Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Monday, May 31, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Why 2004 kicks 1998, Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, I was looking for old baseball books on eBay. A book by one of my favorite broadcasters, Tim McCarver, caught my eye. It was called "The Perfect Season," a book about why 1998 was baseball's greatest season, how the Yankees won 125 games, the whole Sosa-McGwire thing, etc. I looked some more and saw another book, this one by the Daily News' Mike Lupica, called "Summer of '98." Seems '98 was one great year. But in my opinion, with one-third of the season done, the year so far is probably the one I've enjoyed the most as a fan; in fact, I'm enjoying it a lot more than '98. Some things haven't changed since then: the Yankees are still (basically) on top, and still kicking the tar out of the awful Devil Rays. But this year is much different, in a really good way.

This year, in all six divisions, there is no clear favorite. The largest gap between the first-place and second-place team in any division is 2.5 games back. In the NL, there is no clear favorite. The Reds and Marlins, both good but not great teams, are both the league's best with 30-21 records. The AL has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry going for it as well as great races in the Central and West. And seeing teams like the Brewers, Reds, Padres, and Rangers finally playing competitive ball is just terrific.

Contrast that to '98. In '98, the only close race was the AL West, where Texas edged out Anaheim by 3 games. The second-closest gap? 9.5 games. In September, everyone was watching McGwire and Sosa, partially because there was nothing else going on (with the notable exception of the Cubs and Giants wild-card race).

In addition, 1998 had arguably the most boring postseason ever. What was the most exciting moment? Chuck Knoblauch arguing with the ump while two runners scored? Yawn. Also, the world series matchup of the Yankees-Padres had to be one of the biggest mismatches ever in series history. In fact, on the basis of their thrilling postseasons alone, I'd take 2001 and 2003 over 1998.

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