The Baseball Notebook

February 17, 2010 12:13 PM

The Team Of The Decade

It’s the sounds of spring again, and pitchers and catchers are ready to report. The first decade of the 21st century is in the books and we’re ready to start a new one. And The Baseball Notebook is looking forward to be a part of it. Our own official “spring training” here will be next week. Between now and March 28, we’ll have team previews for all 30 MLB squads. Then, from March 29 thru April 3, we’ll have six straight days of final division predictions. Then on Sunday, April 4, the Notebook will make its official World Series pick and that night we get started in Fenway, when the Red Sox host the Yankees in a renewal of their bloodbath.

With the Yanks & Red Sox starting the season on ESPN prime-time, and teams like the Phillies, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers & Mets all ready to spend big to win big, I want to take this first post of the season to look back on the decade that was. There was debate last fall on who the Team of Decade should be. If you look only at the bottom line the answer is clearly the Yankees. They won two World Series, matched only by the Red Sox, won four pennants, 7 ½ division titles (2005 was a co-championship with Boston) and went to the postseason nine times. No one else is even in sniffing distance.

But what if we factor in questions like who did the most with the resources available to them? As much as John Henry and Larry Lucchino in Boston portray their organization as the Little Engine That Could, we all know that’s really not the case. The Red Sox are the most successful of the second-tier big-budget teams that run behind the Yanks, but ahead of everyone else (I would also include the Dodgers, Angels, Mets and Cubs in this group, the Braves given their national exposure on TBS, arguably the Phillies and you can make a case for Texas, given the latent economic power in the Dallas area, even if the front office hasn’t fully tapped it yet). But what about the team that was almost eliminated at the start of the decade and ended it by producing the MVP? I refer of course to the Minnesota Twins.

The Minnesota area is not a huge market—not even a middle-class one along the lines of Baltimore or Denver—nor does it have a raw passion for baseball like St. Louis does that enables it to be bigger than demographics would suggest. It’s for these reasons that Bud Selig slated the Twins, along with the then-Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) for the chopping block in 2002 when MLB wanted to eliminate two teams as part of its hardball negotiations with the players union. But Minnesota persisted, and not only survived, but thrived. That very year, they won the AL Central title and advanced to the League Championship Series. They followed it up with two more division titles in 2003-04. They won again in 2006 and again last year. This is despite the fact they don’t have the economic potential of division rival Chicago, nor do they have an owner with deep pockets like Detroit does. But they won half of the AL Central crowns in the decade, contended consistently and produced top stars like Johan Santana and Joe Mauer, the latter of whom won the AL MVP last season. If this isn’t the mark of organizational excellence, I don’t know what it is. This can also give heart to my hometown of Baltimore, who has former Twin architect Andy MacPhail as its GM now.

So if you’re a Red Sox fan (a group a proudly include myself in, as a longtime admirer of the entire city of Boston from afar) by all means celebrate your historic championship and success this past decade. If you’re a Yankee fan, enjoy the winning and the stars the Steinbrenner Family splurges on. But try doing it with a little humility and recognition of the fact that some organizations succeed on a more important bottom line—that of maximization of talent and resources, and fulfilling one’s potential.

Once the season starts, the Notebook won’t harp on economic issues, preferring to focus on the game on the field. But nor are we blind to them. And in that light, we tip our cap to the Minnesota Twins, the Team of the ‘00s, and get set to head into a new decade. Spring training team previews start Monday. And if you’re a college basketball fan, that arm of the Notebook family is running commentary five times a week as we roll towards the NCAA Tournament.

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