Winning their fair share

It feels like Phillies fans have had to wait forever for another title, but if life were fair, a Phils championship would be ahead of schedule.

Published October 28, 2008 6:20PM (EDT)

Philadelphia Phillies fans have been waiting a long, long time for a World Series championship. It's been 28 years, a lifetime in many cases. It had been 15 years since the Phillies last won the National League. That's a lot of waiting.

But it's just about the right amount of time. It's roughly the Phillies' turn to win the Series. They're not overdue.

There are 30 teams in the majors, 16 in the National League and 14 in the American. If life were fair and success were distributed evenly and everybody won their fair share of championships, the Phillies and every other N.L. team would win one pennant every 16 years, one World Series every 30.

Life isn't fair. But the experience of Phillies fans, the feeling that they've been waiting so very, very long for the Phillies to win, shows that if life were fair, it wouldn't feel very fair.

It's true the Phillies brought some baggage to this 28-year stretch since their last World Series win. That 1980 championship was their first and before it their only two pennants in the World Series era, which began in 1903, had been won in 1915 and 1950. So the Phillies have a legacy of futility.

But unless you're old enough to remember as far back as the 1964 collapse, that legacy is more story than experience. In the lifetimes of adults who are under 50 -- which according to the Census Bureau is about two out of every three people over the age of 5 -- the Phillies have been a reasonably successful franchise, with a World Series win, four pennants and nine playoff appearances since 1976.

There was a playoff drought between 1993 and 2007, so the success of the last two years has been new to anyone in their early 20s and younger. There was no postseason in 1994 because of the strike. The Phillies' fair share of playoff appearances from 1995 to 2006 would have been three.

But in those 13 contested seasons between this Phillies pennant and the last one, six National League teams have gone without making the World Series. The Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers all send along their sympathy to the Phillies for having to wait so long to get back to the Fall Classic.

In the 26 contested seasons since the Phillies won their World Series in 1980, 13 teams have failed to win it all. The Phillies have been waiting a long time, but their wait has only been middle-of-the-pack.

And the citywide championship drought, dating to the last 76ers NBA title in 1983, doesn't earn Phillies fans any extra credit. If Red Sox and Cubs fans don't get their martyrdom marked down for all the championships won by the Celtics, Patriots, Bulls and Bears, Phillies fans don't win any points for also rooting for the Eagles, Flyers and Sixers.

The Tampa Bay Rays are also right on schedule in terms of winning the pennant. Playing in a 14-team league, they've won it in their 11th season. They're behind on playoff appearances. If success were distributed evenly, this would be their third time in October.

I've been fascinated by this idea of teams winning their fair share of titles and pennants and playoff appearances for a while. Because a few teams have so dominated baseball history -- the Yankees, A's, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Cubs -- most teams have failed to win their fair share of the time. And because those successful franchises have set the standard, it feels like failure, like a long drought, when a team wins about its fair share of the time, as the Phillies have been doing for the last three decades or so.

Here is a chart showing how many pennants and World Series all 30 teams have won, compared to what their fair share would have been.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

MORE FROM King Kaufman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------