Repeat winners a thing of the past in competitive MLB
Baseball's parity has prevented any consecutive champs since Yanks in 2000
Any team or any player winning a title in the Major Leagues can tell you how difficult it is to reach the pinnacle. Very few can tell you what it's like to stay there, year after year.
Exhibit A these days is the pinnacle of all pinnacles -- the World Series.
The last repeat champion was in 2000, when the Yankees claimed a three-peat and came within a Luis Gonzalez blooper of making it four in 2001. The 13 years without a repeat winner is just one year shy of 1979-92 as the longest stretch in baseball's long history that a new champ was crowned every year.
Such is the daunting history facing the Boston Red Sox, the team that has won the most World Series titles over the last decade with three, including their 2013 accomplishment of going from worst to first in the American League East, and beyond.
Red Sox manager John Farrell knows the challenge ahead is the same undertaken by the last 12 teams that came off a World Series season -- it's a brand-new year with a new set of obstacles to overcome in order to reach the top.
"I haven't jumped into the history book or what people have done in the past. But I do know this -- just talking with our players, things are still very fresh in their minds and we're eager to get started in a couple of months," Farrell said during the Winter Meetings last month.
"The one main difference this year would be that you don't have maybe that natural motivation that was built in with guys wanting to rewrite their story or redeem themselves in a way. We've got to monitor that as we go about our building-block process, as we did in Spring Training [in 2013], as we did last year."
On an individual level, repeat statistical leaders and award winners are more common in general, but Miguel Cabrera earned rare repeats in 2013 as AL Most Valuable Player and batting champion.
By winning MVP again, he became the first to win back-to-back AL awards since Frank Thomas in 1993-94. And by earning his third consecutive batting title with a career-high .348, he marked the first such run in the Majors since Tony Gwynn carded four straight of his career eight in 1994-97, the first in the AL since Wade Boggs went for four in 1985-88.
As an example of repeats being a little more common on the stats table, there's Chris Davis. The Orioles slugger kept Cabrera from doing what had never been done -- back-to-back Triple Crown seasons -- with his 53 homers and 138 RBIs, but those wouldn't be particularly rare repeats if he pulls off that power double again in 2014. The Jays' Jose Bautista went back-to-back titles in homers in 2010-11, and the last repeat RBI champion in the AL was Boston's David Ortiz in 2005-06. The Phillies' Ryan Howard led and tied in 2008-09 in the National League.
On the mound, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's three consecutive NL ERA titles through last season marked the longest since Greg Maddux -- a first-time candidate on the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot -- went for three in 1993-95. It's also the longest by a lefty since Sandy Koufax won five straight ERA titles in 1962-66.
Generally, however, stats leaders are repeat offenders fairly often. It's in the team concept, especially at the highest level, that repeating seems to have become increasingly difficult.
It's one thing to repeat as a division champion, but another to take it all the way. The Tigers have the longest current division streak, having won a third straight AL Central title this year. The A's are the only other team currently with back-to-back titles, although both have miles to go before touching the Braves' colossal 14-season run that ended in 2006.
Winning the ultimate title has become a different story. Since the Yankees' third straight in 2000, a total of nine franchises have carried the World Series trophy through their streets with pride -- including three-time winners the Red Sox (2004, '07, '13), and two-time winners in the Cardinals (2006, '11) and the Giants (2010, '12). During that stretch, only the 2009 Phillies gave themselves an opportunity to win a second straight title by reaching the World Series, dropping that one to the Yankees.
It's just become hard to put one World Series season together with another.
Just ask the manager who's the latest to know what it's like to be on the pinnacle one year and ceding the throne the next.
"I think more than anything there's so much parity in baseball, it's not easy to do," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "The Cardinals, the Tigers, they've been there, Texas, but it's such a hard thing to do consistently. And so much depends on your guys having a good year, injuries, the pitching holding up. And you need a surprise every year."
It might not be a surprise, but if the Red Sox manage to repeat as World Series champions this year, it'll at least bust a trend that's been building to historic levels.