Monday, January 18, 2010

Missing Ingredients? No Worries

In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James makes an emphatic case against the 1961 New York Yankees as one of baseball's greatest teams.  The argument goes like this:  The Yankees had poor team speed, poor table-setters, shallow starting pitching, an unproven bullpen, and absolutely no bench aside from Johnny Blanchard.

He's right, except that those Yankees pounded everybody en route to an easy World Series title -- and then won the Series again the next season in seven games against the Giants.  They would've won three World Series in a row if not for Bill Mazeroski's home run in 1960, and they were back in the Fall Classic in both 1963 and 1964, losing both years.

So, yes, they had flaws... but they were also pretty darn great enough to go to five consecutive World Series, win two of them, and lose two of them in seven games.

Every time in every sport a team separates itself from the pack, there are two different rushes - one to glorify the team in question, and one to seek out their flaws.

Hey, guess what?  An imperfect team with visible flaws can still win a championship, provided their strengths are strong enough.

Michael Jordan's 1990s Chicago Bulls didn't need a quality power forward, center, or point guard.  Hakeem Olajuwon's 1990s Houston Rockets didn't need anything but The Dream and a bunch of three-point shooters.  Ray Lewis's 2000 Baltimore Ravens didn't need an offense.  Peyton Manning's 2006 Indianapolis Colts didn't need a defense or a running game.  The Detroit Red Wings have won Stanley Cups without superlative goaltending; the New Jersey Devils won three Cups without a deadly offense.

Inexperienced teams have won.  Low-paid teams have won.  No-star teams have won.  Poorly-managed/coached teams have won.

A champion is not determined by strengths and flaws.  A champion is determined by health, resilience, energy, and most certainly a lucky break here and there.

Especially where the referees and umpires are concerned.

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