Most of the things I write blossom out of questioning or curiosity; the desire of understanding why something is or a certain way. That’s how most endeavors of knowledge begin.
This one started not from that, but because of people using words incorrectly.
Anyone who knows me/follows me on Twitter knows my hill to die on is “reigning/defending.” Almost everyone uses them interchangeably, when they’re totally different. A quick guide:
Reigning: This is proper to use for any champion. For example, the Cubs are the reigning MLB champions because this year’s champion hasn’t been decided yet. The same way the Warriors, Penguins, and Patriots are all reigning champions in their sport. Same way a boxer/UFC fighter who is champion now is also reigning.
Defending: So all defending champions are reigning, but not all reigning champions are defending. Using the example above, the only defending champions are the boxer and the UFC fighter. Why? They can lose their championship when defeated, unlike the four team champions who can’t.
That’s the whole idea behind defending; you have to be able to potentially lose your title. The four teams above won’t lose their title; a new team will win one and become the most recent champion. They will REIGN, but due to the way their sport is set up they will not have to DEFEND.
However, this diction dispute got me thinking as I watched the playoffs seeing constant misuse of the “defending” moniker.
What if we took baseball’s championship and made it a title its owner had to defend?
So, I did.
Here are the rules:
1. The postseason no longer exists; in this pseudo reality Rob Manfred decided that the playoffs are doing too much to inhibit pace of play, using his mighty powers to eliminate them. The Cubs are the final World Series champion, and the first ever MLB Linear Champion (or just MLB Champion for short).
2. Title changes are based on wins per game not per series. I went back and forth on this; in the end having every game matter felt more fun and impactful. So every time the champion takes the field, they’re defending their title. How’s that for making the regular season important?
3. Whoever is champion at the end of the season is deemed the season’s champion. They’re the ones who start defending next season, and everything repeats.
It’s a combination between the EPL, boxing, and unfettered madness from my brain but the results are fun. Let’s start at the beginning.
All the pomp and circumstance of the new season is upon us on April 2nd. The new champion Cubs have broken a century plus long curse, and are rip roaring to go in St. Louis looking to embarrass their rivals on Opening Night.
So of course they fail America and lose to the Cardinals 4-3, losing their title without a successful defense.
Some things never change.
Chicago rights their wrong later that week, beating the Cards on getaway day to take the title back as they steal away into the St. Louis night. Chicago goes on to trade the title back and forth with the Brewers once and Dodgers twice throughout the middle of April, before the Pirates sail to Wrigley plundering a sweep and the title from the Cubs.
Pittsburgh gets a short reign before the Cardinals continue to just be the worst, defeating them and taking the title back. The Cardinals and Brewers play hot potato for a series, before of all teams the Blue Jays become the first American League team with a turn at the title this season.
Yes, the Blue Jays and Cardinals are both champion within the first month. I’m sorry Ranger fans, I know this sucks.
The Jays lose it back to the Cards, but a mystery guest swoops in as the Reds win the title on the last day of April capping a wild first month.
End of April
Current champion: Reds
13 title changes in April
Days as champion:
- Cardinals: 9
- Cubs: 9
- Brewers: 2
- Dodgers: 1
- Pirates: 3
- Blue Jays: 1
- Reds: 1
The NL Central theme continues for the first week or so of May, with the Pirates and Reds going back and forth with the title. May 9th gives us our second AL champion of the year; the Yankees get one victory over the Reds before dropping it back the next day. That’s probably why Girardi got fired if you’re curious.
Anyway, the Reds hold it for a trio of days before the miserable Giants pop up and spoil things beating the Reds. Before you ask no, Sam Dyson wasn’t a Giant at this point so the knife twisting does have a limit it seems (for now).
One of the odder occurrences of the season happens when the Marlins, yes the MARLINS, beat the Dodgers and become champion for a day. It doesn’t last, as the Dodgers take it back before trading blows back and forth with the Cardinals to end May.
End of May
Current champion: Cardinals
11 title changes in May
Days as champion:
- Reds: 10
- Pirates: 1
- Yankees: 1
- Giants: 5
- Dodgers: 12
- Marlins: 1
- Cardinals: 1
Compared to the first two months, June is calm title change frequency wise. We only see the title move around eight times, but it’s more who wins that makes this month as the kids say #lit.
We start with the Cards losing to the Cubs, who lose to the Marlins (again the MARLINS!). Rightfully, Miami drops to Pittsburgh.
Then the following sequence happens:
-Pittsburgh loses to Colorado
-Colorado loses to Arizona
-Arizona loses to Philadelphia (!)
-Philadelphia loses to Arizona
-Arizona loses to St. Louis (insert sour face emoji here please editor thank you)
Yes, in the same month the Marlins and Phillies both laid claim to the MLB championship in 2017.
Told you this was getting wild.
End of June
Current champion: Cardinals (Seriously, they’re the worst)
8 title changes
Days as champion
- Cardinals: 5
- Cubs: 5
- Marlins: 2
- Pirates: 4
- Rockies: 7
- Diamondbacks: 6
- Phillies: 1
July takes what June built, looks at it, sticks some dynamite in it, lights the fuse and runs away cackling. Things start OK with the Cardinals losing to the Nationals, who get a few days being happy.
It turns out though, and maybe this is why Dusty Baker got fired, that the Nats have this allergy to beating bad teams.
It would explain how they spent the 6th through 9th trading the title with the hapless Braves. Then just when they thought they were rid of mediocre teams Mark Teixeira played for, they lose the last two games of a series to the Angels.
Yes, Mike Trout can call himself a champion under this pseudo reality.
