A couple days ago, over on the excellent site Beyond the Box Score, Justin Bopp came up with a great graphic, illustrating how long it has been since each team in baseball made it to a World Series. You hear a lot about World Series droughts in the sense of actually winning a championship, but not many people talk about the droughts between Series appearances. Here's a closer look at the top (bottom?) ten:
10. Cincinnati Reds
Last Series: 1990. The Reds shocked the season-long-dominant A's in a four-game sweep. A career year by Mariano Duncan and strong showings by Chris Sabo and Hal Morris helped offset disappointing showings by Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Paul O'Neill, but the team's biggest strengths were starting pitcher Jose Rijo and that famous "Nasty Boys" bullpen. They had no business beating the Pirates in the NLCS and even less beating the A's in the Series, but that's why the word "crapshoot" was invented (well, that's why it was applied to baseball, anyway).
Nearest Miss Since: They were swept out of the NLCS in 1995, but at least they were only one series away. The best team in that span was the 1999 squad, who won 96 but lost the wild-card tiebreaker to the Mets.
9. Oakland Athletics
Last Series: also 1990. The A's had won 103 on the backs of McGwire, Canseco and (especially) AL MVP Rickey Henderson, with some awfully good pitching thrown in. It was their third Series in a row, and the second of the three in which they lost to a plainly inferior team. No one would have guessed it would be more than 20 years before the team got back again.
Nearest Miss Since: The closest they've come to getting back, technically, came just two years later, when the A's won 96 games and two in the ALCS before falling to the Blue Jays in six. The best team, though, was probably 2002 (2001 may have been even better, but since they were nowhere near as good as the 116-win Mariners, expectations can't have been too high), when the team won 103 again but lost a hard-fought ALDS to the Twins. They made the ALCS again in 2006 (after beating the Twins), but were swept right out of it by the Tigers. Much has been made, of course, of the A's of the 'aughts and their proclivity for success in the regular season and failure in the playoffs...made, I hasten to add, almost entirely by people who completely misunderstand what the book Moneyball was really about.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Series: 1988. It's hard to believe that 22 of the 29 other teams have made a World Series more recently than what had been one of the great franchises of the preceding 40 or so years. The Dodgers, like the Reds, shocked the much better A's (this time in five rather than four). Kirk Gibson was legitimately great and probably deserved the MVP he won, and Orel Hershiser had a legendary season as the #1 starter with good performances behind him from Tims Leary and Belcher. The team appeared to have no offense after Gibson, though they did finish roughly average in runs scored. It's a bit hard to figure how this was a good team.
Nearest Miss Since: Among six playoff appearances since, the Dodgers made the NLCS in both 2008 and 2009. Their best chance was probably 2009, when the Dodgers won 94 games, but the Phillies took care of them in five.
7. Kansas City Royals
Last Series: 1985. They'd had seven playoff appearances in a ten-year period, but this was it for them. With George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Charlie Liebrandt, the Royals managed to win 91 games, then beat both the Blue Jays and Cardinals in seven (with some infamous help from an umpire during the Series).
Nearest Miss Since: None. Just one Royals team since had hit the 90-win mark, in 1989; there have been a few decent 80-85 win seasons since then, but a lot more 90-100 loss ones.
6. Baltimore Orioles
Last Series: 1983. The O's beat the White Sox and Phillies rather easily in an awfully anticlimactic postseason. Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken had great years, and the rest of the offense and the pitching mostly held their own.
Nearest Miss Since: For a proud franchise that was great in the late sixties and early seventies and was still considered a force through most of the nineties, it's pretty amazing that they've had just two playoff appearances in the last 27 seasons. The team did appear in the American League championship series in both of those years -- 1996 and 1997 -- losing first to the Yankees and then to Cleveland.
5, Milwaukee Brewers
Last Series: 1982. Powered by the home run ball (even Yount and Molitor combined for 48), the Brewers won 94 games, and then beat the Angels 3-2 in an excellent ALCS, but lost the Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
Nearest Miss Since: 2008 by default, because that is the only year since 1982 in which the Brewers have made the postseason (they lost the NLDS to the eventual champion Phillies).
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Series: 1979. We are family! Stargell, Parker, some solid role players, and three very good starting pitchers. It's not talked about much anymore, but the team's seven-game victory over the Orioles was a pretty exciting one. Phil Garner hit .500/.571/.667.
Nearest Miss Since: Three heartbreakers in a row from 1990 to 1992, one NLCS lost in six games and the other two in seven, that last one ending on the unlikely single by Francisco Cabrera leading to Sid Bream's unlikely scamper home from second. They won 96 games that year, and haven't finished a year at or above .500 since.
3. Seattle Mariners
Last Series: Never. The Mariners debuted in 1977, finally saw their first winning season in 1991, and will play in their first World Series in 2011 or later.
Nearest Miss: 2001, of course. For one amazing April through September, that team was just about the best we'll ever see. Ichiro won the MVP and Rookie of the Year, Bret Boone could just as easily have won the former, Olerud, Cameron and Edgar all played like superstars, role players like Mark McLemore and Stan Javier had huge years, and the pitching and/or defense was excellent. Anybody can have a few bad games, though, which they did against the vastly inferior Yankees in the ALCS.
2. Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos
Last Series: Never. The Expos debuted in 1969, and the franchise has made the postseason just once.
Nearest Miss: In the strike year of 1981 the Expos, led by phenomenal years by Raines and Dawson, fell short by one NLCS game. In 1979, they won 95 games and would have won the NL West, but finished three games back in the East. And then of course there was 1994.
1. Chicago Cubs
Last Series: 1945! Longest drought by 24 years (35 if you only count teams that have actually made a series). The 1977 debut of the #3 Mariners came almost exactly at the midpoint of the Cubs' drought. Of course, the Cubs lost the series, in seven games, to a Tigers team that won ten fewer than the Cubs over the regular season. At least there was no suspense in that game seven: the Tigers went up early and won 9-3. This wartime lineup looks awfully weak for a 98-game winner. The big bats were Phil Cavaretta and Stan Hack; the excellent rotation contained guys named Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau and Ray Prim.
Nearest Miss Since: Near misses in 1984 and 1989, and the best Cub teams of this entire period were probably in 2007 and 2008 (in which they went 0-6 in the playoffs to the D-Backs and Dodgers), but it has to be 2003, right? They lost the NLCS in heartbreaking fashion in seven games to the Marlins, going up three games to one and blowing it in spectacular fashion (having next to nothing to do with a certain clumsy and headphone-wearing scapegoat).