Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Browns, Senators and Philly A's 2011 baseball season: an analysis

Although the Baltimore Orioles closed out their 2011 campaign, and major league baseball's last-to-finish regular-season game last night, with a thrilling come-from-behind bottom of the ninth-inning victory in front of the home crowd against the proud Boston Red Sox, eliminating the latter from the postseason, the game also marked the 14th-straight losing season for the Orioles. The Orioles' predecessor, the St. Louis Browns, in all their losing glory, never racked up more than 12 straight losing seasons. Meanwhile, the defeated Red Sox were finishing up their 14th-straight winning season.

Interestingly, for fans of the Golden Age of baseball, a gander at the standings for 2011 reveals that little has changed in the American League constellation in the last 60 years. The Yankees are still on top with .600-winning-percentage dominance, followed by Detroit and Boston. The Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox are in the middle of the pack. And bringing up the bottom are the Oakland Athletics (nee Philadelphia), the Baltimore Orioles (St. Louis Browns) and finally the Minnesota Twins (nee Washington Senators) who finished 32 games out of the Central division race.

Just looking at the ten-year period from 1947 through 1956, which spans the Athletics' transfer to Kansas City and the Browns move to Baltimore, the three above-named franchises finished in the bottom three of the eight-team standings during that time-frame a startling 23/30 possible times.

As the French say, "Plus ça change, plus ça reste pareil". The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Even though major league baseball is financially a very different animal today than it was in the 40s and 50s, certain cities seem to command a better team on the field, then as now. Smaller cities do worse. Two team cities that could not support two teams, like Philadelphia and St. Louis, were especially poor competitors in the attendance and, hence, salary departments.

The "small city" analysis is even more trenchant when you look at the 2011 standings and see Seattle and Kansas City, both cities which have lost franchises and are from time-to-time the subject of rumors concerning repeating the feat, at the bottom alongside the "Senators, Browns and Athletics".

This is not to say the Twins, Athletics and Orioles haven't had some glory years in the last half-century … because they have. Just last year the Twins won the American League Central (although losing in the first round of the playoffs).

It is just that the perennial domination by the Yankees, Red Sox and (to a lesser extent) Tigers counterbalanced by the frustration of the Orioles, Twins and Athletics makes one wonder about laws of the universe, planetary alignments, etc. (One of the reasons that I've stayed an Orioles fan despite their ever-dwindling connection to St. Louis is because of the primordial need to pull against the Yankees and the Red Sox.)

The above recitation of seemingly cosmic failure does not make me one iota less a Baltimore Orioles fan. (As a longtime board member of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society, believe me, winning is not everything to me). It is just that, on the playgrounds of my youth, money had nothing to do with what team won a baseball game. It would be nice if major league baseball was a little more like that.