On Oct. 1, 1995 the Colorado Rockies clinched the National League wild card, reaching the playoffs after just three seasons of existence. In 2001 the Arizona Diamondbacks would top that by winning the World Series in their fourth year. Now that both teams are in the playoffs again, Richard asks which expansion franchise is the most successful ever..
Being that they had a rather considerable head start, it is no surprise that the pre-1961 expansion franchises have a stranglehold on the list of World Series winners. But without that advantage, post-expansion teams are something of a grim lot. Many have never won a World Series (Houston, Milwaukee, San Diego); some have never won a pennant (Seattle, Texas, Montreal/Washington) and one, the Devil Rays, has never even made the playoffs.
The leaders in championships (speaking here, and below, strictly of expansion teams) are the Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins, each with two. Should the Angels or Diamondbacks triumph this year, they will join the list.
But World Series titles are not the only way to measure success. The all-time franchise leader in wins is the Angels, with 3,690. Put another way, however, one must consider the franchise’s 3,794 losses. The Angels’ all-time winning percentage is .493. a few ticks below .500.
Of course, for expansion teams, .493 is pretty good. The only one currently above .500 is the Diamondbacks at 818-802, good for a .505. The D-Backs owe a goodly amount to their 90-win season this year, which propelled them over .500.
If one sets a lower limit of at least 2,000 games (eliminating the 1990s expansion teams), the leader in winning percentage is the Toronto Blue Jays. At 2,428-2.469, the Blue Jays’ winning percentage is .496, putting them just a pair of good seasons away from topping .500.
Another way to look at team success is consistency. Despite being over .500 for their entire history, the Diamondbacks are a peak-and-valley sort of team. In 10 years of existence they’ve managed to both win 100 games (1999) and lose 100 (2004).
This Jekyll and Hyde quality is not unusual in expansion teams, especially those in the ’90s. The Marlins have played 15 seasons and two-fifths have seen the team either win or lose 90 games.
So there are a lot of different ways to measure success, including some I haven’t touched on, like attendance and players developed and so forth. But we’re talking about on the field. Right off the bat, that eliminates any franchise that hasn’t won a World Series.
I’m aware of the rough-and-tumble nature of the postseason and that this might be penalizing deserving teams, but if you haven’t delivered your fans a title, you can’t be considered the most successful franchise. That takes out Colorado, Houston, Montreal/Washington, Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Texas. This will be our largest single culling of the herd, knocking out eight of 14 teams.
We’re left with the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Royals, Angels, Blue Jays and Mets. The next team to drop has to be the Marlins. Although they do have two World Series titles, more than three of those teams, they also have had some shockingly fallow periods, often self-inflicted. They have the lowest winning percentage (.471) among the teams. They have never won a division title, and while I respect their play in the postseason, two bursts of short-series success are not enough to overwhelm the other teams.
Speaking of short bursts of strength, that is what dooms the Diamondbacks. They are arguably the most successful team in raw terms, with the highest winning percentage and now experiencing the playoffs for the fourth time in their short history. But that short history cuts both ways and maintaining success is harder over a longer time. If I redid this list in 20 years, the D-Backs might be ready to make a much stronger case.
The next to go is the Angels. They have a strong winning percentage and, as discussed, the most wins by any expansion team. The fact remains that, although they have made the playoffs four times in the past six years under Mike Scioscia, they made it only three times before that.
With just the Royals, Blue Jays and Mets left standing, the next to go are the Jays and Royals. Obviously this can go a lot of ways, but both Kansas City and Toronto suffered from what might be called “Angels Syndrome.” Although they have had success (including the Jays’ back-to-back World Series titles) both were most successful for only one period in their history.
For the Jays, eliminated first, that was 1989 through 1993. Although they made the playoffs in ’85, a fourth-place finish the next year stops me from linking the teams as one continuous run. In ’89 the Jays ran into the buzz saw Oakland A’s and after a second-place finish in 1990 they were again on the wrong side of a 4-1 LCS, this time against the Twins.
In 1992 and ’93, however, it was the Jays’ chance to reign. They never played in Game Seven in the playoffs those years, winning two-thirds of their games. Being stuck in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees has not done the Jays any favors the past few years, and it remains to be seen if they can overcome that.
The Royals’ period was considerably longer, and, in all respects but championships, more successful. Kansas City won seven division titles, two pennants and the 1985 World Series. Were it not for the late ’70s Yankee teams, the Royals might be at the head of this list. But the combination of that and their recent ineptitude (just one winning season since 1995) slots them in at number two.
The most successful franchise then, is the New York Mets. This is perhaps cold comfort for Mets fans these days, but still an impressive accomplishment. Despite a low winning percentage (.478), the Mets have had four separate periods of success: the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” Davey Johnson’s 1980s “Bad Guys,” Bobby Valentine’s late ’90s teams and now Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph’s “New Mets.”
The Mets have two World Series, four pennants, six division titles and seven playoffs appearances. This season may have ended badly for them, but it could not undo their feat as expansion team supreme.