Ranking the Recent Postseasons

A month ago I joked to a friend that 2007 was destined to be one of the greatest postseasons ever. When he queried why, I told him it was simple. This October, for reasons beyond my control, I would be unable to get to a TV most nights a week and miss all the fun parts.

Um, “fortunately” for me, this turned out to be one of the least-inspiring postseasons ever. Only one series wasn’t a blowout, and that had many games within it that were blowouts. For a team that had its back to the wall, down three games to one, the Red Sox sure found themselves a well-cushioned wall. They scored in the first inning in each of the last three games and never trailed.

Since it all ended I’ve found myself wondering if this was in fact the worst postseason in my memory. I started watching baseball in 1982, and this was the 25th not-strike-cancelled October in that time. If it wasn’t the worst, it certainly was in the picture.

So. . . as long as I’m wondering if it was the worst, I may as well look it up and try to rank the 1982-onward postseasons.

How to rank ‘em

This isn’t any sort of an objective attempt to rate and rank the postseasons. If anything, it’s merely a way to clear my head and put this year’s disappointment in perspective. Simply put, this is a purely subjective list. Still, it has some standards. To wit:

Great moments matter, but there are more important things.

The later the round, the more it matters.

There are two levels of drama: within the game itself and within the larger context of the series (or entire postseason). Sometimes games that are in and off themselves dull can make the overall series more interesting. The 1960 World Series that made the entire series more exciting. You had to wonder if the underdog Pirates would have their day. It’s all about storylines people.

Speaking of storylines, sometimes a great display of talent by a historically great team can make for a compelling finale. Switching sports, Super Bowl XX where the Bears trounced the Patriots is still one of the highest-rated games ever, and I don’t think anyone doubted who would win.

Finally, don’t get too carried away with any the above. They’re guidelines, not rules. This list is purely subjective, not authoritative.

Rating 25 Postseasons

Normally, I’d start at the bottom and build to the top to add suspense. Here the question is the bottom.

1) 1986. Duh. The World Series saw a long-cursed team lose in the most heartbreaking manner in franchise history. And that was the most boring part of October.

The ALCS had the sad case of Donnie Moore, Gene Mauch’s unsuccessful bid to make it off of trivia death row as most games managed without a pennant, and the heroics of his generation’s David Ortiz, David Henderson.

The NLCS’s Game 6 might be the greatest game ever. Though only the penultimate game, it was the Game 7-est Game 6 ever. Mike Scott had so utterly dominated the Mets in Games 1 and 4 that you wouldn’t be surprised to find out he sneaked off between innings to cuckold Mr. Met.

2) 1991. One of the greatest World Series ever, culminating with a classic Game 7. There were also three 1-0 games in the NLCS.

3) 2001. Two consecutive walk-off homers in the Series, plus a walk-off hit in Game 7. Plus some good storylines here: the Mariners falling victim to the Curse of the 116 Win Team, Randy Johnson ending his postseason losing streak, Mariano Rivera proving he’s human, Billy Beane’s #### not working in the playoffs, and Curt Schilling confirming his uber-clutchness.

4) 2003. Two fantastic league championship series, both involving teams trying (unsuccessfully in both cases) to overcome their franchises’ histories. You also had Josh Beckett’s emergence as an October stud, allowing five runs in his last 34.7 IP. Plus there was the A’s collapse against Boston, giving them nine consecutive losses in possible division series-clinching games over the last four years.

5) 2004. The greatest ALCS ever. Possibly the best postseason series in any sport ever. Plus Houston added another heartbreaking chapter in its history of postseason problems in the NLCS.

6) 1988. Everyone knows about the Kirk Gibson homer in the World Series. But how ‘bout this: Mickey Hatcher hit more long balls in these five games than he hit in the entire regular season. The Dodgers didn’t have an especially impressive line-up, but when Gibson and Mike Marshall were unable to start for a few games, Bob Costas said it might be the worst starting line-up ever fielded in a World Series. He may very well have been right. It was David vs. Goliath—this time without the slingshot.

That upset was not too surprising to those who saw the NLCS. In that the Dodgers won in seven over a Mets team who beat them 11 times in 12 tries in the regular season. At one point they had Orel Hershiser warming up in the bullpen to relieve in this series.

7) 1993. People remember its World Series for Joe Carter’s homer off the Wild Thing, the 15-14 game, and Schilling’s great World Series start when the team needed a complete game, but the NLCS also deserves some love. It’s the closest we’ve seen to the 1960 World Series with the Braves twice paddling the Phillies, only to lose three other games by one run.

