.  With the White Sox fading a little more every year, that gave the Phillies the little boost they needed to become the team that Most Deserved to Win, a position which they took over in 1977.

              The Phillies finally broke through in 1980.   That’s where we started this article, me and Roger and Jim Carothers at Arthur Bryant’s. . . I think Dana Leibengood was there, and maybe a fifth person.   Happy Year. 

 

2004

              OK, so I have to explain something.   Technically, the Phillies did not have the highest Deserve to Win Score in 1980.   The Phillies did have the highest Deserve to Win Score in 1977, 1978 and 1979, but in 1980 they were knocked out of that chair by the Boston Red Sox.   But you know; I am trying to use the formulas to help me see things more clearly, which I think I have achieved; at least I concede Roger’s point about the Phillies.   It is one thing to believe in your formula; it is a different thing to be a slave to the formula.    I don’t HAVE to literally believe every calculation.  

              The Red Sox were the team that Most Deserved to Win from 1980 or 1981 to 1987.   In 1988 the title moved to the Cubs for one year, then back to the Red Sox in 1989, back to the Cubs in 1990, back to the Red Sox in 1991 and 1992, back to the Cubs in 1993.  

              The Red Sox in the mid-1990s were a stupid organization, frankly, an organization that could not evaluate talent and, because of that, would commit themselves to non-winning type players.   The White Sox came up with Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell and had some good years, didn’t win, so the White Sox took back over as the team that Most Deserved to Win.   By the 1990s it had been 70+ years since the White Sox had won the World Series, and the White Sox Deserve to Win Scores were threatening the record 229 held by the Dodgers in 1955.   Beginning in 1994, the White Sox scores were 205, 222, 218, 214 and 210.  

              In 1999 the title of Most Deserving to Win passed to the Cubs, in 2000 back to the Red Sox, in 2001 back to the White Sox.   In 2001 the White Sox score was 221, but in 2002 they were passed by the Cleveland Indians, who posted a record-tying Deserve to Win Score of 229.    But in 2004 that record was broken.

              By the Boston Red Sox.

              Happy Year.

 

2005

              It was a really happy year for me, 2004.  2005 was a Happy Year for John Dewan. With the Red Sox out of the way the position of highest-scoring Deserve to Win Team passed, actually, to the Indians and Cubs, who (in 2005) tied for the top spot with 217 each.   But the White Sox had a score of 206, also, and, as I did with the 1980 Phillies, I’m going to recognize that as a Happy Year despite the small difference of opinion by the formula.   It’s just a stupid formula.

             

2016

              With the Red Sox and White Sox now out of the competition, the Cleveland Indians took over as the team that Most Deserved to Win, holding that position in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and posting a then-record score of 243 in 2008.   In 2009 the Cubs pushed it to 248—which is still the record now—and the Cubs took over as the team that Most Deserved to Win.   The Cubs held that position, then, until they finally did win in 2016, with a score at the time of 246.   It was the Cubs turn; I don’t think anybody would argue the point. 

 

              So where are we now, and who are deserves to win in 2017?   Well, I’ll tell you in a moment, but first a few other points. 

              In World Series history there have been times, like 2016, when both teams really should have had a winner, and there have been times when neither team’s fans really needed another flag.   In 1961 the Cincinnati Reds had a Deserve to Win Score of 78; the Yankees, a score of 4.   The Yankees won anyway. 

              There have been teams that really deserved to win, although maybe they were not the MOST deserving team.   The 1968 Tigers had a Deserve to Win Score of 103; their World Series opponents had a score of zero.   Justice prevailed.   In 1969 neither team had a big score.   The Mets, with no history of contention and no long history behind them of any kind, had a Deserve to Win Score of only 21—but the Orioles, just three years removed from sweeping the Dodgers, had a score of only 6.     Pittsburgh in 1971 had a 73 to 0 advantage over the Orioles; justice prevailed.     In 1973 the Mets had a score of only 9; the A’s, nothing.   The wrong team won, but then, there wasn’t really a right answer there.  

