The Starting 9 podcast on Barstool Sports is one of my favorite podcasts in the game currently. Carrabis, Dallas, and J-Hay mix humor with insight and give a refreshing view on my favorite dying game; baseball. I don't always agree with everything they say, but imo that's what makes it work and keeps me coming back. After Pardon My Take and Crimetown (I'm two years behind..sry), it rounds out my top three favos.
On last week's episode producer Justin Havens brought up the potential for a podcast down the road discussing what went wrong for three franchises from the last decade who had great runs, and at times were dominate-- but were never able to win the World Series. The three teams in reference are the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers.
All have their own unique story that deserves to be told.
The Washington Nationals had all the talent in the world, but questionable leadership and decision making caused them to never even win a playoff series. San Diego Charger of LT -ish run for them.
The Detroit Tigers are the team here unlike the others. They have a rich history of success and glory. Championships on the backs of great starting pitcher and all time hitters, with a sprinkle of fantastic managing (look up Mayo Smith in the 68 WS). A franchise who before Jim Leyland showed up, had been one of the worst in all of sports for over a decade. Under his tutelage (100% first time in history of DOL I've used that word) they were perennial World Series contenders, who won two pennants. However in the Fall Classic went 1-8 in World Series; being upset each time. (maybe not a technical upset in 2012? but I thought they were gonna roll).
Then there's the Texas Rangers. A team who had the chance to be the ultimate comeback story. They were nearly the 2015 Royals..avenged a previous year's defeat in the World Series. Only to become the 1986 Red Sox---losing the World Series in heartbreaking, almost impossible to even write, fashion when a strike away from a championship.
We put soooooooo much emphasis on championships in sports, and rightfully so. It's the reason most (if not all--but for sure Herm Edwards) play the game---whatever game it may be. When I played high school football (nbd) all I cared about was winning a state championship. It's what I played for.
In sports sometimes because a team doesn't win it all-- they may be forgotten despite being great. You have to either really choke or have some sort of record setting season to live on in sports lore. Like nobody remembers the 2008 Angels who won 100 games and had a closer in K-Rod who broke the all time saves record--because they lost the ALDS to the Red Sox. They weren't some all time team, but winning 100 games is a pretty big deal (even if their run differential suggests they were an 88 win team).
Of course the all time great teams who don't pull it off like the 2007 Patriots or 1998 Vikings, or failed experiments with overwhelming talent like the 2003-04 Lakers or 2011 Eagle live on in infamy. The 2001 Mariners will always be remembered for winning 116 games and not even making the World Series.
But usually, teams who don't get it done are forgotten over time.
This is a really rudimentary take by me but it is so unfair, winning a championship is fucking hard. Like are the 2006 Cardinals better than the 2001 Mariners? The 2015 Pirates won 98 games but ran into a pitcher in the midst of an all-time pitching run in a one game playoff. Arguably Arrita's signature start as a Cub. Sometimes it's luck! I'm sorry. But it's true. David Tyree was lucky. In baseball and basketball there are 30 teams. NHL has 31 and the NFL has 32. In today's view of sports it's so championship or bust. As a Boston sports fan I get it better than most. 2017 Patriots are seen as a failure. For most franchises a trip to the championship (even if they lose) would be cause for celebration. The city of Cleveland held a parade for the 95 Indians despite losing the World Series to the Braves.
To win a championship you need luck in addition to skill. Everything has to break your way, the best team doesn't always win (as we'll see in a few instances in this series). I think the 2007 Pats are better than any of the 5 Super Bowl winning Patriot teams, but they didn't win their last game so "nobody cares". They are forever a punchline.
As a baseball fan, and more importantly as someone who lives in the past.. I loved the idea of really digging into these three franchises rise and fall that ended up with a combined 0 World Series wins. I love the Red Sox, but I am going to give that corny line baseball fans use "I'm a baseball fan first".
I love the history of the game. I can recite countless stats and World Series winners. It's just something I enjoy. I also firsthand got to experience one of the best nights of my life because of one of these teams I'm going to discuss short comings (s/o the 2013 Red Sox).
In all sports looking back at "what ifs?" or "what could've beens?" are something I find very interesting. Mainly because I feel like my whole life to this point is a what could've been stemming all the way back from my day in the sun on the Rosie O'Donnell Show in 1996. Also because at the end of the day those are arguments that can never really have a winner or loser. Yeah we all think Ken Griffey would've been the greatest player ever if he didn't get hurt...but idk maybe he couldn't had a really shitty season when healthy or something? That was not the best example but just stay with me!
I'm sure Starting 9 will do a great job talking about these teams postseason woes during the off-season, and ftr the next two will not have these lengthy intros that I have become notorious (d.o.z.) for. But as a writer who is desperately trying to get his fastball back I figured this would be the perfect chance to get back to doing what I love. I'm going to break down all three franchises rise to perennial contender, the decisions, and moments that cost them and hopefully answer the question: why did these teams never win a World Series? I'm not a baseball writer, I'm a blogger. This is me giving opinions, backed with some stats about what went wrong. I love talking baseball but am not nearly as polished with new age stats and all that shit so if that's what you're looking for you've come to the wrong place. However if you want take a look back at what went wrong for these three franchises I think this is a blog series for you.
