Magazine article USA TODAY

Can You Top This?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Can You Top This?

Article excerpt

LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME, everyone (myself included) was compiling "Top 10" lists to mark the close of the millennium and start of the new century. Well, the 21st century indeed became a reality on the first day of 2000, but technically, the much-anticipated third millennium didn't become fact until Jan. 1, 2001. As such, here's our "Top 3" sporting feats of the second millennium.

The New York Yankees appear in 37 World Series, winning 26 of them, including the last three and four of the last five. Where to begin? To save space, time, and an endless trip through baseball history, let's just concentrate on the last half-decade of accomplishments. Within those four championships--over the Atlanta Braves (1996), San Diego Padres (1998), Braves again (1999), and New York Mets (2000)--were 14 straight Series victories, shattering the old mark of 12 held by the 1927/28/32 Yankees of Babe Ruth fame.

Adding to the luster of this remarkable run is the fact that the Yanks' latest reign of dominance comes in an era where the repeat champion is virtually nonexistent. In the 17 full seasons leading up to 1996--remember, 1994 was wiped out by the players' strike--there were 14 different World Series winners. Only the Toronto Blue Jays (1992-93), Los Angeles Dodgers (1981, 1988), and Minnesota Twins (1987, 1991) won more than once.

Finally, the Yankees' three-peat and four-in-five feat is more impressive still due to a grueling month of multiple-round playoffs, The post-season is now easier to get into, but tougher to get through. From 1901 to 1968, the first-place finishers in the American and National Leagues met in the World Series. From 1969 to 1984, the two division winners in each league faced off in a best-of-five championship series, with the victors advancing to the World Series. From 1985 to 1993, the League Championship Series was expanded to a best-four-of-seven format. After the 1994 strike, each league was broken down into three divisions, with the division champions and a wild-card team (the club with the best second-place record) qualifying for the playoffs. To be crowned champion of the baseball world, a team must win a best-three-of-five Division Series as well a best-four-of-seven League Championship Series and World Series. The Yankees' composite post-season record during their latest title run is 44-12. Moreover, the 1998 Bombers finished 75 games over .500, a record that will stand as long as the 14-game Series streak -- in other words, probably forever.

Footnote to history: The Atlanta Braves also put a record into the "eternity" category, closing the millennium with nine straight first-place finishes. But look out Braves, because the Yanks' current division title streak is running at three.

P.S.: "The best team always wins; just look at the scoreboard" is the most enduring rule in sports. I believe it with all my heart. Having said that, let me put forth my personal pick for the best baseball team of the second millennium: the 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles. Trouble is, they won three straight American League pennants, but only one World Series. Still, I'd take manager Earl Weaver's Birds in a series against anyone, at any time, in any place.

The New York Islanders win 19 consecutive playoff series on their way to four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83) and five finals appearances in a row. …

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