              The Royals in 1985 had a score of 154, so they certainly deserved a win, although they weren’t the #1 team in that regard.    The Dodgers by 1988 had built their score up to 108, and they won.    In 1992 the Blue Jays (113) and the Braves (83) were both deserving of a win, but the Blue Jays were more deserving, and they won.     In 1995 it was a contest between the Braves (122) and the Indians (132); both teams very much deserved a turn, but the Braves won it.   The Giants by 2010 were carrying a score of 176; again, I could have counted that one as a Happy Year, since 176 is a very high score. 

              Comparing the "Deserve to Win Scores" of the two teams in the World Series, 48% of the series have been won by the more deserving team, 52% by the less deserving team.   There is another element here that I can’t quantify, which is. . .well, sometimes the city just deserves a break.   New York deserved a break in 2001; you all know why.   The Bay Area deserved a break in 1989, after the earthquake.   Boston deserved a break in 2013, after the Marathon Bombing; we felt that we did, anyway.

              I don’t have a category for that because I don’t know how you would put a number on it, but it’s there; it’s part of how we think.   And the city that deserves a break THAT way this year is, of course, Houston.   

              I was kind of astonished to hear people saying that it was the Dodgers’ turn to win; I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to them for a few years.   Us old guys get stuck in the past; I still think of the Dodgers as a team that wins all the time, like they did in the 60s and 70s and early 80s.   I guess it has been a few years. 

              The two teams that most deserve a win this year—not the two teams out of the last four, but the two teams out of all 30—those two teams are the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers.   The Dodgers haven’t won now in almost 30 years, and their score is up to 207.   

              But when I was talking to Roger Angell in 1980, I remember that he said that "the Phillies have been in the World Series one time in the last 65 years.   And they lost."   Well, the Astros now have been around for 55 years, and they’ve been in the World Series one time, and they lost.   Their Deserve to Win Score—saying nothing about the hurricane—their Deserve to Win Score is 212, which is the highest in baseball.   

              If the Astros win or the Dodgers, I’m going to count it as a Happy Year, so we’ve got four teams left and two chances.    But let’s go, Houston.  

 

 

 

 

 

              

 
 

COMMENTS (13 Comments, most recent shown first)

joedimino
More tidbits ...

An average team (NFL) has 72.5 recently good points in this system.

The Falcons had 197 points before last season. Only lost two points by losing the Super Bowl. They gained 13 good season points, 2 no title points and lost 17 most recent Super Bowl points.

Kind of like the Dodgers in baseball having going 28 years without a title, I didn't realize the Dolphins hadn't won the Super Bowl in 43 years. They haven't been great recently, but they were an annual contender into the mid-80s and again in the early 90s made a conference title game. It's easy to forget they didn't get a championship in there.

If you only count the expansion team, the new Browns are the least deserving team. Counting the entire history they are 12th.​
8:28 AM Oct 18th
 
joedimino
Technically that's the year before their first season for teams that haven't ever won a championship ... But it would render a score of 0 for their first season in my spreadsheet.
8:20 AM Oct 18th
 
joedimino
I did this for the NFL, current state, didn't go through history.

If you count the Oilers, Houston is also the happy team in the NFL this year, 237 points. I treated their 1961 AFL title as 'making the Super Bowl' Which is the last time Houston did that in the NFL.

Pts Champ/1st year, SB app/1st year Team is the format

237 1959 1961 Houston
234 1957 1957 Detroit
233 1967 1988 Cincinnati
230 1960 1976 Minnesota
229 1969 1969 Kansas City
220 1960 2004 Philadelphia
207 1959 1994 San Diego (now LA)
202 1968 1968 New York Jets
195 1965 2016 Atlanta
192 1947 2008 Arizona/St. Louis

Then it's down 164 with Miami.

