The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series and that sounds so wrong. No franchise four years into its existence should be allowed a ticker tape parade. It hardly mattered that the New York Yankees run of three consecutive World Series triumphs was busted up by a bloop single over a drawn in infield. Or that New York didn’t enjoy their Boston Strong Hollywood equivalent. What really got under my skin was Arizona one upping the Florida Marlins as the quickest team to the top.
To make matters worse, those freaking Marlins won not one World Series, but two and they did it in less than 10 years (1997 and 2003). And to make matters doubly worse, the Marlins bought their teams through free agency and then played fire sale with the entire roster. I’ll give the Diamondbacks credit for signing Randy Johnson and trading for Curt Shilling. The duo formed one of the best 1-2 pitching punches of all time and at least Arizona fans show up at games.
But what about new franchises born in the 1960’s? Teams didn’t all of a sudden fly to the moon. It took drafts, development, flat tires, threats of relocation. What about the California Angels? They had to wait 42 years for a trophy. Or The San Diego Padres? They still haven’t won anything and neither have the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers or Montreal Expos/now Washington Nationals. And the other team born in the 1960’s-The Kansas City Royals. They waited 17 years.
Free agency makes Cinderella stories like the D-backs and Marlins not really Cinderella stories at all. The worker’s revolt that began way back when and became legal tender in 1973 quickly mushroomed into million dollar Swiss bank accounts. Who woulda thunk? I guess the Toronto Blue Jays did. They were the first expansion team to exploit free agency by winning back to back World Series in 1992 and 1993 with rosters putting George Steinbrenner’s pocket book to shame.
But then again, Steinbrenner and the Yankees aren’t that opposed to a home cooked meal. The team’s last dynasty (1997-2000) featured a core of players (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams) and pitchers (Andy Pettite, Orlando Hernandez, Mariano Rivera, Hideku Irabu) drafted or originally signed by the Yankees themselves.
Most teams that thrive do it with a nice blend of drafted players, a few free agent signings and one or two relevant trades. But take away those free agents and teams have to really scramble or get lucky and become miracles as in the miracle New York Mets of 1969, the only expansion team from the 1960’s I haven’t mentioned so far.
Yes, the Mets were also sworn into baseball existence in the 1960’s, in 1962 to be exact. The Mets initially suffered growing pains. They lost 100 games in five of their first seven seasons, but in the eighth year, The Mets won 100 games and why not say it again. There was no free agency.
Yep, 1969 was the big year and it was more than luck. It was draft and development, especially pitchers. The Mets drafted Nolan Ryan and signed Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman as amateurs. Actually, Ryan didn’t pitch all that much in 1969, but throw in Tug McGraw-also an amateur signing and Gary Gentry-also drafted by the Mets and scratch what I said before. It was luck.
But I shouldn’t be envious. I took to baseball just as the Milwaukee Brewers reached respectability, in their tenth year of existence. And it almost doesn’t seem fair. I didn’t have to suffer through the dismal beginnings when the Milwaukee Brewers lost so many games like expansion teams are supposed to. I was learning how to walk and use the toilet.
The Brewers won 93 games in my maiden voyage season as a fan. It was 1979 and I rode a Brewer’s wave with drafted players like Gorman Thomas, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Throw in a few excellent trades for Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper, Pete Vukovich, Mike Caldwell, and Rollie Fingers and that wave endured. It even almost happened. In 1981, the Brewers almost won the division and the following year, they almost….dammit. They lost to the Cardinals in the World Series, but still, I tasted it or almost tasted what those whatchamakalit D-back and Marlin fans have already tasted. Ah , the hell with it. Maybe I am jealous.