Is Winning Losing?

Since there is virtually nothing to be written about last night's 9-4 bludgeoning at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, let's ponder instead Patrick Reusse's column of August 19. Mr. Reusse looks to be examining, and perhaps explaining, the challenges of being Terry Ryan, the Twins highly regarded GM. Reusse writes: "Baseball is the only sport in this country where the triumph is in the pursuit as much as in the ultimate result." Although there's some truth to that, it's depressing when that appears to be your team's core philosophy.

Reusse goes on to show how, in baseball, the regular season is prized much more highly than in other sports, an observation that I couldn't agree with more. Hockey and basketball and football make the postseason so important that it comes at the expense of the regular season (especially in hockey, where teams with losing records often make it to the playoffs). Then comes the fun part: the Twins, Reusse points out, have had "praiseworthy achievement" over the last few years, putting together a string of six seasons in a row with a winning record, which surpasses any other time in their relatively short history (though Washington might not have fared any better).

Young Jim Pohlad says that the consecutive losing streak prior to this recent successes were "dark days", and that we won't see such sustained mediocrity under Terry Ryan. Reusse concludes his piece with this: "Staying consistently competitive. That's the goal here. If that leads to another run to the World Series, hallelujah, but avoiding a return to the dark days seems to carry equal importance with today's Twins."

So there's your $10,000 question: is it better to have stretches of lousy seasons and one or two that lead to a World Series berth, or merely not to fall below .500 over a long period of time? Perhaps I'm unique in my interest in baseball, but I'd rather have a World Series and then junk (though of course I wouldn't mind both, Yankee-style). So while I definitely want to see my team win, do I really care if they end up in second and third place years and years in a row? Not really.

Personally, I've not been as enamored of the Twins golden years as the rest of the world. To me, there have been two dazzling seasons in the past six years: 2001 and 2006. In '01, the year the Twins didn't make the playoffs, they had established themselves as an up and coming team after all those years of being plain lousy. Frankly, they were a spectacular entertainment that season. That season was filled with come-from-behind victories, the neck-and-neck rivalry with the Indians, and the Twins incredible fall in the second half. That's a hell of a ride. '06 was the same, except reversed. But the other Central Division Championships and their third place finish in '05? The years with virtually no competition (the White Sox were a poor rival, at best), or being completely outplayed ('05) and things wrapped up by early September... well, that's not much fun in my book.

I look back at the 1987 Detroit Tigers as a great example of spending for the now. THe Tigers pulled the trigger that year, and were rewarded with a playoff berth, which meant a great deal more then, with only one round of playoffs, than today. Now it's been written that the Tigers trade of John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander goes down as one of the worst in history. I find that to be an idiotic, coldhearted response. The Tigers would not have won anything in '87 without Alexander, and Smoltz alone would not have revived the Tigers fortunes in the 90s (and early '00s, however you say that). The Tigers gave up part of their future for 1987, a year that will live with Tigers fans their whole lives. I'd rather have '87 over years of moderate success in the 90s... if you could even ask Smoltz to shoulder that load, which I don't think you can.

So I find it somewhat alarming to hear our premiere sportswriter posit that the Twins management doesn't consider winning the World Series their primary goal. Ask yourself this question, Twins fans: if you could know that the Twins could trade for the player that would shoot them into the postseason this year, and perhaps take them to the Series, at the cost of five years of sub-.500 play, would you take it? Or put it another way: in twenty years are you going to be celebrating the division-champion Twins of the last few years? I know that trading for the right bats doesn't guarantee anything. Staying put, however, guarantees only mediocrity. Even if it's got a winning record.

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