Chasing An Epic Wire-to-Wire Season
By WILL LEITCH
Last year was, obviously, a historic season for the Chicago Cubs. They ended 108 years without a championship -- it's going to be quite the party at Wrigley on Monday when they raise that banner -- and they were essentially the biggest story the sport has had in a decade. But they just missed out on one of the few baseball feats almost as rare as the Cubs winning the World Series: a wire-to-wire championship.
The concept is simple: You have to be in first place in your division (or league, prior to 1969) the entire season and you have to win the World Series. It is, essentially, never trailing. (Though for the purposes of this exercise, you can, in fact, trail in a postseason series, as long as you win it.) It means that you win at the beginning of the regular season and essentially never stop. It is total dominance.
It has been done only five times in baseball history. Here are the five teams. They are the Secretariats.
1927 New York Yankees. This team's reputation for being great was quite earned! They swept the Pirates in the World Series and, seriously, were just ridiculous. Tony Lazzeri hit .309 with a .383 on-base percentage, smashing 18 homers and stealing 24 bases, and he had the fifth-highest OPS in the starting lineup. Lou Gehrig had 173 RBIs! Babe Ruth walked 137 times and still hit .356 (with 60 homers, of course). They started the season 6-0. There was no looking back from there.
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. This was the only Brooklyn team to win a World Series, an epic seven-gamer against the Yankees. This team was actually pretty old: Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson were all over 30. The best hitter, though, was Duke Snider, and the roster included Don Zimmer, Tommy Lasorda and, for 12 games (five starts), a 19-year-old Sandy Koufax. (The Dodgers were technically in second place when they started the season, but that's because their season began on April 13 and games had been played before that. So we'll allow it.)
1984 Detroit Tigers. The Tigers started the season 9-0, 16-1, 19-2, 26-4 and 35-5. 35-5! And yet they gave the American League MVP Award to their closer, Willie Hernandez, for some reason.
1990 Cincinnati Reds. If I'd told you there was a Reds team on this list, I suspect this isn't the one you would have guessed. The Reds only won 91 games and were heavy underdogs in the World Series against the Oakland A's. This team built up a big lead in the first half of the season, and it needed it; the Reds were actually under .500 after the All-Star break.
2005 Chicago White Sox. One of the most unappreciated great teams of the past 30 years. They won 99 games, they only lost one playoff game and they ended one of the longest championship droughts in the history of the sport. (And they did it with Frank Thomas injured all year.) If Chicago hadn't done it the year after the Red Sox won the World Series, the planet might have noticed.
And that's it. The only five times it has happened. It's not difficult to see why it's so rare. It requires not only winning a World Series after a comfortable regular season with no viable division challengers, it also requires a lightning-fast start. These games right now, as we're all rubbing the winter sleep out of our eyes, are vital for a wire-to-wire title. One bad game in the first week of April, and you're already out.
The Cubs were this close to becoming the sixth team last year. There was only one day (April 8) that the Cubs weren't in first place. After a 3-0 start, they lost at Arizona on a walk-off single by Yasmany Tomas, hours after the Pirates beat the Reds, 6-5, to go to 4-0. The Cubs would win five in a row after that to give them a three-game lead they would never relinquish. All that kept them off this list was that one April 8 loss. As I said: It's really hard.
So this brings us to 2017. We're only four days into the season, and already, most of baseball has been eliminated from contention for this honor. Here are the only teams that can pull it off.
Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox. The Sox got rained out on Thursday, so this will hold up for at least another day, with both teams at 2-0.
Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins. Because Minnesota and Cleveland haven't lost yet, each team is still considered "in first place."
Houston Astros. It should be noted that the three heavy favorites in each division in the AL are still alive in the wire-to-wire contest. The hardest part -- winning at the very beginning of the season -- is already taken care of.
Washington Nationals. Again: The preseason division favorite off to a hot start, although they are currently tied with the Mets.
St. Louis Cardinals. Winning the season opener gave the Cardinals the opportunity to hang onto this spot rather than the Cubs, whom they're already tied with.
Colorado Rockies. They're tied with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers right now, but they started 2-0, so they're the only ones with a chance here.
It's an exclusive club, and those are the only teams, four days in, who still have a chance to join it. They're the only Secretariats left. If you needed a reason to give these early-season games a sense of artificial urgency, here's a fun one.