The least deserving:

73 1999 2001 Rams
75 2002 2002 Tampa Bay
77 2011 2011 New York Giants
81 2009 2009 New Orleans
92 1994 1994 Jacksonville
97 2015 2015 Denver
100 1996 1999 Tennessee
106 2012 2012 Baltimore

Another crazy note ... the Pats are still 21st! They have maxed out the 'recently good' points.​
8:19 AM Oct 18th
 
aagcobb
I kind of have a soft spot for the Astros, especially since they had great players who didn't get the recognition they deserved because their hitting stats were so badly stunted by playing in the Astrodome. Lets see them win one for Jose Cruz and Craig Biggio!
5:55 PM Oct 17th
 
steve161
I'm with Matt. If I don't have my team in the competition, I root for a deserving player who hasn't got a ring. This year it's Carlos Beltrán. I'm with you, Bill: go Astros.
9:15 AM Oct 16th
 
hotstatrat
Just a nitpick, but the Dodgers finally did beat the Yankees in 1981. (. . . which was a happy year for me having just moved to the L.A. area from the N.Y. area.)
6:00 PM Oct 15th
 
dboy13177
I was doing something similar to this with the four major sports leagues in North America, but it "worked" with individual teams since the one multiplier involved would be "1".

For any particular fan base you take the number of years since their last championship plus half of the number of years since their last finals appearance. Multiply that times the number of teams a fan base has to root for, then subtract the number of championships won, then add five times the number of teams that had moved since 1970 (not folded; relocated).
1:02 PM Oct 15th
 
MattGoodrich
While I've never thought of making a formula out it this, it definitely drives who I root for. Please not the Yankees this year. Please no more Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, anytime soon. Let someone else enjoy a World Series win.

And I feel bad for star players who never get a WS win. I was rooting for Biggio & Bagwell to get one. Griffey Jr & Robin Yount never won it. And of course, Ernie Banks.
12:48 AM Oct 15th
 
BryanBM
Most consecutive playoff appearances without winning the World Series:

14 - CHC
13 - ATL
11 - CLE
10 - BOS, HOU, LAD, OAK
8 - SFG, STL, TEX
7 - MIN, NYY
6 - DET, KCR, LAA, NYM, PIT
5 - BAL, CHW, PHI, SDP, WSN
4 - ARI, CIN, COL, MIL, SEA, TBR
3 - TOR
0 - MIA

At least one of HOU and LAD will join CLE at 11 this year.​
5:42 PM Oct 14th
 
hotstatrat
"instinctual formula" not "instinctual one"
2:24 PM Oct 14th
 
hotstatrat
Exactly. "Deserving" is a major component of who I decide to root for. Thanks for sharing. The instinctual one I have used emphasized more of element 3 and less of element 2, but that's worth reconsidering. I also put even more emphasis on the season's regular season record compared to earlier years. Perhaps, that's because I think more about the players on the team deserving a championship relative to the fans. The Astros and Dodgers deserve extra extra points for their regular season as well. It was sad to see Cleveland eliminated so soon. Disaster credit points do go to Houstonites and Californians as well.

There are a couple of other considerations. Almost all fans have a favorite team. For me, there is some pecking order based where I've lived, where my parents and ancestors have lived, my wife's background, etc. Call it personal connection points.

And, since the two teams with personal connections are so strong they override all these other considerations (Detroit & Toronto) are both in the American League, just being in the A.L. is worth a large chunk of points.

Finally, there is the fun factor. It was a hoot to have the Mets win the Championship in '69. I thought it was fun the Oakland A's grew all those moustaches and long hair in seventies. The Yankees had a wonderfully diverse international team in the nineties. (By the aughts, however, their overload of championships and my disgust for Steinbrenner more than compensated for their fun diversity and my strong personal connection to New York.) The 2004 Red Sox were very high in fun factor points. I would have rooted for them even without the enormous Deserving points.
2:23 PM Oct 14th
 
pgaskill
How do the Mariners and the Expos/Nationals score—the two teams that have never even BEEN there?
2:05 PM Oct 14th
 
taosjohn
Do you maybe need another small score for how long it has been since a city has won in another sport? I mean the year the Saints won was surely a happy year for New Orleans even though they don't have a baseball club; and if the Astros do win it all, then the Texans fans maybe don't get to double dip? So should the Red Sox' score be restrained a bit by a Bruins or Celtics or Patriots championship as well as their own?
12:22 PM Oct 14th
 
 
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