Without further ado, let's talk #Nattitude.
I guess the Nationals story goes all the way back to 1969 when the Montreal Expos began playing baseball in the newly formed National League East.
The Expos history and what caused the Expos to leave Montreal for D.C. and become the Nats is a very interesting, and at times heartbreaking one; but not one I'm going to dive into here. I'd highly suggest watching the MLB Network documentary: The Colorful Montreal Expos if you wanna know more about that.
In late September 2004 it was announced the Expos would be heading to Washington, D.C.
Apart from Alfonso Soriano's lone season in the National's capital where he had a 40/40 (46/41 to be exact) season nothing too noteworthy or exciting was happening for the Nats. Other than Soriano all I can really remember from the pre-Harper/Strasburg Nats is when they spelled Adam Dunn's jersey wrong.
To their credit they were able to go 81-81 in their first season, which considering the turmoil from the move is pretty impressive. But the Nationals didn't really have too much buzz. They played at old RFK Stadium until 2008 when Nationals Park opened, but a new ballpark didn't mean more fans. After a minor bump in 2008 attendance actually fell below the numbers of their final season at RFK.
The Nationals finished 8th in attendance in their inaugural season. A spike like that is expected when a team is new. If you look back throughout history you'll see most expansion or relocated franchises (even if they suck) tend to drawn well their first season. If they keep sucking those numbers don't hold up. The 1998 Devil Rays were 7th in the AL in attendance (their first year) and by 2001 were 14th aka dead last in the American League. It looked like the Nats were in line for a similar fate.
Nationals attendance finishes 2005-2009:
2005: 2,731,993 (8th of 16)
2006: 2,153,056 (11th of 16)
2007: 1,943,812 (14th of 16)
2008: 2,320,400 (13th of 16)
2009: 1,817,226 (13th of 16)
It wasn't until the 2009 MLB Draft when people really started getting excited about this team.
The MLB draft (especially at this time) was miles behind the NFL or NBA in terms of hype and excitement. Casual fans don't really know the hot baseball prospects coming out of high school or college. But this year there was a pitcher by the name of Stephen Strasburg from San Diego State who got everybody talking.
I had never seen a prospect so hyped before in my (at the time short) baseball fandom. I was a junior in high school when he got drafted, close to the peak of my Red Sox fandom and absolutely in love with baseball. Everybody was talking about this guy being the next Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens with his fastball. Scouts were talking about how hard he threw. Frequently reaching triple digits. Dude was getting shout outs in Wale (talk about failing to live up to the hype) songs before he finished his first full season.
At San Diego State under Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.) Strasburg was an absolute stud. These are his numbers as a starter his sophomore and junior year. There's a reason so many people were talking about this guy in an era where outside of baseball executives most people didn't even know who was going to be drafted.
2008 (junior year) btw they get more ridiculous as you go down:
97 innings pitched
ONE HOME RUN ALLOWED
2009 (senior year):
109 innings pitched
kinda fell off here....4 home runs allowed
Then when he made his major league debut on June 8th, 2010 Strasburg just happened to break the Nationals record for most strikeouts in a game. In his debut start. Fans were going crazy, there was a playoff atmosphere. Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates over 7 innings while only allowing 2 runs in a winning effort taking the national media by storm. It looked like this kid was going to live up to all the hype.
The Nationals sold out his first start. Over 40,000 fans packed the house to see the 2009 #1 overall pick make his debut. After winning his first two career starts Stephen Strasburg found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Strasburg was everywhere. In one month his jersey sold more than any Nationals jersey had ever sold in the entire franchise's history.
Donovan McNabb has the second-hottest selling jersey in the NFL. That seemed pretty good. But then along came Stephen Strasburg, who -- in the month of June -- had the top selling jersey in all of baseball. Since Alex Ovechkin is annually either No. 1 or No. 2 in NHL sales, this is potentially an unprecedented era.
Ah yes, surely these are the golden days of D.C. sports, at least as measured in national jersey sales numbers.
No, this is actually quite remarkable. According to MLB:
* More than 78,000 Strasburg jerseys were sold through July 1, making his the top-selling Nats jersey of all time. Yes, in one month he outpaced the entire career of Ryan Zimmerman for jersey sales.
* Strasburg's jersey was the best-selling MLB model in June, and he is believed to have sold more jerseys in that month than any player in his first month in MLB history. Take that, Cy Young.
First off, seeing that Donovan McNabb line is hilarious.
Unfortunately for Strasburg like most hard throwers he would need Tommy John Surgery. That is not hilarious. The rookie sensation's 2010 season was short lived as he was only to pitch 68 innings. He was v impressive in his 12 starts posted a 5-3 record with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts. Good for 12.2 K/9. Despite the injury those 12 starts gave National fans something to really be excited about for the first time in franchise history. They also had this kid from Las Vegas named Bryce Harper to look forward to as well.
However, this surgery and it's after-effects could very well be what started the Nationals run of early postseason exits.
I don't wanna give you guys 5000 words to read in one sitting. I'll get into that and the drafting of Bryce Harper in the next installment of Close, But No Commissioner's Trophy.