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22 days?

A couple of recent January arguments about which is the Bestest Baseball Team Ever Ever Ever brought the usual sort of musing about what best can mean in that context, when it occurred to me to pose myself a question sufficiently different that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it addressed: What was the best season ever for a team’s fans? Knowing that the whole thing is un-answerable, in large part because people, even baseball fans, even fans of the same team, are different, one to another, and that’s what makes the world interesting and fun, it’s still entertaining, I think, to ruminate on what the criteria would be that would put a team on the top of the list.

First of all, I think we have to leave out any team that doesn’t make the playoffs (or the World Series, or the Temple Cup, or in pre-postseason days win the Pennant). As much as my own favorite year as a Giants fan was 1993, I can’t say that I enjoyed that year as much as Braves fans did. So we need a winner, and I would think that winning out, that is, winning the World Series would be enough of a plus that I’m not sure any team that doesn’t win the Series would make a Top Ten. That said, I wouldn’t weight a Close Series Victory all that much over a Close Pennant Race Victory; the fans of the team with the CPRV would have more fun more days than those with bad league competition but a CSV. Also, of course, fans of a Great team will have more fun than fans of a Good team, so that comes into play as well.

But what else? I’m inclined to think that fans of a team that has grown up together, as it were, would enjoy the success more than fans of a cobbled-together team. On the other hand, the first Great Year in a while would be more fun than Yet Another Good Year. In other words, fans of the 2004 Red Sox had a lot of fun breaking the drought, but did so without many long player-fan relationships (such as Tim Wakefield’s, Jason Varitek’s, or even Derek Lowe’s). When my Giants won in 1954 (for instance), they had Wes Westrum (since 1947, regular since 1950), Whitey Lockman (since 1945, regular since 1948), Davey Williams (since 1949, regular since 1952), Hank Thompson (since 1949, regular since 1950), Alvin Dark (since 1950 as a regular), Don Miller (since 1948, regular since 1950), Willie Mays (regular since 1951, not counting service), and Monte Irvin (since 1949, regular since 1950). In other words, a fan in 1954 had been rooting for most of the same people for five years (although the pitching was new, with the exception of Sal Maglie); I would think that such a history would make a Big Year more enjoyable. On the other hand, the core of the 2005 Red Sox was together in 2003, so maybe that’s long enough, when it’s not just your drought but your Dad’s.

The great teams of the 20s were clearly more dominant than any team today can be, which causes trouble when comparing teams, but a different kind of trouble when comparing fan experiences. It’s great when your team is dominant, but too much dominance takes the drama away. How would you weight a close finish, versus a mighty winning percentage?

Also, how do you weight for likeable players? Worse, for superstars, whether they are likeable or not? How much fun are rookies? How much fun are All-Stars? MVPs and CYAs? How much fun were the 1980 Phillies to root for? The 2001 Diamondbacks? The 1945 (wartime) Tigers?

I haven’t done the numbers, but at a guess, the final answer would be the fans of Ron Swoboda, of Ed Kranepool, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, of Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw, and of Gil Hodges, too. At least, if I ran the numbers, and the 1969 Miracle Mets didn’t turn up in the top five, I’d guess something was wrong with my algorithm. And if the 2006 Giants are in the top, well, if they are any fun at all to root for, it’s a testament to the game of baseball, that’s all I have to say.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Not sure I entirely agree with the "must win it all at the end" part of it. I'd also very strongly argue that unexpectedness can be a very strong factor in how enjoyable a team is. (So there's another factor for the '69 Mets.)

How enjoyable were the '80 Phillies? Well the team didn't get it's iconic status until October. Before then they were considered underachievers and disappointments. Even as late as the last week of September Larry Bowa was having a running war of words with fans which was playing out in the newspapers. (Of course that's because Bowa's a jerk, but that's another matter.) When Phillies fans talk about that '80 team it's almost entirely about those three weeks in October.

On the other hand, for day in and day out fun all season long, I'd argue long and hard for the '93 Phillies. No one expected anything from them, so when they started winning it was astonishing. While beating the Braves in October was a huge highlight, there was also other moments all season long which played in there as well, things like Mitch Williams getting a game winning hit at 4:40 in the morning. Or Kevin Stocker coming out of nowhere to fill the big hole at shortstop. Yeah it turned out badly in the end but even that has it's twisted appeal. ("Damn Fregosi should have left Roger Mason in at least an inning longer!")


1984 Tigers look pretty good here...

C Lance Parrish 8 years (from 1977 rookie year)
2B Lou Whitaker 8 years (from 1977 rookie year)
SS Alan Trammell 8 years (from 1977 rookie year)
OF Kirk Gibson 6 years (from 1979 rookie year)
3B Howard Johnson 3 years (from 1982 rookie year)
OF Chet Lemon 3 years
OF Larry Herndon 3 years
DH Darrell Evans 1 year
1B Dave Bergman 1 year

SP Jack Morris 8 years (from 1977 rookie year)
SP Dave Rozema 8 years (from 1977 rookie year)
SP Milt Wilcox 8 years
SP Dan Petry 6 years (from 1979 rookie year)
SP Juan Berenguer 3 years


