Bombs win wars but not always rings

2019-03-06 AaronJudge
Aaron Judge should be careful what he wishes for . . .

Aaron Judge knows a few things about hitting for distance and does it prodigiously. He would love few things more than his Yankees obliterating the single-season record for team home runs they smashed last year, assuming the team’s health.

Surely, too, Judge wishes his Yankees’ return to the Promised Land occupied at present by the Red Sox, to whom he gave a lot of postseason incentive with his “New York, New York” boombox trolling after they evened the division series out of which the Red Sox went on to shove them in Yankee Stadium.

“We’ve got a good team, a lot of guys that could make a lot of solid contact, and a lot of big boys that when they make contact, man, it goes,” the Leaning Tower of the South Bronx said this week. “We’re a team that’s primed and ready to do that.” And while much of that Yankees’ historical mythology hooks around that famed Yankee power, Yankee fans would probably prefer them primed and ready to return to the Promised Land.

Which isn’t easy to reach in the first place, never mind return, for teams who can out-bop all comers. It was easier to bring Japan to the surrender table in World War II with strategic bombing. Baseball’s most relentless bombers aren’t always baseball’s pennant winners, never mind World Series champions.

The following table shows how that’s gone in each season since division play began. Pennant-winning team home run leaders in italics; World Series winners who also led their leagues in home runs those seasons in bold. (I marked 1994 with asterisks because, of course, there was no postseason that year.)

 

Season

NL HR

leader

AL HR

leader

NL

Pennant

AL

Pennant

WS

Winner

1969 Reds – 171 Red Sox – 197 Mets Orioles Mets
1970 Reds – 191 Red Sox – 203 Reds Orioles Orioles
1971 Pirates – 171 Tigers – 179 Pirates Orioles Pirates
1972 Giants – 150 Athletics – 134 Reds Athletics Athletics
1973 Braves – 201 Indians – 158 Mets Athletics Athletics
1974 Dodgers – 139 White Sox – 135 Dodgers Athletics Athletics
1975 Pirates – 138 Indians – 153 Reds Red Sox Reds
1976 Reds – 141 Red Sox – 134 Reds Yankees Reds
1977 Dodgers – 191 Red Sox – 213 Dodgers Yankees Yankees
1978 Dodgers – 149 Brewers – 173 Dodgers Yankees Yankees
1979 Dodgers – 183 Red Sox – 194 Pirates Orioles Pirates
1980 Dodgers – 148 Brewers – 203 Phillies Royals Phillies
1981 Dodgers – 82 Athletics – 104 Dodgers Yankees Dodgers
1982 Braves – 142 Brewers – 216 Cardinals Brewers Cardinals
1983 Dodgers – 146 Orioles – 168 Phillies Orioles Orioles
1984 Phillies – 147 Tigers – 187 Padres Tigers Tigers
1985 Cubs – 150 Orioles – 214 Cardinals Royals Royals
1986 Cubs – 155 Tigers – 198 Mets Red Sox Mets
1987 Cubs – 209 Tigers – 225 Cardinals Twins Twins
1988 Mets – 152 Blue Jays – 158 Dodgers Athletics Dodgers
1989 Mets – 147 Angels – 149 Giants Athletics Athletics
1990 Mets – 172 Tigers – 172 Reds Athletics Reds
1991 Reds – 164 Tigers – 209 Braves Twins Twins
1992 Braves – 138 Tigers – 182 Braves Blue Jays Blue Jays
1993 Braves – 169 Rangers – 181 Phillies Blue Jays Blue Jays
1994 Braves – 137 Indians – 167 * * *
1995 Rockies – 200 Indians – 207 Braves Indians Braves
1996 Rockies – 221 Orioles – 257 Braves Yankees Yankees
1997 Rockies – 239 Mariners – 264 Marlins Indians Marlins
1998 Cardinals – 223 Mariners – 234 Padres Yankees Yankees
1999 Rockies – 223 Mariners – 244 Braves Yankees Yankees
2000 Astros – 249 Blue Jays – 244 Mets Yankees Yankees
2001 Giants – 235 Rangers – 246 D’Backs Yankees D’Backs
2002 Cubs – 200 Rangers – 230 Giants Angels Angels
2003 Braves – 235 Rangers – 239 Marlins Yankees Marlins
 

2004

 

Cubs – 235

White Sox – 242

Yankees – 242

 

Cardinals

 

Red Sox

 