8) 1992. In baseball history, the following situation has only happened once: bottom of the ninth in the last possible game of a postseason series. The home team is down but the tying and winning runs are on. There are two outs, so if the batter at the plate can’t get on, the season is over. Instead, with one swing of the bat he drives in both runners, turning one pitch from ultimate defeat to one pitch for victory.

It was the finale of the 1992 NLCS and the batter was, of all people, Francisco Cabrera. Oh, and the World Series was a nice, tightly played one, too.

9) 1985. In the World Series, Don Denkinger blew the call, but the Cards fell apart on their own. Hell, there weren’t even two outs when the Royals pushed across the winning run in Game Six. The Cards embarrassed themselves in the next game.

Also, one should note Ozzie Smith’s improbable walk-off homer in the NLCS. Last but certainly not least, the Royals pulled the truly impressive feat of rallying from three-games-to-one deficits in both the ALCS and Series.

10) 1997. Really, not that great a World Series, but a great Game 7. A team that hadn’t won in 43 years had to keep on waiting. The ALCS was a great one, featuring the last hurrah for the House of Angelos.

11) 1999. Best NLCS this side of Mike Scott, but that was it. The Red Sox came back from a 0-2 deficit in their ALDS, but none of those games were close.

12) 1984. This one’s personal. I was a 9-year-old Cubs fan watching the NLCS. I will never forgive Steve Garvey for what he did. Admittedly, the fact that he’s Steve Garvey makes him that much easier to hold a grudge against. Also, the postseason contained a dominating performance by the Tigers, who showed that their 35-5 start wasn’t a fluke as they trailed for only a handful of innings in the entire postseason.

13) 1995. In the first year of the Division Series, the Yanks and Mariners hook up for what is still the best one ever. October was a bit dull after that, but the Indians played in their first World Series in over 40 years.

14) 2002. Really nice World Series, but the rest was a bit pedestrian.

15) 1996. In the NLCS and World Series, the Braves won five straight games by scores of 14-0, 3-1, 15-0, 12-1, and 4-0. Then the Yanks beat them in the next four games. Plus you had the Jeffrey Maier game in the ALCS.

16) 2006. It had a great NLCS, memorable for the sheer improbability of the Cards winning the Series. But most of the month had little compelling drama.

17) 1998. Actually, a really lousy postseason on the face of it redeemed by the utter dominating performance of the Yanks coming off their 114-win season. Heck, this would score higher if they had swept all three rounds. Plus, Kevin Brown pitched like some latter-day Mike Scott in the playoffs for a spell.

18) 2005. The World Series was a sweep, but it was an incredibly taunt sweep. Game 3 was one of the greatest games in the last decade. And NASA reports Albert Pujols’s NLCS shot off of Brad Lidge just cleared Uranus.

19) 1987. The home field World Series, the first one where road teams lost every game. In the NLCS, the Cards held the Giants scoreless for the last 22 innings.

20) 1982. For a seven-game World Series, it sure lacked tense excitement. The Brewers overaome a 0-to-2 deficit in the best-of-5 ALCS, but the entire month alternated between boring games to moderately interesting ones.

21) 1990. While it had an incredible World Series upset against the A’s, we’d just seen that movie two years earlier, and it was a lot better then. Both championship series were also dull, only memorably for Roger Clemens’s ejection in the second inning of the fourth and final game of the ALCS.

22) 2000. Lotta blowout series. You did have the A’s begin their October hell, but the latter failures were more memorable. Aside from that, there was only the much overplayed Clemens-Piazza incident. At this point, shepherds in Bhutan are sick of hearing about that one.

23) 2007. OK, so it wasn’t the worst one after all. Huzzahs all around. You had Colorado’s unlikely march to glory, and Boston’s comeback against Cleveland. Had Boston appeared to be a historically great team during the regular season, I could bump the year up as I did for 1984 and 1998, but they were merely the best team of the year.

24) 1983. Boring ALCS competing against a boring NLCS followed by a boring World Series. Most notable for the White Sox first postseason appearance in 24 years. (shrugs). Really, that’s the highlight.

25) 1989. Yeah. Can’t get much worse than this. The earthquake really put the game in perspective. I don’t see how you could care too much about the game after seeing the Bay Area in flames. The quality of the games certainly didn’t help. The heavily favored A’s, who had waltzed through the ALCS, effortlessly dispatched a Giants squad that had easily won the NLCS.

Look on the bright side people—2007 had a much better postseason than 1994.

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