The Philadelphia Phillies have won NL East division titles in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and look to have a serious stranglehold on the 2011 flag. While five seasons may not seem like a long period of time, it is a prolonged run in sports. Aside from the Atlanta Braves (14 straight divisional titles dating from 1991-2006, interrupted by 1994 when there was no postseason), five straight division titles or playoff appearances should be considered no small feat. In those five years the Phillies have won the NLDS three of four years, NL Pennant twice and of course the World Series in 2008. That five year run (371 wins from 2007-2010) will get its exclamation mark with a title in 2011 (72 wins on 2011 season) and should secure the Phillies place as one of the sport’s gold standard franchises within the baseball landscape of the 21st Century. Respect must be paid to all who came before to make this possible and offer perspective.
In olden days when there were just 16 major league teams and the New York Yankees always seemed to be atop the standings. Every year the question in Spring Training would be “Who will face the Yankees in this year’s World Series?” While it was true that the Yankees and their 27 championships are unparalleled in modern sports, most of those championships (20) occurred prior to 1969. Two titles in the 1920s (6 World Series appearances) put the Yankees on the map making legends of Ruth, Gehrig and even Miller Huggins. That was followed by five World Series appearances in the 1930s – all five of which resulted in championships. The 1940s saw 4 Yankees teams reach the Fall Classic, 3 of which were crowned champions while baseball in the 1950s were bludgeoned by Yankee dominance – winning 6 of 7 World Series. In the 1960s the Yankees made the World Series 4 times over the first five seasons, winning two of those Fall Classics but then the Bronx Bombers fell into disrepair and would not see another championship until back to back titles in 1977 & 1978 (lost in 1976 to Cincinnati).
Never were the vaunted Yankees more dominant than the period from 1936-1964 when they amassed 16 titles in 22 World Series appearances – and that included four straight titles from 1936-1939, 2 of 3 from 1941-1943 and six titles in six chances between 1947-1953. True dominance because the Yankees could afford to buy all of the best talent and they usually did.
All these years, the Philadelphia Phillies (originated in 1883 and longest tenure of one city and one team nickname in modern history) were suffering endless strings of losing seasons. Philadelphia faced the Yankees in the 1950 World Series only to be swept out handily by the Bronx Bombers. It was the Phillies second-ever World Series appearance (lost to Boston Red Sox 4-1 in 1915) and it would take until 1980 for the franchise to see another World Series victory (1980 Champions ending 97 years of futility).
While some things don’t change, baseball was not destined to remain the same game it had been over its first century. By 1953, the US population had begun to explode and expand into the suburbs as well as the Sunbelt. Southern and Westward expansion meant that a train travel league confined from Boston to St. Louis was archaic if not downright passé. Oddly enough, the first group of franchise relocation involved the St. Louis Browns moving east to become the Baltimore Orioles (1954) as well as the Boston Braves resettling to the Midwest, adopting Milwaukee as their new home (and drawing two million fans in 1953 to boot). Soon the Philadelphia A’s would migrate to Kansas City (1955) while the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants would make the dramatic transcontinental move together (1958) relocating to Los Angeles (Dodgers set a major-league, single-game attendance record in their first home appearance with 78,672 fans) and San Francisco respectively.
Washington lost their Senators to Minnesota (1961) – only to be replaced by a new expansion Washington Senators team (that would be reborn as the Texas Rangers by 1971) and the Kansas City A’s would move a second time to settle in Oakland (1968). Further expansion was eventually spurred by adding “replacement” teams in New York (1962) and Kansas City (1969) as well as their expansion brethren in San Diego & Montreal (1969), Los Angeles (1961), Houston (1962) and Seattle (1969). Within a ten year span, franchise relocation and the first MLB expansion would incorporate frequent jet travel, regular night baseball and an expanded 162-game schedule to accommodate the many transformations that would continue to revolutionize the game. There was also a need to break each league into divisions and create a new round of divisional playoffs to the postseason.
By 1969, the Major League landscape included 24 teams spread across the continental United States. Only 3 cities (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles) boasted two MLB franchises but only one of those (Chicago) retained their original franchises. New York and Los Angeles gained expansion teams in 1961 and 1962. Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis were now single team cities. The former Boston Braves would become the former Milwaukee Braves (replaced by the relocated Seattle Pilots who transformed into the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970) relocating again in 1966 to their permanent home in Atlanta (thus being the second “Deep South” team) truly committed to the market south of the Mason-Dixon line (roughly Washington, DC).
More teams meant more opportunity for players and essentially a less concentrated product – for better or worse. The Yankees only World Series drought was from 1965-1975 and in 1976 they would lose to Cincinnati before taking down the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978. Philadelphia experienced franchise resurgence, winning three straight divisional titles from 1976-1978 but always lost to Cincinnati or the Dodgers. Those Dodgers would exact revenge on New York in 1981, which would send the Yankees into a downward spiral lasting until their 1995 postseason appearance. By that time, the MLB postseason had expanded twice – once in 1969 (adding the League Championship Series pitting winners of each division) and again in 1995 having instituted the three division format and wildcard.
Now, each of three division winners plus one wildcard team would qualify for postseason play, ensuring 8 teams with a shot at the World Series. This was sandwiched by the first two rounds of expansion since 1977 (adding Toronto Blue Jays & Seattle Mariners).
