Thinking About That "Dynasty" Word
No sooner did Pablo Sandoval squeeze the last out than Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site proclaimed, "The San Francisco Giants are now a Dynasty," and used an algorithm developed by Bill James to substantiate the point. (http://fivethirtyeight.com/liveblog/world-series-game-7-live-blog/?#livepress-update-19763487) A Reuters release called the Giants "a different kind of Major League Baseball dynasty," the "best at juggling budget and talent" in an age of parity." (http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/10/30/sports/baseball/30reuters-baseball-worldseries-dynasty.html?ref=baseball) World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner said at the Giants' victory parade back home in San Francisco, "Like they've been saying, this is a dynasty." Even before Game 6, New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner titled a column, "Unconventional Dynasty in the Making" and asked "Are they really a dynasty?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/sports/baseball/world-series-2014-sf-giants-have-the-trappings-of-a-dynasty.html). Kepner goes on to say, "The term connotes a higher level of team achievement, but is open to interpretation." Let's take it from there.
Until arguably the mid-1990s with the advent of three divisions in each league, the introduction of a "wild card" team for post-season playoffs and the resulting two rounds of playoffs in each league to determine a pennant winner, a particular team's winning accomplishments seems a suitable baseline standard for beginning a discussion about dynasties. These can be measured in the number of first-place finishes--whether in the unitary league format that prevailed until the second-wave expansion to twelve teams in each league in 1969 or division titles since then--pennants and World Series won over a period of at least five years. While acknowledging that very few teams not named the Yankees would win even as many as three championships in any five-year period, I would suggest that for any team to be considered a "dynasty" based on this standard, it should not have had a losing season in any year of its five-year dynasty-qualifying run and in fact have been competitive all five years.
On top of that, the extent to which a team dominates its era, not merely in championship achievements but in overpowering the competition, should be factored into the "dynasty" equation. Some combination of number of years with 100 or more victories, winning pennant races by large margins, being among the top two teams in scoring or fewest runs allowed can be important considerations when considering which teams are dynasties. The 1906-10 Chicago Cubs with four pennants in five years, three won by decisive margins of at least ten games, four times winning at least 100 games (including in 1909, the one year they did not win the pennant); the 1936-42 Yankees from Joe DiMaggio's rookie season until he went off to war, averaging over 100 wins a year, with six pennants in seven years all won by at least nine games, and leading the league in scoring six times and in fewest runs allowed six times; and the 1972-76 Cincinnati Reds, with four division titles--three by margins of at least 10 games--three pennants and two championship rings are three of the best examples of team dynasties.
Each of these teams was also identifiable with a core group of players for all or most of their run: Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance and Three-Finger Brown (the Cubs); DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez and Johnny Murphy (the Yankees); Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez (the Big Red Machine).
Aside from dynastic teams identifiable by a core group of players for a specific period of time, there are four franchises that were "dynasties" over a period of at least two decades by virtue of sustained success. Most obvious are the New York Yankees, beginning in 1921 (when they won the American League pennant for the first time) pretty much to the present day with really only two non-dynastic spells therein--from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s and from the early-1980s until the mid-1990s. The Yankee dynasty seamlessly transitioned from the Ruth and Gehrig, to the DiMaggio, to the Mantle eras famously winning 29 pennants and 20 World Series in 44 years between 1921 and 1964. The most recent iteration of the Yankee dynasty lasted from 1995 to at least 2007, bearing the names of Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera, with 13 consecutive postseason appearances. (The Yankees won nine consecutive AL East titles during these years.).
The three other franchise dynasties were the New York Giants with 10 pennants but only 3 World Series championships in 21 years from 1904 to 1924; the St. Louis Cardinals with 9 pennants and 6 World Series championships in 21 years between 1926 and 1946; and the Brooklyn-to-Los Angeles Dodgers with 13 pennants (6 in Brooklyn) but only 4 World Series triumphs (3 in L.A.) in 32 years between 1947 and 1978.
That 21-year Cardinal dynasty just mentioned is particularly interesting because they won with no team by itself worthy of being called a "dynasty" for any five-year period, with the possible exception of the 1942-46 Cards that won four pennants in five years, two of which however were when major league rosters were depleted because of ballplayers suiting up for Uncle Sam in the Second World War, which took a far greater toll on arch-rival Brooklyn than St. Louis. Even when St. Louis went to three World Series and won two in five years between 1930 and 1934, the Cardinals finished fifth and sixth in an eight-team league in the two years they did not win the pennant. Branch Rickey kept the Cardinals competitive with the vast number of minor league affiliates under St. Louis control and shrewd trading according to the principle of better to trade a star player approaching his career pivot point of decline a year too soon than a year too late.
With an additional round of playoffs, the wild card era should change how we think about dynasties. Division winners now have to navigate a five-game series and then a seven-game series to get to the World Series. Short series can be fickle, making winning division titles in long 162-game seasons a more true test of how good a team really is than the number of championship rings.
The Atlanta Braves from 1991 to 2005 won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles that included six 100-win seasons, eight time finishing first by a blowout margin of at least 8 games, and nine times having the best record in the National League ... but those accomplishments seem somehow diminished because they went to only five World Series and won only one. It should be noted that two of their five pennants were before MLB's three-division / wild card structure came into being when they had only to survive a seven-game League Championship Series to compete in the World Series, and that they were eliminated in the five-game Division Series first round in five of their last six consecutive seasons as division champions. And this was a team that not only dominated the league, but included a significant number of historically great players--Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones--at the peak of their careers.
The New York Yankees from 1996 to 2001 are the only team in the current three divisions / wild card era that can claim a "dynasty" by the traditional dynastic standards of winning pennants and World Series. They survived two American League playoff rounds to make it to five World Series in six years (including four in a row from '98 to '01) and won four championships. Throw in 2003, and it's six pennants and four World Series triumphs in eight years. Since then, even the Jeter-Rivera variant of the Yankee dynasty, having been eliminated in the opening Division Series round in four of their last eight post-season appearances (although they did win it all in 2009), has been snakebit by the number of postseason series now required to be won for baseball's championship.
By winning their third Series in five years, the San Francisco Giants accomplished something not done by any team since the 1996-2001 Yankees. There is no question about that Yankee team being a dynasty, not to mention an extension in the nearing-a-century-long dynasty of the Yankee franchise. But the 2010-14 Giants won their division only twice in five years (remember, they were a wild card this year), only once by as many as eight games (in 2012); never won more than 94 games on the season; never had the best record in the league (they were second-best in 2010); followed their 2010 and 2012 championships with disappointing noncompetitive seasons; and have only the third best record in the National League (after the Cardinals and the Braves) over the last five years.
Whatever can and should be said about the Giants and their accomplishments, they have not dominated the National League in the way one would expect of a dynasty--not in any of the last five years. As has been noted by various experts, however, General Manager Brian Sabean's record in making high-impact trades (such as for Hunter Pence) and bringing in journeymen players to fill sudden holes has kept the Giants in the competitive mix, capable of recovering quickly from disappointing years. They maybe are not quite a dynasty given their actual record over the last five years--not yet, anyway, and certainly not by traditional definitions--but the way the game has evolved and the difficulty of sustaining a winning team, today's San Francisco Giants may be the team that redefines how we consider the concept of "dynasties."