Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has three championships to his name – in 2004 and 2007 with the Red Sox, and of course last year with the Cubs – and you could probably give him at least partial credit for the Red Sox’s win in 2013, since the residue of his presence was still all over the roster.
But even if you give him that 2013 championship, you’ll note that arguably the best executive of this era – one of the best all-time – hasn’t won any championships closer than three years apart from each other. None have been back-to-back.
That’s not a knock on Epstein, as no MLB team has won it all in consecutive years since the Yankees pulled it off from 1998-2000. Even the Giants had only even-year magic, and didn’t win any of their recent three titles in consecutive years.
That is to say, what the Cubs are trying to do this season is rare.
In additional to structural and logistical reasons it’s difficult to repeat as champions – player focus can shift, organizational arrogance can set in, talent departs – Epstein points out the most important reason it’s not easy: because winning the World Series in any year is not easy.
“In any given year, if you’re any old team, you have a 3-percent chance,” Epstein told CSN. “If you’re the best team, you might have, you know, a 10- or 12-percent chance. So it’s just hard to do.”
Pretty simple, right? Jarring, in fact, in its simplicity.
Consider a random “best” team with a 10% chance of winning the World Series in any given year. Assume that team is equally great in a two-season span. That team would have a mere 1% – one percent! – chance of winning back-to-back titles. The fact that we haven’t seen it in baseball in 16 years, then, is not at all surprising.
The good news for the Cubs here is that the first championship is locked in. It would be fallacious to suggest that the Cubs’ odds of winning this year suddenly drop to 1% simply because they won last year. Instead, the odds that the Cubs win it all this year are whatever the projections will come to say they are (probably again in that 10% range).
But, if the Cubs do wind up in serious contention again at the end of 2017, it’ll just be a fun additional note to remember how unlikely it all was.
For the more robust and artful discussion of what the Cubs have ahead of them, check out the CSN piece.