Two decades without a back-to-back champ
By Marcos Mejías Ortiz
Special to The Star
As the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays play to see who will be the new king of Major League Baseball (MLB) -- the World Series is tied at a game apiece going into tonight’s Game 3 -- 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the last time a team bathed in champagne in consecutive years at the end of the October Classic.
Several teams have reached the World Series in consecutive years during the first two decades of the new millennium, but none have been able to repeat the feat achieved by the New York Yankees when in 2000 they won a third consecutive title.
Since the Yankees’ three-peat from 1998 to 2000, no team has won back-to-back World Series, which in itself is a record in the major leagues, which saw countless dynasties during the 20th century, when the classic began to be played in 1903.
The Philadelphia Phillies (2008-2009), Texas Rangers (2010-2011), Kansas City Royals (2014-2015) and the Dodgers (2017-2018) have been in the World Series in back-to-back years, but only the Phillies (2008) and Royals (2015) raised the championship trophy, although they could not repeat.
The franchise closest to achieving consecutive titles was the San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 -- three championships in five seasons.
What has happened in the last 20 years that nobody has been able to get the “back-to-back”?
“That has a lot to do with the free agent market and how players are managing who they want to play with,” baseball statistician and historian Jossie Alvarado told The San Juan Daily Star.
When compared, for example, to basketball, where NBA franchises like the L.A. Lakers (twice), Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors achieved back-to-back championships and countless trips to the Finals in the 21st century, since 2000, 16 of the 30 NBA franchises have reached the Finals. That number rises to 20 of the 30 MLB franchises in the World Series.
Except for two decades, since the World Series began in the first decade of the 1900s, in all there was at least one team that won the title in consecutive years in each decade of the 20th century. The exceptions were in the 1940s and 1980s. The 1990s saw the Toronto Blue Jays (1992-1993) and the Yankees (1998-1999) win back-to-back in the Fall Classic.
“Each time organizations are striving to create those dynasties, which is what the Houston Astros have done since 2015, and which in the last five years have been able to bring together players who have become attractive players for the general market,” Alvarado said, pointing out the case of Astros outfielder George Springer, who will be a free agent in the next offseason.
“It’s a very complicated game,” Alvarado said of the nature of baseball.
And like the other franchises, the Astros are vying with opposing teams to acquire and retain the top players, and unless they have the economic power to do so, it makes it difficult for a team to repeat as champion, in the opinion of Alvarado, author of several books of statistics on Puerto Ricans in the major leagues.
Of the examples mentioned in the 2000s, Kansas City has come the closest to winning the World Series in consecutive years. Before winning it all in 2015, the Royals fell just short of an MLB championship in 2014 when they lost in seven games to the San Francisco Giants. The luck factor seems to play an important role.
“There are people who call it luck, but there are also opportunities,” Alvarado said. “Luck is complemented by opportunity. If you have the opportunity and you are prepared, sometimes you execute in favor of your team. Every day is more complicated. But from my point of view it is better that there are no dynasties in baseball.”
Alvarado expects a higher quality in the minor leagues given the decrease in the number of affiliates of the big league organizations in the minors.
“Now with this, what will happen in 2021 in the minor leagues, the teams were reduced [in number], the number of players will go down and the quality will be purer and [will go] up,” he said. “That may benefit organizations, but not necessarily players who develop later. Now it is the front office that coaches, and they have to complement each other with the manager. This game is not easy; it is very complex. That’s why there are so many statistics.”