01 October 2002

Better Scyence...

It occurred to me, upon further review, that I had not actually followed my own advice and looked into the 1898-99 Brooklyn Bridegrooms, as any good analyst should have. Shame on me. So I looked them up, and found some remarkable things. I imagined that there must have been some extenuating circumstances surrounding such a jump in the standings and I was not disappointed.

So, as long as we're on the subject, Jayson, let's not forget that the 1898 Brooklyn team went from 54-91, 46 games out of first place, to 101-47, 8 games up in first place just one year later. Brooklyn went from awful to great, whereas Anaheim simply went from mediocre to good. Significantly less impressive. That same year, the St Louis Perfectos went from 39-111, dead last and 63.5 games out of first, to 84-67, 18.5 games out, but a 46 game jump in games back from the previous season. You may be asking yourself, "How?" (OK, so just pretend you were.) How did two teams make such drastic jumps in one year?

Easy: They cheated. Well, technically it wasn't cheating because there were no League bylaws saying that you couldn't do it, but it certainly wans't fair. The owner of the Brooklyn club purchased the Baltimore Orioles, switched all of its good players with the lousy ones on the Orioles, and improved their record by 47 wins, almost doubling the previous year's total. The St Louis Perfectos did the same thing: purchased the Cleveland Spiders, made the necessary switches, and turned that team right around. Of course, they also turned the Spiders around, sending them reeling to a 20-134 record, the worst team in the history of the NL. The Spiders finished 84 games out of first place, and 35 games out of ELEVENTH place! Shortly thereafter, the rules were implemented that prevented an owner from buying stock in another team in the same league. You can read all about this in Rob Neyer's and Eddie Epstein's book, Baseball Dynasties. It is an excellent book, which, in addition to discussing the greatest teams of all time, also spends a chapter on the worst teams ever, and the Spiders run away with that title.

If there is to be any comparison at all, Anaheim's accomplishment is actually greater than those of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms/ Superbas or the St. Louis Browns/ Perfectos, because the Angels turned themselves around with largely the same personnel. Almost everybody simply got better, all at once. Should Mike Scioscia win the AL manager of the Year Award? Well, despite my hesitancy about rewarding a guy who employs a hitting coach once quoted saying that he didn't want Troy Glaus to walk a lot, yes, he probably should. But let's give him credit for turning his own team around, not for somehow miraculously causing the Seattle Mariners to lose 23 more games than they did last year. And lets not diminish Anaheim's accomplishment by comparing them to a team that got turned around by plundering the roster of another team, as the rampant corruption of the owners of the end of the 19th century totally skews any comparisons one might like to make.

We've got our own rampant corruption to worry about.

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