It's 2014 and baseball, as always, is on the clock
New year's Fall Classic could mark 14th straight season without repeat winner
Will it be 14 in 2014?
We're here in the New Year, excited by possibilities, formally representing the first of hundreds of thousands of pieces of content you will encounter from Major League Baseball Advanced Media in the form of stories, videos, live streams, photos, Cut 4 shares, social posts, chats, Beat the Streak picks and more.
Every move, every pitch, every flinch, every quote and every new Instant Replay ruling in the hours and days ahead will be covered, catalogued, analyzed, favorited, liked and retweeted. We want more and more and more, and we begin by wondering that question: Will it be 14 in 2014?
Really, it is a subject that speaks volumes about Major League Baseball's competitive balance, soaring popularity and expanding global reach. We're talking about repeats, or lack thereof.
If any club other than Boston wins the 110th World Series next fall, it will match the Major League record of 14 consecutive autumns without a back-to-back title.
The Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000, and since then, the Commissioner's Trophy has gone to these 13 in order: D-backs, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox.
Another Yankee streak preceded the longest such run. From 1979-92, we went 14 straight autumns with the following champs: Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets, Twins, Dodgers, A's, Reds, Twins and Blue Jays. Toronto repeated in '93, ending an unprecedented era of trophy distribution.
Naturally, that run was indicative of an expanded sport, as MLB went most of the 20th century with two eight-team leagues. It would make sense to "spread the wealth" with more clubs competing for the trophy. But that does not explain what has happened in this modern streak. No expansion clubs entered; just a move by the Montreal Expos to Washington as the Nationals.
During Media Day before the last World Series between the Cardinals and Red Sox, I put that question to Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. Why is it so hard to repeat?
"It's not easy," he replied. "Well, you see that those Yankees, every year they had the team with the highest payroll out of everybody. Every good free agent out there, they'd go out and grab them. I'm pretty sure that what they did was something super-special, because I don't think many teams had done it before -- winning that many years in a row.
"Everybody puts a different team together every year, so it's hard to keep up with going to the World Series every year. You see guys going to the playoffs -- 'Oh, we've got a good team.' You get to the playoffs, the next thing you know it's a short series and anything can happen."
In the days that followed his answer, Big Papi led the Red Sox to their third title within a decade, earning World Series Most Valuable Player honors. Now it will be up to him and the whole Red Sox organization to avoid an overall MLB date with history.
Or do we root for repeats at all today? There used to be a thrill in having "dynasties" -- teams to either love or hate with equal passion. Boston has undergone some key losses and key pickups this offseason, like most clubs. It should be considered a contender, but based on recent history, it would truly be a shocker if the Red Sox win it all again.
Last year, we explored the subject of "13" in this space, concluding that the whole unlucky thing is passe and overhyped. We cited the many players who would wear that jersey in 2013. So what happened? There was a lot of misfortune surrounding the No. 13. Alex Rodriguez had problems on and off the field. Manny Machado enjoyed a stellar season, but went down with a brutal injury. Starlin Castro remained durable, but his numbers fell severely. Dustin Ackley played in 40 fewer games. We could go on, and the Giants became the 13th straight club not to repeat.
There are no superstitions in sight now. It could be a season of miracles.
This, after all, is the 100th anniversary of the Miracle Braves. Those 1914 Boston Braves of the National League somehow not only beat Connie Mack's mighty Philadelphia A's, but swept. The beating was so bad, the A's broke up their club.
The 1913 Braves had finished in fifth place, 31 games off the pace. They were in the cellar on July 15, 1914, but Bill James and Dick Rudolph then combined for a 35-2 record on the mound and the Miracle Braves went into history. Maybe you could look to the 2013 standings for a harbinger -- teams that were seen as sub-.500 underachievers, such as the Angels, Blue Jays, Giants or Phillies. Given this repeatless run, one would be foolhardy to dismiss them.
Maybe the thing we are most excited about is the on-field implementation of that classic barrage of transactions that went down right before and then into the Winter Meetings. Are the Royals postseason-ready after remaining relevant into the final week of the last regular season? Can Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart lead Seattle back to competitiveness?
What will life be like without Mariano Rivera? Can Derek Jeter revert to form or does the final piece of the Core Four gradually move toward a sunset? What will The Rivalry be like now that Jacoby Ellsbury is manning center in the Bronx? And over in Queens, what will the additions of Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon mean to a Mets club forever on the rebuild?
Can anyone stop the Dodgers in 2014? Can Pittsburgh take the next step now that it has tasted a postseason? Or Cleveland? Will Ryan Braun's return as a right fielder mean the Brewers return to contention? Is the 30th anniversary of a Detroit world championship a right time for a title, and how will the Tigers handle a new manager (Brad Ausmus) and new second baseman (Ian Kinsler)?
Remember that the Rangers only tasted World Series excitement in those 2010 and '11 seasons. They still have to win a first championship for their Metroplex fans. Now they will have Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo bashing at Rangers Ballpark. With Yu Darvish leading the staff, it is easy to imagine Texas returning to a prominence that could make it 14 in '14.
The team that lost the last World Series? The Cardinals are probably better, if anything. Get ready in 2014 for a whole season of "Wa-cha! Wa-cha!"
"I think it's a good thing ,because each team each year, it's a new team to win the World Series," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "It's good for baseball."
Right now, you are turning the corner yourself as a fan in this offseason. We just passed the midpoint on the calendar between Koji Uehara's final pitch to Matt Carpenter at Fenway Park and the first Spring Training exhibitions in Florida and Arizona. Ahead is the first Opening Series in Australia, between the D-backs and Dodgers, the implementation of expanded replay, the 100th anniversary of beautiful Wrigley Field, and whatever Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw can possibly do for their next act as the game's best.
Consider this the ceremonial first pitch of 2014. Now is a good time to look back at World Series history, if perchance to dream, and to fully appreciate this current run of balanced excitement that pulls in record crowds. It is just about anyone's year in baseball, no matter what you hear in the coming weeks from the experts. The calendar has turned, and for more and more people, thoughts soon turn to baseball and Who's Next.