The Yankees need to throw some ball games.
This modest proposal is not offered on behalf of any wagering syndicates or Cal Ripken fan clubs. It's suggested for the Yankees' own good.
Forty pennant winners have won better than two thirds of their games en route to the postseason. Yet this rollicking regular-season success—achieved only three times since 1954—does not always carry over into the World Series. Only half of those 40 teams have gone on to win the whole can of Cheese Whiz.
The picture for the Yankees, sailing along at week's end at 50-18 (.735), is even bleaker: The numbers get worse as the winning percentages get better. The 14 teams that played .700-plus ball won only six titles. The three that finished .750 or better all lost.
Baseball has been filled with Titanics. The top winner of all time, Cap Anson's 1885 Chicago White Stockings, finished their National League season a stunning 87-25 (.777), yet dropped a still disputed World Series to the upstart St. Louis Browns of the American Association, then a major league. The biggest winner of the National League's monopoly era of a hundred years ago, the 1897 Boston Beaneaters (93-39, .705), lost the Temple Cup series that pitted them against the regular-season runners-up, the Baltimore Orioles, so souring the public with that anticlimactic result that the format was discontinued.
The 1906 Cubs blazed through the National League to win 116 of 152 games (.763). Tinker, Evers, Chance and company led the league in team batting, fielding and pitching; they scored 13% more runs than the next-best offense and gave up 19% fewer than the next-best defense. Yet the Cubs lost the World Series in six to the cross-town White Sox, the confounding Hitless Wonders, who batted .230 for the year and only .198 in the Series.
Still, the Cubs may have been out-disastered by the 1954 Indians, the alltime American League winning-percentage leaders at .721 (111-43). During the regular season the Indians averaged five runs a game; they scored nine in the entirety of their four-game Series sweep at the hands of the New York Giants. Even in our era the first have been last. During the existence of the four-division format, nobody won more than the '69 Orioles (109-53, .673), yet they fell to the Mets in the Series. Since the advent of the wild-card format, the '95 Indians hold the record at .694 (100-44), and they didn't win the Series either.
Is there cause and effect here, something to be concluded about the lack of a challenging regular season coming home to roost in the playoffs? Not necessarily. Despite their 111 victories, the '54 Indians won the pennant by only eight games. The 1885 White Stockings and 1897 Beaneaters needed to play .700 ball too; each finished first by only two games.
The only glad tidings history offers the .735 Yanks come in pinstripes. Five Yankee teams fit our criteria—and four of them ('27, '32, '39 and '61) won the World Series. Of course, so did 19 of the Yankees' 29 other pennant winners.