Historical perspective on baseball’s postseason has been turned inside-out by the recent championships won by the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. Not that long ago, the Cubs and Red Sox were the sport’s representative brands for dashed hopes. On the rare occasions either franchise reached the playoffs, heartache ensued. Boston was supposed to end its epic drought in 1967 (“only” 49 years at the time), then again in 1975 and 1986 (Buckner!). The Cubbies were one Leon Durham from the National League pennant in 1984, a mere Steve Bartman away in 2003. Generations of baseball fans lived and died without reading or writing the following sentence: The Cubs and Red S ox have won championships more recently than the New York Yankees.
But here we are in 2017. If you’re pulling for underdogs, you’re rooting against the Red Sox, and even more so against the Cubs, the defending World Series champions. Consider: If the Yankees and Cubs meet in the World Series two weeks from now (a long shot with New York facing two more elimination games in their Division Series with Cleveland), the Bronx Bombers will be the new kids on the block.
This is healthy, of course. The NFL and NBA have been all too predictable this century. (We’ll check in on pro basketball next week.) Two of the franchises still alive in the MLB playoffs — the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals — have never won the World Series, despite having played since 1962 and 1969, respectively (the Nationals originally as the Montreal Expos). The team with the longest current championship drought (thanks to the Cubs’ and Red Sox’ success) is the Cleveland Indians, a team that set an American League record this season with 22 consecutive wins. Should the Tribe play that kind of baseball this month, a 69-year skid would come to a close and the Texas Rangers would inherit the torch of loneliest loser (none since the franchise was founded in 1961). Even the hallowed Los Angeles Dodgers — perhaps the second-most famous franchise in baseball — are competing for their first crown in 29 years. It’s enough to make October topsy-turvy, but it’s also worth embracing.
• In Game 1 of Houston’s Division Series with Boston, pint-sized second baseman (and likely AL MVP) Jose Altuve became just the 10th player to hit three home runs in a playoff game. Two of the other nine — the Angels’ Adam Kennedy in the 2002 ALCS and the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols in the 2011 World Series — played for the Memphis Redbirds on their way to October glory.
• MLB has chosen to brand its playoffs as “Postseason.” I’m not sure why “playoffs” doesn’t fit, as it does for the NFL, NBA, NHL, and virtually every organized league right down to rec-league soccer. But it’s literal and thus fits. Why, though, must a logo (“Postseason”) be patched on the hat of every player still playing? From a distance, the logo looks like a skull-and-crossbones. But forget the bad design. A major-league hat is the most sacred component of a uniform in American sports. It should carry one logo, and only one. The “Postseason” patch is on the sleeves of players. Let’s live (and play) with that.
• I was sorry to read the news of Matt Cain’s retirement at season’s end. The pride of Houston High school had a fine career with the San Francisco Giants, tossing baseball’s 22nd perfect game in 2012 and contributing to three World Series championships. Cain has battled arm trouble in recent years though, so at the still-tender age of 33, he’ll move into the next stage of a baseball career that should have included more trips to the mound. I managed a brief chat with Cain during batting practice at Busch Stadium before his first All-Star Game in 2009. The big man offered a big smile when I told him a lot of Memphians were behind his career rise and looking forward to all the fun still to come. By the measure of baseball mortals, Cain delivered, and then some. Like so many pitchers before him, though, anatomy and too many fastballs (let alone curves) brought things to a halt. I wish him the best.