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Will the Texas Rangers Become the New Buffalo Bills?

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Will the Texas Rangers Become the New Buffalo Bills?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Ron Washington is not Marv Levy.

Two teams in all of baseball history have lost three World Series in a row. Both came back in the early days—the 1907-1909 Detroit Tigers and the 1911-1913 New York Giants. Eight other teams have lost back-to-back World Series. In reverse order:

1991-1992 Atlanta Braves
1977-1978 Los Angeles Dodgers
1963-1964 New York Yankees
1952-1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
1936-1937 New York Giants
1923-1924 New York Giants
1921-1922 New York Yankees

…And the 2010-2011 Texas Rangers.

It is tempting to compare the fate of these teams to that which befell the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, losers of four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991 to 1994. While the last three games were not close, the first of the series, Super Bowl XXV, was a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants on a fourth-quarter field goal. Had Scott Norwood made a 47-yard field goal as time was running out, the story might have been different.

Still, as the only team to play in four straight championship games, the Bills should be celebrated for their dominance of the AFC instead of mocked for their losses. A similar attitude should exist in reference to the 10 teams above. It is very hard to make it to the World Series, let alone two in a row; the outcome is almost beside the point.

The eight post-1920 two-time losers don’t have a great deal in common, but if you were forced to generalize about the list, it is fair to say that it represents a compilation of endings and beginnings.

The 1921-1922 Yankees were the first pennant winners in that team’s history, and the team was still building towards Murderer’s Row. Conversely, the Giants team that they finally beat in 1923 was coming to the end of its age when it capitulated to the Washington Senators in 1924; while John McGraw still had a few good clubs left in him, his mind and body were rapidly burning out.

McGraw’s successor, player-manager Bill Terry, beat the Senators in the 1933 World Series and continued to win 90-plus games a year through the 1937 pennant represented above, but the club crashed to 83 wins in 1938 and would not win another pennant until 1951. The 1964 Yankees represented the last gasp in a chain that went back to 1947; the team would finish sixth in 1965 and 10th in 1966. The 1991 Braves had famously just made a journey from “worst to first.” Like the Yankees of the early 1920s, for whom greatness would wait until they added Lou Gehrig and other elements, the Braves were awaiting the arrival of Greg Maddux.

The only exceptions to the beginnings-endings rule above are the two Dodgers clubs. Both were in the midst of long, solid runs, and both would get their championships—the Brooklyn version in 1955, the Los Angeles edition in 1981.

The Rangers, one suspects, are closer to the beginning than to the end. With the additions of Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz, this year’s starting rotation is actually younger than last year’s, a departure from the typical practice of adding a veteran starter to an almost-there team. The offense is getting older, with almost very key player aside from the still-young Elvis Andrus having hit the big 3-0. Even Mike Napoli, whose career seems like it began yesterday, is already 30 (one loses track of time when a player is in Mike Scioscia’s doghouse for five years).

Neither Napoli nor starting catcher Yorvit Torrealba are signed past this season, but the greater focus will be on if the Rangers should re-sign Josh Hamilton who (a) turns 31 next month, (b) has a long on-field injury history beyond any off-field problems he might have manifested in the past and (c) he manifested those off-the-field problems as recently as last winter. Possibly complicating this in a good way is (d) he went 3-for-4 on Wednesday and is now hitting .440/.442/.800. It’s hard to let your team MVP walk away, even if giving him a long-term contract is a really bad idea.

All of these factors would seem to suggest that the Rangers are closer to the end of their run than the beginning, but that conclusion overlooks what is down on the farm. Not counting Darvish, the Rangers have five prospects rated in the preseason top 100 by Baseball America, including shortstop Jurickson Profar, lefty starter Martin Perez, third baseman Mike Olt and center fielder Leonys Martin, the last of whom is off to a strong start at Triple-A (.389/.468/.574). Kevin Goldstein’s Top 101 for Baseball Prospectus included Profar, Perez and Olt, and added righty starter Neil Ramirez and catcher Jorge Alfaro.

Prospects are never a sure thing—that’s why they’re called prospects—but provided general manager Jon Daniels doesn’t go nuts and trade a boatload of blue chippers to the Pirates for Erik Bedard at the trading deadline, the Rangers are well-positioned to continue their run for a while longer.

That is no guarantee that the Rangers will win anymore rings than the Bills did, or even that they will make it to another World Series. Unlike most of the other repeat Series losers, the Rangers of today, in common with and the Braves of the 1990s, have a longer road to the World Series than the teams of the past. There is no way the dynasty Yankees of the late 1940s through the '60s would have won five straight World Series or 10 overall between 1947 and 1964 if they had had to play a division series and a league championship series to get there. They would have been eliminated at least some of the time, in the same way the Yankees of our time have been eliminated in seven of nine opportunities since 2001.

Because of this added difficulty factor, history can’t be our guide here. The two  “beginning” teams above made it back and eventually got their rings, but there is no guarantee that the Rangers will become the third to turn the trick.

Regardless, the comparison to the Bills would not be apt, in part because of something that baseball now has in common with football: Strength of schedule now applies in baseball.

With unbalanced schedules, including differing interleague opponents, we have to take a team’s very record with a grain of salt. Are you looking at the two best teams in the World Series every year? Should the Bills have been considered to have been on a par with their NFC opponents in the first place? It’s not easy to know.

Again, getting to the World Series is one of the hardest acts in all of team sports. Getting there twice is infinitely harder. Should the Rangers fail to capitalize on their hot start and get there a third time, or should they get there and fail to win, all it means is that they couldn’t top themselves and do the nigh impossible. No moral failings on their part should be inferred.

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