At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Looking for Relevance (In All the Wrong Places): Past Performance No Guide to Present Outcome

The Houston Astros square off against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in the hope of clinching their first-ever World Series berth, but history suggests their quest will be in vain. Consider this:

  • Houston has not won an NLCS deciding game in the team’s 44-year history.
  • St. Louis has lost only one of seven post-season series in which the club trailed three games to two entering Game 6.
To hear the media tell it, what’s past is prologue, and the fix is in. But what relevance does this past performance have to today’s game? In the first place, there was no NLCS for the first seven years of the Astros’ existence, for the leagues didn’t split into divisions until 1969. And second, their record of futility dates to 1980, while the Cardinals’ history of dominance reaches all the way back to 1926. So just how much of an impact on today’s contest could this possibly have?

In a word, zero, and the players will be the first to tell you so. Oh sure, they’re aware of their place in history – don’t you think the White Sox would like to bring a championship home to Chicago for the first time since 1917, and erase the stain of the 1919 Black Sox in the process? – but they’ve got their own destinies to fulfill. The rosters, the equipment, even the game itself are wholly different from what they once were, and tonight’s outcome depends a whole lot more on, say, the Cards’ ability to solve Roy Oswalt than it does on what Pepper Martin did in 1934.

So please, resist the temptation to view this year’s playoffs as an extension of all those to have come before. And pay no attention to the people behind the curtain, or in the booth, or in the press box. The truth is that championships are won by the team that wins today’s game most often, and this is clearly a function of the present, not the past.

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