Another expansion in 1993 witnessed the birth of both Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins. Just 5 years later MLB would add the Arizona Diamondbacks & Tampa Bay Devil Rays to bring the compliment to 30 teams. The New Yankee Dynasty would dominate winning titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 but losing one of the classic World Series in 2001 to Arizona (in just their third season of existence). That 2001 loss would be the last Yankees World Series appearance until they regained championship status in 2009 – against none other than the Philadelphia Phillies.
Those Phillies were in the midst of their greatest run in franchise history, as they were the defending 2008 World Champions of baseball and had been winning division titles each year as mentioned earlier.
Baseball’s first century (1876-1975) had been originally dominated by hard-nosed ballplayers, rail travel, gambling, tobacco and workaday blue collar mentality. Early and mid-twentieth century ballplayers rode the subway home from the ballpark and did their grocery shopping at the neighborhood corner deli (though they rarely were permitted to pay for their foodstuff). Many players even had winter jobs to supplement their meager baseball salaries.
Clearly the second MLB century would be defined by jet travel, multipurpose sports facilities, Astroturf, television revenue, expansion and the advent of free agency leading to multi-million dollar player salaries. Oddly enough, this had been the dominant tactic of the championship days of yore – simply buying talented players from lesser teams. Who would have thunk it?
This baseball history lesson tells us what has been but does it indicate what will be? Multi-million dollar payrolls do not guarantee a championship but it is difficult to compete without them. Palatial new ballparks have excised the green-carpeted multiplex of yesteryear, paying homage to the classic ballparks of the past while sparing no amenities whatsoever. Since the institution of the wildcard and postseason expansion, the best regular season teams are not guaranteed a spot in the World Series. Most notable among the wildcard teams have been the Anaheim Angels (2002 AL wildcard World Series winner who beat NL wildcard SF Giants), Florida Marlins (won 1997 and 2003 World Series as wildcard team) and the 2004 Boston Red Sox – who ended an 86-year championship drought to “reverse the curse” and become World Series champions. Eight wildcard teams have reached the World Series (including 6 consecutive years 2002-2007) while 11 have reached their League Championship Series. The Boston Red Sox have the most wildcard appearances (7) while the Yankees are second (4).
The Seattle Mariners tied a baseball record (Chicago Cubs 1906) by winning 116 games in 2001 – but have never even been to a World Series (lost to Yankees in ALCS). Seattle is the only team on the top 10 list of all time winning seasons without a title – largely because of the 8 team “tournament” playoff format. The 1998 Yankees won 114 games en route to their 24th championship. Ergo in this diluted modern age of baseball, simply making the postseason is an accomplishment in and of itself. Credit those Oakland A’s teams with three straight world championships (1972-1974) or the Dodgers who made three World Series (1977, 1978 & 1981) over four seasons and the Boston Red Sox who reversed the curse by winning championships in 2004 and 2007. Atlanta’s 14 straight postseason appearances only resulted in one title (1995) but the Team of the 1990s proudly displays every one of those 14 banners. Repeat champions are more unique today than ever and putting together any kind of postseason streak should be considered commendable. Winning it all is still the ultimate goal but getting into the postseason is the first step toward that goal. Deciding which feats are more impressive can get messy.
Seven teams in the Majors didn’t make it once to the post season in the century’s first decade. The Baltimore Orioles (last postseason 1997), Toronto Blue Jays (back to back World Series wins 1992-1993)and Kansas City Royals (1985) all whiffed in the 21st century. The Texas Rangers broke their decade-long streak losing the 2010 World Series to San Francisco (1999 had been their last playoff appearance). The Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos), have not sniffed the postseason since the strike-shortened 1981 season (and haven’t finished above .500 since relocating to DC in 2005). The Cincinnati Reds had not seen the playoffs since the mid-90′s until they won the NL Central in 2010 – only to be swept in three games by the Phillies in NLDS. Woe have been the Pittsburgh Pirates, last appearing in the post season back in 1992 (lost NLCS to Atlanta) while their 75 win season in 2003 was their decade’s best finish (should top that in 2011 after 18 terrible seasons). Was it really only 1979 when the Pirates were atop the baseball world? Losing like winning can be contagious.
Boston Red Sox (2004 & 2007) and New York Yankees (2000 & 2009) have won two titles each in the 21st century but the Yankees boast four World Series trips (lost 2001 & 2003). St. Louis Cardinals have won 7 NL Central titles with 2 World Series appearances (2004 & 2006) winning their first championship (since 1982) of the decade and millennium in 2006. Then it gets muddy. Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels only have one championship (2002) but six playoff appearances in the decade. Philadelphia Phillies would be next with one championship in the decade (2008) plus two NL pennants and four straight postseason appearances. Arizona Diamondbacks boast their 2001 championship and two other postseason runs. Chicago White Sox have made the playoffs three times and sport a 2005 World Series title. Oakland A’s (5 postseasons appearances including 4 straight from 2000-2003) and Houston Astros (3 postseason berths with World Series loss in 2005) could grapple for bragging rights with Minnesota Twins (5 postseason berths, no World Series appearances), Detroit Tigers (2006 World Series loss), LA Dodgers (four postseason runs, only one NLCS loss in 2008) and the San Francisco Giants (four postseason trips, World Series loss in 2002 and 2010 World Championship). Should the Giants, Phillies, Angels or White Sox manage a second 21st century title, it would nudge them into elite status for the past dozen years.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org