|Celebrate, Nationals fans: Your team has won the 2012 McCarthy Trophy. (US Presswire)|
On the subject of the MLB playoffs and the greater meaning of same, here's this from a recent post by Dave Berri over at the Freakonomics blog (HT: BBTF) ...
Every baseball team – no matter how it is constructed – is going to have a bad week once in a while. And if that bad week happens to occur in October, your team will look bad in the playoffs and your fans will be unhappy.
I should add, this was very much the argument Steve Walters (economist at Loyala University and consultant to the Baltimore Orioles) recently made at the Wages of Wins Journal. The playoffs are simply hard to predict. As Steve noted in the videocast, even winning more than 100 games is no guarantee of a World Series title. Across the past 25 years, 20 different teams have finished the regular season with more than 100 victories. And of these, only two managed to win a title.
So the playoffs should be thought of as entertainment. But if you are not entertained because your team lost (the outcome for 90% of playoff teams), don't think this “proves” your team isn't the “best”. And if your team does win… well, you can think that your team is the “best”; even if the rest of us know this isn't true. And I am not saying that just because my team lost (okay, that's probably not true).
Berri's right, of course. The World Series winner is so often not the team that proved itself the best within the 162-game crucible that is MLB's regular season. In fact (and as Berri mathematically implies), in the divisional era (i.e., from 1969 onward), the team with the best record has gone on to win the World Series just 23.3% of the time (it's even rarer since the wild card came into being). As has been noted in countless other places, this is a consequence of the postseason's small sample size in tandem with the game's built-in parity. More succinctly, it's a lot of luck.
There is but a very weak relationship between the way a team's roster is constructed and how it fares in the playoffs. As for arguments that teams lift themselves to the belt and title by force of will or moral fiber or hearty morning breakfasts, they're self-evidently ridiculous.
All this isn't meant to impugn the playoffs as theater. After all, things would be quite dull if the team with the best regular-season winning percentage won it all every year. Unpredictability is good. Upsets make good stories. I wouldn't change all that even if I could.
What I would change, however, is our tendency to forget about those great teams that fall short of winning the World Series. That's why, in order to more fittingly honor the unique rigors of April-through-September baseball, I'm proposing the "Joe McCarthy Trophy."
No, this has nothing to do with shaming embedded communists. Rather, it invokes the name of baseball manager Joe McCarthy, who boasts the highest all-time winning percentage of .615. Because of that lofty figure, McCarthy's name upon a trophy (constructed of precious metals and perhaps rare gemstones!) would be a nifty way to honor the team with the best record in the regular season.
Sure, it's not a straight comparison, what with the unbalanced schedules and distinct interleague slates. But it does hold up for praise something that's very praiseworthy: winning the most baseball games. Even though I would submit hoisting the McCarthy Trophy would be, in an objective sense, more impressive than winning the Fall Classic, this is meant to complement and not diminish the existing structure. It really just adds another layer to the arguments so essential to the sport: "Sure, your guys won the World Series, but the year before my guys won the World Series and the McCarthy."
Think of it, if you like, as taking a cue from the English Premier League, which awards the circuit's top honor based on a regular-season points system. Mostly, though, think of it as a way to acclaim one of the most impressive feats in sport -- one which has gotten short shrift for too long.