Doing Pennants

Poor Cleveland. Aside from the Chapman tragedy (he's the only man ever killed on the field of play--and by a Yankee, no less), the team has been stalked by tragedy. In 1911, one of its Hall of Fame pitchers, Addie Joss, died from tuberculous meningitis at the age of 31. In 1957, staff ace Herb Score had his right eye socket shattered by a screaming Gil McDougald line drive (another damn Yankee!), and his career never recovered. In March 1993, two Indians pitchers--Steve Olin and Tim Crews--were killed in a Florida boating accident, and a third, Bobby Ojeda, was injured. At least George Steinbrenner wasn't driving the boat.

In 1995, of course, Cleveland lost the World Series to the Atlanta Braves, and last year the Florida Marlins denied them the crown.

They have now advanced in the playoffs three of the last four years, but they're rank underdogs to the Yankees in the American League championship series.

Could things be worse? Maybe. Of the remaining teams in this year's playoffs, one, the San Diego Padres, got to a World Series in 1984 but was soundly thrashed by a great Detroit Tigers club. Two others, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros (this October's failed hip pick to win it all), have been stopped short of the Series on half a dozen occasions. If you add their years in the major leagues together, they represent another eighty seasons or so of futility.

Who does that leave at the top of the heap?
As if we didn't know. It leaves the longtime imperialists of the game, the New York Yankees, who have won 23 world championships since the Babe got out of Beantown and who this season set an American League record for wins with 114. As irony would have it, the major-league record of 116 is held by the 1908 Chicago Cubs, who haven't won a World Series since. It also leaves the Atlanta Braves--winners of eight straight divisional titles--who have the best starting pitchers in the game (maybe the best of all time), won the Series in 1995 and ran away from their National League East rivals this season.

For the teams that keep planting their peach trees in Antarctica--the hapless Cubs, the hopeless Bosox, tragic Cleveland, the graying Texan expansionists who get a sniff of glory but no more--baseball simply isn't fair. The strong get stronger. While titles pile up like scrap paper in the Bronx, Greg Maddux grows ever more unhittable in Georgia.

Waiting for the Cubs or Boston to win a World Series? Better check back in another half-century or so. Dreams may thrive in the country of baseball, but your wake-up call comes every morning.

While most baseball fans (and millions of curious tourists) continued their Sammy and Big Mac alerts last week, the New Orleans Zephyrs quietly defied the odds and won the Triple-A World Series over the Buffalo Bisons.

For the record, Zephyrs outfielder Lance Berkman smashed three home runs in his club's 12-6 final-game win at Cashman Field in Las Vegas.

Why care about this? Why take note?
Because the Zephyrs, who get a lot less attention in the entertainment-rich Big Easy than the average plate of crawfish, were once the Denver Zephyrs. Pre-Larry Walker, pre-Don Baylor, pre-1993, the Z's plied their trade in all-but-empty Mile High Stadium as the top farm club of the Milwaukee Brewers. Before that, of course, the Denver Zephyrs were the Denver Bears--farmhands, at one time or another, for the Yankees, the Reds, the White Sox, the Expos, the Rangers and a few other parent clubs I've likely omitted.

That period, long and languid and beautiful, represented our baseball innocence. Now that the Z's, who didn't even earn a spot in the Pacific Coast League playoffs until the last week of their season, have won the crown, their feat should serve to remind Denverites of the muted glories minor-league ball once bestowed upon us, of where we've been and where we've choosen to run.

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