Red Sox

2005 Reds – 222 Rangers – 260 Astros White Sox White Sox
2006 Braves – 222 White Sox – 236 Cardinals Tigers Cardinals
2007 Brewers – 231 Yankees – 201 Rockies Red Sox Red Sox
2008 Phillies – 214 White Sox – 235 Phillies Rays Phillies
2009 Phillies – 224 Yankees – 244 Phillies Yankees Yankees
2010 Reds – 188 Blue Jays – 207 Giants Rangers Giants
2011 Brewers – 185 Yankees – 222 Cardinals Rangers Cardinals
2012 Brewers – 202 Yankees – 245 Giants Tigers Giants
2013 Braves – 181 Orioles – 212 Cardinals Red Sox Red Sox
2014 Rockies – 186 Orioles – 211 Giants Royals Giants
2015 Dodgers – 187 Blue Jays – 232 Mets Royals Royals
2016 Cardinals – 225 Orioles – 253 Cubs Indians Cubs
 

2017

Brewers – 224

Mets – 224

 

Yankees – 241

 

Dodgers

 

Astros

 

Astros

2018 Dodgers – 235 Yankees – 267 Dodgers Red Sox Red Sox

You may have noticed two things. Thing One: No World Series winner who also led their league in team home runs the same season has done both together more than once. Thing Two: Only once in the divisional play era have both leagues’ team home run kings tangled in a World Series against each other, with the Yankees beating the Phillies in the 2009 Series.

And that was also the only time since 1969 that the Yankees led their league in home runs as a team and even won the pennant, never mind the World Series. They’ve won eleven pennants since 1969 but only in 2009 did they out-bomb the American League and win the pennant and the Promised Land.

The 2009 Yankees are also one of only eight World Series winners in the divisional era to lead their league in long distance the same season. They followed the 1971 Pirates, the 1972 Athletics, the 1976 Reds, the 1981 Dodgers, the 1983 Orioles, the 1984 Tigers, and the 2008 Phillies. Since 1969, nine National League team home run leaders and five American League team home run leaders have won pennants. Chicks may still dig the long ball but it’s not getting as many teams as you think to the Promised Land or even to playing for the lease.

The Dodgers have led the National League in team home runs more often than any other NL team since divisional play began, including last year—nine times. Aside from 1981, they have four more pennants to show for those seasons. Both the Yankees and the Orioles have led the American League in team home runs six times, and 1983 is the only time the Orioles did that plus win the pennant and the Series.

In fifty postseasons starting in 1969 (when the overpowering Orioles neither led the American League in home runs nor overpowered the Miracle Mets), dialing nine (the old euphemism for hitting a home run) hasn’t kept nine home run leaders from dialing 911 when the Series ended with the other guys hoisting the trophy. And teams you remember particularly for collective mayhem at the plate haven’t always gone the distance no matter how often they hit for it.

The Big Red Machine won four pennants and two World Series, but they’re 1-1 in Series in which they entered as their league’s home run leaders. The Pittsburgh Lumber Company led the league in bombing and won the Series in 1971; the Fam-i-Lee Pirates won the Series without being the league’s leading launchers.

The Bronx Zoo won back-to-back Series against the National League’s leading boppers–including Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson’s three bombs on three swings in Game Six, 1977—without leading the American League in the big bang themselves. And the 1982 Brewers led all baseball with 219 bombs, but that was one time the real-life Road Runner beat the real-life Wile E. Coyote’s Acme munitions, Harvey’s Wallbangers losing the Series to the White Rat’s Runnin’ Redbirds—who just so happened to finish dead last for team homers in the entire Show that season. Beep-beep!

In one of the earliest scenes of the Academy Award-winning film Marty, Ernest Borgnine’s Oscar-winning title character, a plain but big-hearted Bronx butcher, ambles into his favourite tavern for a couple of beers following a hard day’s work and asks about that day’s Yankee game. Told the winning score, the first question he asks is, “Any homers?”

My experience with the Yankees is very much like that. Yankee fans always seemed far more enchanted by the bombs than Yankee players did, even when Yankee players seemed concerned enough about them, such as during the Mantle-Maris chase to break ruthsrecord, or Jackson’s unvarnished (and unimpeachable) pride that night in Game Six, or the night three years ago on which Judge himself smashed Joe DiMaggio’s team record for homers on a season by a Yankee rookie.

The same experience tells me Yankee fans consider any season in which they don’t win the World Series a failure, if not a denial of birthright. That may be a little more extreme than the truest cliche about the Yankees being that they simply don’t like to lose. But they could hit 300+ home runs this year and still be failures on their fans’ and their own terms without a return to the Promised Land. Where their eternal rivals to the northeast have been, you know, four times since the century turned.

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2 thoughts on “Bombs win wars but not always rings

  1. You always want a grand slam homerun, but base-clearing triples are way more exciting to watch.

    I can be watching a game, and I can almost feel that so-and-so is going to hit a homerun, but I never see a triple coming.

    : )

    Like

    1. Professor—Any time the bat meets the ball there’s excitement. Though I suspect some would argue that a bases-clearing double might be a little more exciting, on grounds that there’s less guarantee of the man on first getting home alive than there is with a triple or a grand slam.—JK.

      Liked by 1 person

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