This is the best team I've ever left Florida with. There's no comparison between this year's team and last year's.
—SPARKY ANDERSON, April 1985.
I've never seen worse baseball than what I've been watching recently.
—SPARKY ANDERSON, Aug. 1985.
Tiger manager Sparky Anderson had every reason to be optimistic this spring. His club had won 104 games and the world championship last year. Sparky went so far as to call Detroit the team of the '90s. In the papers last Sunday, there the Tigers were in third place in the American League East, 9½ games behind the Blue Jays.
Their World Series opponents, the Padres, had just as much reason to be optimistic in April. They apparently had it all. Speed. Pitching, both starters and relievers. Hitting for average and power. A marvelous blend of youth and experience. But as of last Sunday, San Diego trailed the Dodgers by eight games.
Last year was the dawning of a new era for Cub fans. The Bleacher Bums had their first winner of any kind since 1945. There was no room left on the bandwagon. Whether or not to put lights in Wrigley Field for postseason play was a major national concern this spring. The last anybody checked the standings, however, the Cubs were three games under .500, 14 games out in fourth place, and if Wrigley Field did have lights, they'd be out.
As it is written in the second Book of Samuel—no, not the one on the Phillies' second sacker—"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of battle!" How come? Why is it that division winners go to hell quicker than you can say Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.? Well, the reasons range from complacency to trying too hard, but one thing is clear. Nobody repeats anymore.
Together with defending AL West champion Kansas City, which was hanging in there 2½ games behind California, the four division winners were a combined 34 games out of first place. The Tigers, Cubs and Padres were ranked second, third and fourth among all 26 teams in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S baseball preview, but according to the standings, they would now rank ninth, 16th and 10th. The Royals, the least ballyhooed of all the division champs, are the ones with the best chance of repeating.
Not counting the aberrational strike year of 1981, no team has repeated since '78. In fact, the combined total of games behind has gotten progressively worse each year: 42 games out in '79; 45½ in '80; 48 in '82; 54 in '83; and a record 57½ last year.
It's as if they all had signed a collective bargaining agreement with the devil.
We could win 100 games.
—JIM FREY to his troops in May.