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Tuesday, October 19
Updated: April 21, 11:55 AM ET
 
When parity was fun and the Yankees sucked

By Jim Caple
Special to ESPN.com

So, what's on "Walker, Texas Ranger" this week, anyway?

After two-plus weeks of playoffs, the World Series teams are finally set and we're staring at the matchup everyone dreaded when the postseason began. The Yankees against Atlanta, the two teams that have been in more October prime-time series this decade than Heather Locklear and Kelsey Grammer combined.

This marks Atlanta's fifth World Series of the 1990s, New York's third. These two even played a three-game series during the regular season, the first World Series opponents to do so. And now we get to watch them both play for another week.

Great. Just how many days are there until spring training?

America may want to see Ted Turner's and George Steinbrenner's lads in another October series even less than it does Tony Danza, but at least Atlanta provides substantial doses of postseason drama instead of methodically dispatching opponents. Atlanta has played 92 postseason games this decade and 38 were decided by a single run, 17 in extra innings. From Francisco Cabrera sliding home safely to Robin Ventura hitting the longest single in baseball history, Atlanta has played its cuticle-devouring part in many October classics.

The problem is, it has exactly as many World Series championships this decade to show for those efforts as the Minnesota Twins. This World Series, then, provides Atlanta one final chance to salvage its claim as baseball's team of the '90s instead of cementing its reputation as baseball's Buffalo Bills.

Discussing Atlanta's legacy this decade highlights how much baseball changed during the '90s. After all, the team with the worst record in the National League in 1990 was Atlanta, loser of 97 games while drawing so few fans that the players claimed they could hear the hum from the stadium lights.

Meanwhile, the team with the worst record in the American League in 1990 was New York, loser of 95 games under the collective genius of managers Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill. Andy Hawkins lost a no-hitter for the Yankees and baseball "permanently" banned Steinbrenner for hiring a thug to spy on Dave Winfield.

Ah, those were the days.

Ten seasons later, New York and Atlanta are ending the decade together in the World Series as the richest and most successful teams in a sport significantly less competitive than when the '90s began.

When the Reds swept Oakland in the 1990 World Series, they were the ninth different club in a 10-year span to win the world championship, and the 15th to reach the series. Baseball was more or less wide open in those days, when there was as much parity as we're likely to ever see again. The revenue disparities grew so much in the '90s that half the teams open a season knowing that they have no hope whatsoever to slip past the velvet rope and into the playoffs.

And unfortunately, unless something is done to correct the disparity, we may not see much change in the situation in the coming decade.

Will the upcoming Atlanta-New York series be well-played and evenly matched? Probably. Will it go down to the wire as so many Atlanta series have in the past? Possibly. But will it be as compelling as most of the series from earlier in the decade? Not a chance. The two teams each have been too successful for too long for fans to feel much sympathy or support for either one.

This World Series is being billed as the team of the century against the team of the decade. Maybe. But watching Atlanta and New York battle for the World Series championship would be a whole lot more interesting if there also wasn't the nagging feeling that everyone else is being left out of the fun.

Box score line of the week
It's been a long time since we've seen a postseason box score line as ugly the one New York's Al Leiter put up in Game 6. With his team's season on the line, Leiter threw 25 pitches and didn't retire a batter, digging the Mets into am 0-5 hole against a team that won 103 games in the regular season. His line:

0 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2 HBP

It was the shortest postseason start since Los Angeles' Bob Welch faced four batters in the 1981 World Series, allowing three hits, a walk and two runs.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
Since 1921, the Yankees have won more pennants (36) than the Twins/Senators (6), Cubs (5), Red Sox (4), Cleveland (4), Mets (3), Phillies (3), Blue Jays (2), Royals (2), Padres (2), White Sox (1), Pilots/Brewers (1), Marlins (1), Mariners (0), Astros (0), Rockies (0), Diamondbacks (0), Devil Rays (0), Expos (0), Senators/Rangers (0) and Angels (0) combined (34). ... Nomar Garciaparra made as many errors in Boston's five-game playoff series with New York (four) as Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez has made since Opening Day. ... Chipper Jones hasn't homered since Sept. 23 when he hit the fourth of his four home runs in a three-game series with the Mets. ... Different cities, different expectations: Cleveland's Mike Hargrove was 171 games above .500 from 1994-1999 and won two pennants and got fired. Minnesota's Tom Kelly was 126 below .500 from 1994-1999 and finished last twice and kept his job. ... As the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jayson Stark reports, prior to the '90s, only a dozen players hit 300 home runs in a decade. Eleven players hit 300 in the '90s (Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Albert Belle, Fred McGriff, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Matt Williams). ... Until John Smoltz's meltdown in Game 6 of the Mets-Atlanta series, Cy Young winning starters had allowed no runs and just one hit in 11.1 innings of relief this postseason.

From left field
Let's see. Mike Hargrove helped build what had been Team Punchline into one of the best teams in baseball, winning five division titles and two American League pennants. And Cleveland's John Hart still cans him. Like Mr. Smug himself, Buck Showalter, Hargrove can strut while sitting down -- but c'mon. Had Hart managed to sign or trade for even one frontline starting pitcher in the past five years, Hargrove would have sat in the lead car of a World Series championship parade several times.

Not that Hargrove is the first successful manager to become a team's official scapegoat. Here are the 10 highest winning percentages for managers cut loose after a season (60-game minimum):

TEAM MANAGER RECORD
1980 Yankees Dick Howser 103-59, .636, 1st AL East
1960 Yankees Casey Stengel 97-57, .630, 1st AL*
1985 Yankees Billy Martin 91-54, .626, 2nd AL East
1964 Yankees Yogi Berra 99-63, .611, 1st AL
1948 Yankees Bucky Harris 94-60, .610, 3rd AL
1975 Oakland Alvin Dark 98-64, .605, 1st AL West
1932 Washington Walter Johnson 93-61, .604, 3rd AL
1927 Cardinals Bob O'Farrell 92-61, .601, 2nd NL@
1969 Minnesota Billy Martin 97-65, .599, 1st AL West
1999 Cleveland Mike Hargrove 97-65, .599, 1st AL Central

* Yankees said Stengel was stepping down due to age but Stengel told reporters, "I've just been fired. I commenced winning pennants when I came here but I didn't commence getting any younger. ... I'll never make the mistake of being 70 years old again."

@ source material does not reveal whether O'Farrell resigned, retired or was fired

Bar room Jeopardy
Q. Atlanta won the pennant on a pitch out of the strike zone. Name another time that happened.

A. Pittsburgh's Bob Moose gave Cincinnati a 4-3 win and the 1972 National League pennant when he threw a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the playoffs, allowing George Foster to score with the winning run. Nice series for Moose, who started Game 2 and was removed after allowing five straight hits.

Jim Caple's Off Base column appears each Wednesday during the season.





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