How about a team that wins 103 games, yet still finishes 8 games out? It happened to the Yankees in 1954. The Yankees were in the middle of quite a run from 1949 to 1958 (and on through 1964 really). They had won the previous 5 World Series titles leading into 1954. They would go on to appear in the next 4 World Series, winning 2 of them. Yet none of those AL pennant winning teams would win as many games in a season as the 1954 edition of the Yankees would. This just happened to be the season the Indians set a record for wins in a season.
This team was led by an amazing offense, led by Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and a solid supporting cast with Irv Noren, Gil McDougald, Andy Carey, and Hank Bauer. The pitching side wasn't as strong, but was led by a solid season by Whitey Ford.
Big Market/Small Market Teams
A lot of the discussions around the competitive balance issue in baseball has been regarding the concept of large market/small market teams. Lately the Yankees and to a lesser extent, the Red Sox, Dodgers, and a few others are said to have the benefit of being able to pay players more money because they play in larger markets. This is opposed to fans who came up in the 1970s and 1980s, where it seemed any team could win in any given year. The Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, now considered the smallest market teams were in the post season quite often in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The 1980s was also a down time for the Yankees.
To hear it being put, this big market/small market concept is new to baseball...but take a look at the major leagues in the 1940s-1950s. New York was the biggest market and they had three teams. There were no teams in Los Angeles then and many of the other cities were split in two, as there were teams in both leagues for cities such as Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, and Philadelphia. From 1949 when the Yankees won the World Series until 1956 when the Yankees won out over the Brooklyn Dodgers, a New York based team won the World Series every year, a stretch of 8 seasons. Maybe this advantage of playing in a large market has always been there.
Starter and Hall-of-Fame/All-Star Scores
Exclusive players to a particular set are in italics
Topps Regulars (10): Yogi Berra, Joe Collins, Andy Carey, Phil Rizzuto, Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, Bill Skowron, Whitey Ford, Ed Lopat, Johnny Sain
Bowman Regulars (10): Yogi Berra, Gil McDougald, Phil Rizzuto, Gene Woodling, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Harry Byrd
Topps All-Stars & Hall-of-Famers (4): Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto
Bowman All-Stars & Hall-of-Famers (7): Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Allie Reynolds, Phil Rizzuto, Enos Slaughter (shown as a Cardinal)
Topps really takes a killing here on the really big names. They only have four regulars exclusive to their set, none of which were hall-of-famers or all-stars in 1954. Meanwhile, all of the hall-of-famers and all-stars that can be found in the Topps set are all available in the Bowman set. Probably the biggest killer here is that Mickey Mantle was available only in the Bowman set. As much as Topps has tried to tie itself to Mickey Mantle's legacy the last few years, this is a key set not to have an early Mickey Mantle card in. Out of the three biggest names here (Mantle, Berra, Ford), Topps at least does have two of those. Neither set (or any regional set that I know of) has a card of Irv Noren who was on the 1954 all-star team.
For team collectors, Topps makes up some ground as they have 5 players beyond the starters in their set and Bowman has 3, with Eddie Robinson being in both sets. Again, though Bowman has a card of Enos Slaughter, a hall-of-famer who made his name with the Cardinals throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. He is actually pictured as a Cardinal, as 1954 was the first season on the shuttle between Kansas City and New York and eventually an 11 game appearance with the 1959 Milwaukee Braves that would wind down his career. He was a bench player for this team.