Recent ends of title droughts among great changes of fortune
By Mike Bauman
The millennium has barely begun and already baseball has given us an era of renewal, rebirth, revival.
In what amounts to the blink of an eye in historical terms, the three longest championship droughts in the game have come to a close. And those dry spells have been replaced, in at least two cases, with the bright promise of future success.
It was an epic occasion in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. But it turned out to be the first of three.
The very next year, the Chicago White Sox won their first World Series in 88 years. By standard mathematical measure, this was a longer drought than the one in Boston, but the trauma of the Red Sox had more poets and playwrights behind it, and thus, seemed to be a larger cultural deal. Still, the White Sox fans had plenty of their own angst, not to mention tons of collective patience.
The all-time drought-buster was yet to come. That, of course, was the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who had not won the World Series since 1908.
This was, by the numbers, the biggest deal in the history of baseball revivals. The Cubs, after all, had not even participated in a World Series since 1945. They had become synonymous with the very concept of defeat. Their victory proved conclusively that baseball was a game of various and virtually endless possibilities.
Wedged into this narrative was the 2015 World Series triumph of the Kansas City Royals, who had not been on top for 30 years. Their drought was minor compared to the other three, but the fact that the Royals could win everything as a genuine small-market franchise still offered its own sort of legitimate optimism for the game's future.
The Red Sox rapidly proved that their championship was the furthest thing from fluky. They won the World Series in 2007 and again in '13.
True, they were in last place in the American League East for two straight years after that most recent championship, but they were back on top of the division in 2016. And with the recent trade for standout lefty Chris Sale from -- coincidentally or not -- the White Sox, the Red Sox stand as the early favorites for the 2017 AL pennant.
The Red Sox have a rotation that includes two AL Cy Young Award winners, David Price and Rick Porcello. At this point, they have seven proven Major League pitchers for five rotation spots. At the back of the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel is an elite closer and Tyler Thornburg, coming off a splendid season, has been brought in by trade to take care of the eighth inning.
In the other half of the inning, Boston had the game's best offense in 2016. David Ortiz won't be on board next year, but the Red Sox have players with room to grow. They could be the first team to win four World Series championships in this century.
The White Sox, meanwhile, are rebooting, but they got a sprinter's start in that process in a trade with the Nationals, giving up outfielder Adam Eaton, but getting back three right-handed pitchers who now rank second, fourth and 10th among their top prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com. Along with the massive haul they received in the Sale deal -- headlined by top prospect Yoan Moncada and third-ranked Michael Kopech -- Chicago is now sitting on a trove of dynamic young talent.
Speaking of bright futures -- short term, intermediate term, long term, whatever term you want -- there are the Cubs, with their terrific supply of young talent. They were baseball's best team even before winning the Series, with a Major League-best 103 regular-season victories.
They had the best team ERA in 2016, they had the National League's best offense outside Colorado and they had a superior defense. They have president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who masterminded the restoration of the Red Sox, and Joe Maddon, a manager who combines the mastery of advanced metrics with a highly evolved human touch.
The Cubs' breakthrough championship doesn't look like it will turn out to be an isolated occurrence. This new millennium baseball era includes genuine, through-and-through revivals.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.