Cinderella Men
May the best team win … or not


Jeff Sullivan with a funny article that predicts the winner of the World Series.

Dr. D has always argued that --- > although a championship trophy cup is a different accomplishment than "being the best team," it is still pretty much worth putting on your mantle.  

When you say, "Jack Nicklaus won 16 majors," you know what that means.  It may not even be that relevant, whether he was the Objectively Best Player in all, or any, of those years.  A championship is a different statement, one that says "in this time and in this place, I defeated all rivals."

For example, what if the 49ers set the goal of having the best 16 games, but the Seahawks set the goal of being the best team heading into the playoffs?  What if one team wants to "peak," as Pete Carroll always wants to?  You might reach a short peak at exactly the right time, one that is higher than the "best team" sustained during the year.  Is that an inferior goal?


There might be as much meaning in a Championship as in Being the Best Player.

You saw the Russell Crowe movie, the one where he played James J. Braddock, who scored one of boxing's great upsets against the awesome Max Baer?  Hey.  They say that Baer -- who had a "Greek god" physique, especially for that day, was a Bo Jackson-type freak -- practically didn't train at all for the fight, clowned around before and during the fight, and made terrible strategic blunders that he could have easily corrected in a rematch.

Wiki says, Baer fought down-and-out boxer James J. Braddock in the so-called Cinderella Man bout. Baer hardly trained for the bout. Braddock, on the other hand, was training hard. "I'm training for a fight. Not a boxing contest or a clownin' contest or a dance." he said. "Whether it goes one round or three rounds or 10 rounds, it will be a fight and a fight all the way. When you've been through what I've had to face in the last two years, a Max Baer or a Bengal tiger looks like a house pet. He might come at me with a cannon and a blackjack and he would still be a picnic compared to what I've had to face." Baer, ever the showman, "brought gales of laughter from the crowd with his antics" the night he stepped between the ropes to meet Braddock.

If Baer and Braddock had fought two or three more times, I'm sure Max Baer would have blown him away every time.  But does that diminish the "championship" that Braddock won?  The story of the hardened Depression Era pug boxer who climbed all the way to the top of the mountain?

Nah.  And if the Kansas City Royals rode their Shields/Davis trade to a 2014 championship, that trophy cup would go in the record books whether or not it's another 30 years until the playoffs.  A 10-year-old Royals fan will remember it just the same.


As usual, James takes this logic one step farther.  He says that he would hate to see the best team win every time.  One of the discussion Q's at Hey Bill:


Why do you say it is a "terrible problem, for the game" if the best team always wins? Is there a period where this has happened and been bad for the sport? Take a look at the NBA, where I believe the best team is most likely to win of all the major sports. Using SRS from Basketball Reference (which is margin of victory adjusted for strength of schedule), in the past 35 years in the NBA, the #1 team has won 14 times or 40%. A top 3 team has won 23 times, or 66%. The higher ranked team in the Finals won 25 times, or 71%. Note that the Jordan Bulls were the top ranked team for 5 of their 6 titles in the 1990's and this coincided pretty clearly with the highest popularity the NBA has ever had. I am a huge baseball fan but basically don't watch the playoffs because it seems like such a crapshoot. The NBA and NFL seem to me be in a much better position in this regards.
Asked by: Ben from New York
Answered: 10/23/2014
It is a problem for the NBA if the better team always wins the GAMES, the regular-season games. When you have a 20-62 team facing a 65-17 team, everybody knows who will win, and the game itself becomes boring, people just going through the motions.
I think that ten years ago, the NBA had a very serious problem stemming from this; I think there were a great many NBA games in which the players appeared to be just going through the motions. I think that hurt the league a great deal. I do believe that its much better now than it used to be--for reasons that I absolutely do not understand at all--but I also think that the NBA suffers to this day because many fans still think of the NBA the way it was in the 1990s, when a lot of the games had very little energy.


An important light bulb.  The consequence of "assured victory for the best" might be ... loss of vitality in the fight.

Dr. D would add:  the NBA and MLB are wayyyyy different.  The NBA fans at that time loved Jordan.  And Magic, and Bird, and other "best team, best player" types.  But!  The NBA thrives on promoting its players.  Give Major League Baseball half a chance, and it will slip information that a MLBPA superstar is on drugs.  MLB franchises sometimes seem like they hate for players to gain Jordan-like status.

Baseball is weirdly subject to luck.  All in all, MLB might be lucky that baseball has so much luck in it.


If you buy all of the above, you might buy the following:

The 2015 Mariners don't have to be baseball's best team, in order to take a crack at the title.  They might prefer to set the goal of having a roster that is very dangerous in the playoffs.

How do you do that?  Stars & Scrubs is where I start.  Playoff time is funnelled into your top players, and as a separate issue, HOF'ers play well against tough competition.


Dr D



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