Welcome, John. And yes, the 84 Tigers should be a serious contender. You neglected to mention that Sparky Anderson was in his fifth year there, so the manager, half the lineup, and four-fifths of the starting rotation had been together for five years without playing that 163rd game. Furthermore, the 17-year drought since 1968 is certainly long enough to grow up on. Their All-Stars (Trammell, Whitaker, Parrish, and Morris, as well as Chet Lemon and recent acquisition Willie Hernandez) were (I think) well-liked, and there were exciting young players like HoJo, Petry and Barbaro Garbey. Well, OK, but I bet people were excited about Barbaro Garbey in 1984.
What they don't have is either a Close Pennant Race Victory or a Close World Series Victory (or, as Jeff notes, defeat). Of course, they don't have Larry Bowa, either; I think that where Alan Trammell increases the Fan Fun Factor by at least half a Hedon, Larry Bowa would decrease it by, what—Jeff, your the expert, here. 30,000 Hedons? 50,000?

Thanks,
-V.


For my Pittsburgh Pirates, there haven't been fun years in a long time. Farther back in time --

1990 was a fun year, because the team won after being terrible, and it was a young team that had grown up together, but since the Pirates lost in the playoffs, it ended on a bittersweet note.

1979 was definitely the most fun year in my lifetime. This was the season of "We Are Family." The players were having a great time (perhaps too good a time, in retrospect), led by 16-year veteran Willie Stargell (possibly the most beloved baseball player in Pittsburgh sports history, though Clemente was the most respected). The pennant race was good, and it was capped with a comeback win after being down 3-1 in the world series, with heroics from Stargell and a gutsy pitching performance from a longtime Pirate, Jim Rooker, a journeyman pitcher in the twilight of his career. Add in the further synergy with the great Steeler teams of the late 1970s and the importance of sports success to a city that was in the middle of losing its industrial base, and you get a season that has to rate very highly in terms of enjoyability. The only places where the team loses a little bit are (1) the team had been consistently good through the 1970s and (2) some key players were recent acquisitions, though a review of the starters shows that a majority of the team had been together 4+ years.

Going through the starters, SP, and sig RP, here's when they joined the team:

C -- Ed Ott, 1974, starter since 1976
1B -- Stargell, 1963
2B -- Phil Garner, 1977 (acquired by trade)
3B -- Bill Madlock, mid-season 1979
SS -- Tim Foli, April 1979
LF -- Bill Robinson, 1975 (acquired by trade)
CF -- Omar Moreno, 1975, starter since 1977
RF -- Dave Parker, 1973, starter since 1975

SP -- John Candelaria, 1975
SP -- Bruce Kison, 1971 (with Stargell the other returning member of the 1971 World Champions)
SP -- Jim Bibby, 1978 (acquired by trade)
SP -- Don Robinson, 1978
SP -- Bert Blyleven, 1978 (acquired by trade)
SP -- Jim Rooker, 1973 (acquired by trade)
RP -- Kent Tekulve, 1974
RP -- Enrique Romo, 1979 (acquired by trade)
RP -- Grant Jackson, 1977 (acquired by trade)

I think 1960 and 1971, the other modern world series victories for the Pirates, must have been fun years. And I can only imagine the enjoyment provided by the great Pirate teams just after the turn of the century, when Honus Wagner played.


some key players were recent acquisitions
Recent acquisition of an star player can be fun, too, as witness the 1993 Giants, or Willie Hernandez on that 1984 Tigers team. I would say, though, that where a group of players that have played together for 3 or 5 years would generate a lot of hedons (some sort of weighting seems possible where N players are together for K years, and both N and K go up geometrically, so the Core score goes up exponentially, if I remember right), a recent acquisition of a Star would generate a small number of hedons, and the presence of several new stars would be less than the sum of the parts. If we were actually making a formula, which would be ludicrous.
And the thing about the 1901 Pirates, with Honus Wagner and Deacon Philippe, is that not only is there the usual thing with the beginning of a dynasty where you don't know if it is the beginning of a dynasty, and you don't know if the players are going to continue to be great, or if they are going to stay together (like the 1901ff Pirates) or not (like the 1990ff Pirates), but in 1901 they didn't have any way of knowing that Honus Wagner was One For The Ages, because they didn't have Ages. At least now we know that Bondses and Clemenses and Madduxes are few and far between; I think until the thirties, people didn't realize that there weren't a pretty good number of Wagners and Cobbs and Lajoies and Matthewsons, and that there was a way to distinguish Wagners from mere Ewings or Keelers (or Marichals or Stargells), that is, greats but not tell-your-grandchildren greats.
Thanks,
-V.


It's true that the acquisition of an all-star player can be fun. Bill Madlock in 1979 really was the final piece of the puzzle: after he arrived, the team really took off. Incorporating that element into the formula would further help the 1979 Pirates hedon total.

As to problems with the start of a dynasty, in that you don't know whether or not the team would stay together or not: part of what made the 1990ff Pirates bittersweet rather than purely enjoyable was that we knew that this team would not stay together. They had to win before the core would inevitably be broken up by free agency, and that created a sense of pressure and unavoidable loss that was a definite drag on hedons in those years. Being a fan under that pressure was more intense, but less fun, than rooting for a team with a more open future.


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