Fresh 15: MLB's no-repeat streak a record
New champions a constant hallmark of competitive balance
It all began on Nov. 4, 2001, when Luis Gonzalez hit a bases-loaded floater to center off Mariano Rivera, ending the Yankees' reign and clinching the World Series for Arizona.
Now that the Giants have just been mathematically eliminated in the National League West standings, what started in Arizona is now official: Major League Baseball has set a competitive-balance record by assuring 15 consecutive years without a repeat champion.
The longest previous no-repeat record in the Majors had been 14 years in a row from 1979-92, before the Blue Jays repeated as champions in the '93 season.
Starting with that first championship by the D-backs, the 15 consecutive winners have included the 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox, 2006 Cardinals, 2007 Red Sox, 2008 Phillies, 2009 Yankees, 2010 Giants, 2011 Cardinals, 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, 2014 Giants and then whichever team takes the 111th World Series.
"It's not easy," said David Ortiz, a key to those three Red Sox World Series champions. "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."
"I think it's a good thing because each team each year, it's a new team to win the World Series," said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, hoping to reach his fifth Fall Classic. "They are all doing a good job, preparing a winning team obviously. It's good for baseball."
This streak is only a recent phenomenon, of course, as teams were far more likely to repeat as champions in the years before 1969, when the postseason was simply the World Series. Through most of Major League history, there were 16 teams, eight in each league.
A gradual expansion of the number of teams, now 30, made it considerably harder to repeat, as did the addition of a Division Series round in 1995 and then a second Wild Card entry in each league starting in 2012 -- making it a 10-team postseason field now.
"The playoff format now is harder," said Cal Ripken Jr., an MLB on TBS analyst who won a World Series with Baltimore in 1983. "You have extra playoff teams in, and you're playing an extra round. So in order to get to that World Series, years and years and years ago, they lined all the American League teams and all the National League teams up, and if you won at 162, then you were in the World Series.
"Then they went to divisional play, then they had a couple rounds. But now, you have the play-in game and the first round -- there's an extra round in there that's going to take a toll and make it harder to repeat."
The Giants continue their odd trend of winning the World Series in even-numbered years, starting with 2010. With the rival Dodgers clinching the NL West, it not only means that the overall no-repeat streak is a record, but it also extends the streak of years without a repeat champion from the NL -- dating to the 1975-76 Reds.
Those Reds titles were immediately followed by Yankees back-to-back champs. The Blue Jays gave Canada its first winner in 1992 and then repeated on Joe Carter's walk-off homer in '93, and the Yankees' three-peat from 1998-2000 truly marked the end of an era.
What followed has been especially refreshing if you like competitive balance in your baseball. Some team inevitably will end this streak, of course, and it will be even more special then because of these conditions. It also will trigger widespread angst about one team being too dominant.
Remember all the complaints about George Steinbrenner's soaring payrolls?
"Well, you see that those Yankees, every year they had the team with the highest payroll out of everybody," Ortiz said. "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."
Ron Darling, Ripken's fellow MLB on TBS analyst and a regular on the Mets' SNY broadcast crew, started Games 1, 4 and 7 for the '86 Mets during that previous record no-repeat run. He credits the modern front office for this streak, citing the Cubs as an example of sudden contender status through the past offseason signings of manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Jon Lester.
"I think it's difficult [to repeat] because there are some really smart people who are running the game," Darling said. "They're identifying what their weaknesses are straightaway. So a team that is not a very good team seems to get better the year or two years after that. There's none of those teams that are doormats for years and years and years. They're going to change it up. They're drafting better than ever before. The ability to sign important free agents changes your team.
"There's a lot of smart decision-making being made by front offices, and I think that's the reason why there is such parity in the game today. It's hard to have one of those Big Red Machines, or one of those dynasties like the Oakland A's in the '70s. Honestly, I think that's good for baseball."