Here's to the World Series losers, the teams that came oh so close to spraying champagne.
No one wants to lose. And yet, every year, all but one MLB team loses -- falling short of the final goal, a world championship.
Losing in the World Series is painful. To get so close ...
The team that loses the World Series becomes a footnote to history, playing all the way until the end, only to see someone else claim October (or November) glory.
Sometimes the losses are haunting.
Sometimes the losses are preordained.
But regardless of the outcome, the World Series participants have already crossed so many hurdles.
6.67% chance to win the pennant
26.67% chance to reaching the playoffs
20% chance of winning the division
Up until 1969, the World Series was played between the teams from each league with the best regular-season records. If that had happened this year, the Giants would have faced the Rays in the World Series -- two teams that didn't make it out of the divisional round of the playoffs.
It's interesting to consider which teams might have broken through in the past, given today's current system -- the 1993 Giants won 103 games and still fell one game short of the Braves. Or the teams that might have won a title in recent years if the playoffs were structured like they were previously. Like the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners that would have faced off against either the Astros or Cardinals -- they both finished 93-69 for more wins than any other National League team that year.
This year's World Series loser, the Astros, was poised to become a dynasty after winning the team’s first championship in 2017. But then the franchise was plagued by scandal. Houston reached the Fall Classic again in 2019 and 2021, only to come up short each time.
For teams expected to win a championship, losing a World Series is about as much fun as eating poison.
Ten years later, as a Rangers fan, I'm still coming to terms with the team's near-championship in 2011, Game Six -- one strike away -- when David Freese and his Cardinals teammates scraped and clawed their way to victory. Ten years later, there are only a handful of players on that Rangers team who are still active. I've never wanted something more as a sports fan than a Rangers championship; but the loss doesn't define me and hasn't left me unfulfilled in life.
Ten years later, I still love the players on that team. Beltre. Kinsler. Moreland. Holland. Nelson Cruz makes me smile. I try not to think about his fielding problems, and focus instead on his Boomstick power.
And with Atlanta’s victory, former Rangers manager Ron Washington finally has a ring.
For teams with no expectations, even with a loss, the magic of a pennant win can linger forever. Phillies fans of a certain age can rattle off every one of the Whiz Kids of 1950, and Phillies fans of another certain age have long since memorized the 1993 lineup, hanging onto the 15-14 Game 4 win, or Curt Schilling's masterpiece shutout in Game 5.
The "Impossible Dream" Red Sox of 1967 are still beloved.
The 1990s Braves did a lot of winning, but only hoisted the trophy in 1995.
And the Dem Bums Dodgers that consistently lost in the World Series, only to break through -- finally -- in 1955.
As is the 1998 San Diego Padres, a team that got a standing ovation after getting swept -- a team built for one October (and a stadium vote) and soon after broken apart. You have to play a pretty much perfect series when you're facing a 125-win Yankees team, and get the umpire to call strikes as strikes, and not give Tino Martinez an extra pitch with the bases loaded, and make sure the flu isn't spreading through your pitching staff, or that your third baseman isn't falling apart in front of everyone's eyes ... despite all of that, San Diego fans -- with little to celebrate in the years before or after -- still look back fondly on the season when Gwynn and Vaughn and Caminiti and Finley and Brown and Hoffman brought home a pennant.
I spoke to Bruce Bochy, the Padres’ manager in 1998, in 2020 about what it meant to lose that series, and how it impacted him in the years ahead.
“We had to go through Houston with Randy Johnson, Atlanta Braves. Of course we played a juggernaut team, the Yankees, but still felt that we were that good that we could've beat them. Even though they're one of the best teams probably ever put together in baseball, we were really good too. If we could've hung on and won that first game, it could have been interesting. But it made me hungrier. I wanted to get back. I just wanted one more shot. That's all I kept saying, one more chance at the World Series,” he told me.
“The 1998 team probably gave me the importance of the sense of urgency of every game, and to do whatever it takes to win every game. You can't worry about feelings, it's all hands on deck. You learn from your past experiences. I don't think I did anything that cost us the World Series, but you realize how one game can turn everything around.
“Like everybody, you learn from those times … it just made me so hungry to want to get back, have one more shot, and so 2010, that happened. And so you think, OK, I did it, but then you want to win another one cause you heard you were lucky. So you want to validate the first one, and so we won the second one, and now it gets you even hungrier to even do it again. And even after '14, after three, I wanted one more shot.
“It's like an adrenaline drug. There's nothing like it.”
So here's to the World Series losers, the teams that came oh so close to spraying champagne. There's no shame in losing the Fall Classic. It’s a 50-50 chance, a flip of a coin.