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Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Few can be counted out when predicting ‘07 Series

October 25, 2006

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The Boston Red Sox broke the Curse. The Chicago White Sox won their first crown since Shoeless Joe Jackson. The Detroit Tigers could complete an unprecedented turnaround.

In this era of baseball parity, most everyone is invited to the World Series party.

Heck, who's next? The Chicago Cubs?

"No," said Dusty Baker, let go earlier this month as manager of the Cubs. "They think anyone can do this."

OK, so it's not that easy to go from worst to first.

Still, at a time when many fans figured Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees would dominate with a $200 million payroll, there's only one sure bet this October: For the seventh straight year, a different team will win the World Series.

"I know some people immediately will say, 'Well, that's mediocrity,' and so on and so forth," commissioner Bud Selig said. "But in other sports they call it parity and everybody thinks it's great. Well, that's what this is, parity."

Since baseball expanded its playoff format in 1995, just seven of the 30 teams have been absent from the playoffs. Revenue sharing has helped, giving smaller market clubs more room to maneuver.

A decade ago, "I had dreams of things getting better, but in many ways this has exceeded my fondest expectations," Selig said.

Other major sports have not seen lots of teams share in the success.

The New England Patriots won three of the last five Super Bowls. The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs each took three of the last eight NBA titles. New Jersey, Detroit and Colorado combined to win eight of the past 11 Stanley Cups.

Baseball, meanwhile, keeps welcoming new clubs to the Fall Classic. This year's matchup was among the most unlikely in a long while.

The St. Louis Cardinals limped in with 83 wins, the second-fewest in Series history (the 1973 Mets won 82).

The Tigers made it just three years removed from an embarrassing 119 losses. No club ever reached the postseason so quickly after such a terrible season.

"I didn't think we would be in the playoffs this year," manager Jim Leyland said during the AL playoffs. "I'd be lying if I said I did."

"I thought we might next year. We caught lightning in a bottle with some of the chances we took," he said.

Certainly luck plays a part in winning it all.

With an $80 million-plus payroll, the Tigers got huge contributions from hard-throwing rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. The expensive free agents they signed in recent years - Kenny Rogers, Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez - paid off. Together, they helped Detroit stop a string of 12 straight losing seasons.

The big-money Red Sox and New York Mets, meanwhile, got hurt by injuries and fell short of this World Series. During the course of 162 games in the regular season and then the playoffs, it only takes one poor pitch or one bad swing to derail the drive to a championship.

Baker knows that firsthand.

In 2002, his San Francisco Giants were six outs from the World Series title when Anaheim rallied to win Game 6. The next day, the Angels won the championship.

The following year, Baker was five outs away from guiding the Cubs to their first World Series appearance since 1945. That's when a fan deflected a foul ball at Wrigley Field, and it all fell apart.

The Cubs never came close after that, and now Baker is out of a job.

"You've got to have special people you put together in a group. The Tigers went through a tough time to get to this time. The hard part is keeping guys together," Baker said.

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