This annotated week in baseball history: Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 1989

On Oct. 28, 1989, the Oakland A’s won game four over San Francisco, giving them the final World Series title of the 1980s. Richard calculates which team was the best of that decade.

Like most of you, my team didn’t win the World Series this season. That’s always disappointing. Obviously other types of seasons can be satisfying—I don’t think very many Rockies fans would call this season a failure—but ultimately everyone wants to see their team at the top.

For my part, I was even more disappointed when the Red Sox won the World Series. That’s not (just) because I’m a Yankee fan; it also cost me what I thought was a pretty good column idea. Had the Rockies, Cubs, Phillies or Indians triumphed this season, it would have meant a different world champion every season of the ‘00s. (The Aughts? The Double-Zeros? Did we ever pick a name for this decade?)

Given many different champions, it raises the question of which is the team of the decade, at least to this point. I probably would have ended up with the Yankees—one title, two additional pennants, the only team to make the playoffs every year—but the goal is titles and Boston has two. At least for the moment, the Red Sox are the team of the decade.

So I’ll look at which was the team of another decade. I thought about doing the ’90s, but that comes down to a debate about whether long-term quality (the Braves) or slightly shorter-term domination (the Yankees) is your thing. I lean toward the latter, but that’s me.

The next option was to go back to the ’80s, and here I found a good debate. To keep from being totally subjective, I’ve worked out a little points system. Teams get five points for making the playoffs, plus one bonus point if they won 100 or more games.

Teams then receive an additional three points for each round they advance, up to the World Series. (The 1981 strike and baseball’s “solution” thereto complicates things; we’ll get to that later.) Winning the World Series earns four points.

Let’s take 1980 as an example. The four playoff teams were the Royals, Yankees, Phillies and Astros. That’s five points each for them. The Yankees get a bonus point for winning 103 games, so they have six.

Kansas City and Philadelphia won their championship series, so they now have eight points. The Phillies triumphed in the World Series, so they receive an additional four points, brining their total to 12. The “standings,” therefore, look like this:

1. Phillies [12]
2. Royals [8]
3. Yankees [6]
4. Astros [5]

Before we get into the 1981 season, with its three rounds of playoffs and short schedule, it is worth posting the standings here of how teams performed in the 1980s:

1. Cardinals [29]
2. Royals [25]
3. Dodgers [22]
4. A’s [21]
5. Phillies [20]
6. Mets [19]
7. Tigers [18]
8. Red Sox [13]
8. Giants [13]
9. Orioles [12]
9.Twins [12]
10. Astros [10]
10. Blue Jays [10]
10. Angels [10]
10. Cubs [10]
11. Brewers [8]
11. Padres [8]
12. Yankees [6]
13. Braves [5]
13. White Sox [5]

But 1981 creates a handful of problems. The two halves of the season meant that no team could (plausibly) win 100 games. It also created weird situations like that of the Reds, who had more wins (66) than any other National League team, but missed the playoffs.

Moreover, given the goofy first half/second half format—who thought that was a good idea?—the first ever League Division Series was created. This means that those teams in the playoffs in 1981 have a chance to earn more points than those teams in other years.

The 100-win problem actually solves itself: No team reached the winning percentage that would constitute 100 wins in a full season. As for the extra round, although all teams earn playoff appearance points, I am not awarding points for winning the LDS. So, the final Team of the 1980s standings, followed by a few notes.

1. Dodgers [34]
2. Royals [30]
3. Cardinals [29]
4. A’s [26]
5. Phillies [25]
6. Mets [19]
7. Tigers [18]
8. Astros [15]
9. Yankees [14]
10. Red Sox [13]
10. Giants [13]
10. Brewers [13]
11. Orioles [12]
11. Twins [12]
12. Blue Jays [10]
12. Angels [10]
12. Cubs [10]
13. Padres [8]
14. Braves [5]
14. White Sox [5]
14. Expos [5]

I am not too surprised to see the Dodgers at the head of this list. I’m sure most LA fans remember the ’80s fondly —two championships and two other playoff appearances. I am a little more surprised to see the Royals ahead of the Cardinals, although I probably shouldn’t be, given that the Royals did beat the Cards in the ’85 Series. Or, looking at it another way, Don Denkinger cost the Cardinals the No. 2 spot in the rankings.

Looking a little farther down the list, although I haven’t run all the numbers, I am sure that the 1980s are the lowest-ranking decade for the Yankees since the teens—a decade they spent partially as the Highlanders.

The Twins and Orioles both won titles in the decade, but are behind—albeit closely—five franchises that never won a title but had more long-term success over the 10 years. I’m not thrilled that the scoring ends up that way, but attempting to manipulate the system to personal whims would create more problems, I’m sure.

Finally, pity the poor Expos, who earned the only playoff points in their history in this decade and came within one game of defeating the Dodgers in ’81. Had they done so, it would not only have bumped them up a spot on the list, but also cost the Dodgers enough points to bring them below both Kansas City and St. Louis. Baseball is a funny game.

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