Probably the only time that’s going to happen as long as he’s with the Angels.
So, enjoy it Mike.
The Angels and Red Sox traded for a couple days, before inevitably Los Angeles lost to the Indians. Cleveland gets their first crack at the title, before giving it up to the White Sox who finish July as champion.
End of July
Current champion: White Sox
10 title changes
Days as champion
- Cardinals: 4 days
- Nationals: 15 days
- Braves: 2 days
- Angels: 5 days (vomit)
- Red Sox: 1 day
- Indians: 5 days
- White Sox: 2 days
If you’re a Rangers fan, skipping to September isn’t a shameful act. I won’t blame you should you do so. I wanted to during research.
When we last left our heroes, the White Sox were champions and nothing made sense. Along come the Blue Jays on the first day of the month, knocking off Chicago and claiming the title. What happened next was a real monkey’s paw tradeoff.
Good: The Blue Jays lost
Bad: The Astros beat them
Back and forth the Texas nemesis traded, before Houston came out on top. It wouldn’t last however, as they’d lose to the White Sox again. Yes, I am delighting in the idea that once again Houston lost to the White Sox with a title hanging in the balance.
Baseball’s fun sometimes.
Anyway, the Pale Hose goes on to lose to the Royals in mid-August giving Kansas City their first taste of success in 2017. It was a short lived three days however, as the Royals dropped the championship to the…
Yup, Oakland got to be king for a day before the universe righted itself and they lost it back to KC. Late August sees some hot potato action where the title goes Royals to Indians to Royals to Rockies to Braves to Rockies to Tigers of all things.
End of August
Current champion: Tigers
16 title changes
Days as champion
- White Sox: 5
- Blue Jays: 4
- Astros: 3
- Royals: 9
- Oakland: 1
- Indians: 2
- Rockies: 4
- Braves: 1
- Tigers: 2
September in theory should be the most exciting month. It’s the last full month of the regular season, the rosters have expanded so bad teams and good have brought up assorted minor leaguers. The variance level is in theory higher due to a multitude of reasons.
Unless of course history decides to be made, in the form of the Indians’ win streak.
For those who forgot, in late August and a good part of September the Indians didn’t lose. 22 straight they’d end up winning, and that streak intersected with what we’re doing here on September 1st when they beat the Tigers.
Cleveland would go on to hold the title all through the rest of their streak, culminating in their 4-3 loss to the Royals on September 15th. It’s fitting that the team with the longest win streak of the season would also have the most consecutive days as champion in 2017.
The month of September pretty much belonged to Cleveland. They would drop a game here, like September 22nd to the Mariners, or there, like September 26th to the Twins. They controlled the month of September at large however.
Except for September 30th.
The gnat of this season, the White Sox, leapt up beating the Indians that day, ending a three day run as champion for Cleveland securing their spot as champion for September’s end.
In most seasons, this would be a great underdog story. The dominant Indians, who thundered through the entire month of September as champion including setting a record for not losing, get nipped at the end by a hapless division rival.
There’s just one problem with that.
September 30th was game 161.
End of September
Current champion: White Sox
8 title changes
Days as champion
- Tigers: 1 day
- Indians: 26 days
- Royals: 1 day
- Mariners: 1 day
- Twins: 1 day
Sunday, October 1st
The last day of the season comes, and as we all expected the title game is White Sox vs Indians. One thing is for sure: Whether you wanted to or not, the World Series can’t give you that.
A tale of two teams here; one confidant squad who had ruled an entire month facing a team of young players and 4A types trying to David the Goliath one more time.
I want to tell you it was a drawn out battle, where the last game of the season became this epic showdown and the best game of the year.
I can’t though.
Cleveland scored three in the first on a Jay Bruce RBI single and Carlos Santana sacrifice fly, which was enough against Chris Volstad (yes, he’s still in the league). The season ended with Cody Allen striking out Matt Davidson and Rob Brantly, before Tim Anderson grounded out to Yandy Diaz.
After six months or thereabouts of baseball, the Cleveland Indians are the 2017 MLB Linear Champions.
End of October
2017 Champion: Cleveland
1 title change
Days as champion
White Sox-1 day
Some notes from the 2017 season:
-When it comes to days as champion, Cleveland ran away with that distinction at 33 days. Second place in that regard is the Cardinals, with 19 days. Both teams tied for amount of times as champions with 7 individual reigns.
-Only five teams did not get a chance to call themselves champion this season: Texas, Baltimore, San Diego, Tampa Bay, and the Mets. All five had under .500 records.
-We had two title changes this season on walk off grand slams. The first was on April 27th, when the Cardinals won the first game of a double header 8-4 after a grand slam in the 11th inning from Matt Carpenter. The second was July 25th, when Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion hit his own 11th inning grand slam off Angels bullpen pitcher and future Fox News contributor Bud Norris.
-2017 featured 67 title changes, including one on the first day of the season and the last day of the season.
-You notice a lot of clustering around the Central divisions of both leagues, particularly early and late in the season. The way MLB’s schedule is constructed does somewhat limit the distribution at times during the season, but with 25 teams all getting at least a day even with that imbalance the spread is pretty well even.
What does all this prove?
Well, nothing. But baseball obviously becomes even more unpredictable when we play with our language and take "defending" literally. After all, the White Sox finished 67-95, in fourth place in the American League Central, and had the fourth worst record in baseball in 2017, but they ended the season as the final defending champions only to fall to the Indians in the title bout.
Then again, any method that allows the Cardinals to taste such success is obviously inherently flawed. May the champs forever reign!
Want to get literal with Samuel on Twitter? You can find him @thesamuelhale.