The League Cup

Joe Posnanski has a post up about how the best team in the league rarely wins the World Series. This set off a thought.

I wonder if one thing we could do to increase the drama of the regular season is to give the league championship title to the team with the best record, rather than the one that wins two playoff series. I was inspired in this by the Premier League in England, which gives out a League Cup to the team with the best overall record. It’s not like the FA Cup, which is won in a tournament. But it at least recognizes a season-long achievement. And the best teams in football are those that win the “double” of both cups.

Baseball has separate leagues, so you would have two teams each year eligible for the “double”. And it seems reasonable to do so since it’s not always clear which league is better (although you could tip it to whichever league wins inter-league play). There’s also the problem of divisions, that the team with the most wins is sometimes from a weak division. Meh. Maybe that will create an incentive to abolish the division structure. I think we would stick with most wins because any scheme to correct for schedule difficulty ends up a matter of opinion and we don’t want this to become the BCS.

If such a scheme were observed in baseball, here is the list of league champions for the wild card era. I’ve included 1994, when we didn’t have a world series. Bolded teams would have won the “double” for wining the World Series as well.

1994 – New York (70), Montreal (74)
1995 – Cleveland (100), Atlanta (90)
1996 – Cleveland (99), Atlanta (96)
1997 – Baltimore (98), Atlanta (101)
1998 – New York (114), Atlanta (106)
1999 – New York (98), Atlanta (99)
2000 – Chicago (95), San Francisco (97)
2001 – Seattle (116), St. Louis/Houston (93)
2002 – New York/Oakland (103), Atlanta (101)
2003 – New York (101), Atlanta (101)
2004 – New York (101), St. Louis (105)
2005 – Chicago (99), St. Louis (100)
2006 – New York (97), New York (97)
2007 – Boston (96), Colorado/Arizona (90)
2008 – Anaheim (100), Chicago (97)
2009 – New York (103), Los Angeles (95)
2010 – Tampa Bay (96), Philadelphia (97)
2011 – New York (97), Philadelphia (102)

A few things to note: First, in contrast to the list of World Series winners, the league championship shows a much clearer picture of which teams were dominating baseball. Atlanta would have won five straight championships and seven overall. The Yankees would have won eight. The great Cardinals and Phillies teams would have gone back-to-back. Montreal would have been league champ in the aborted ’94 season. That’s a much cleaner version of baseball history than World Series title.

Second, notice the teams that win “the double”. The 98-99 Yankees, in the running for greatest team of all -time, win two in a row. The 2007 Boston Red Sox, 1995 Braves, 2005 White Sox and 2009 Yankees also join the list.

During the 1969-1993 era, when we had playoffs but no wild card, doubles were a lot more common, since you only had four playoff teams, two of which were eligible for the double. But even then, there some standouts, particular the 75-76 Reds and the 92-93 Jays, who won back-to-back doubles.

I have no illusion that an idea on a backwater blog will get anywhere. Hell, Bob Costas could suggest this and baseball would demur. But if they want to inject just a little bit of drama back into the regular season, maybe recognizing the team with best record would be a good first step.

And at least I can stop thinking about it now.