Not long after the Warriors lost their ninth and final playoff game—the same amount they lost in the entire regular season—people started passing around a quirky little piece of cross-sport trivia. In each of the four major North American sports, the team with the regular season wins record did not go on to win the championship that year.
(Obviously the 1995-96 Bulls won a title the year they set the record, as did the 1976-77 Canadiens. But never mind that.)
Which leads us to this article in yesterday’s Seattle Times, based on the conceit that the Warriors’ Finals loss reminded Seattle fans of those 2001 Mariners, who racked up a modern MLB record 116 wins before falling easily to the Yankees in the 2001 ALCS in five games. To adapt a maxim from the political world, all sports is local, so it’s a fine enough “remember when” piece to publish during a dead time on the sports calendar.
But then, after reading all the ways the Mariners underachieved in the ALCS, this paragraph comes the fuck out of nowhere:
Yet virtually everyone I’ve talked to has come back to the same conclusion. The Mariners just weren’t the same after the 9-11 attacks. The season wasn’t the same. The feel wasn’t the same. Even though they finished the regular season by winning 10 of their final 12 games (right after the first four-game losing streak of the year), the spark was gone. Maybe, deep down, it just didn’t seem quite as important to win a title when the country was in shock and mourning.
Well, now, this leads us down a dark path. Does this mean the Mariners cared more about the September 11th attacks than other teams? That the Yankees weren’t affected? That the Diamondbacks hated America?
The just-this-side-of-plausible argument is that the Mariners might’ve been affected by the seven-day layoff after the attacks, but the numbers don’t really back that up. They won their first two games upon the resumption of the schedule, then, after a four-game losing streak, won 10 of their final 12. In all, after 9/11, the Mariners still reeled off a 108-win pace, and then won the ALDS.
A Twitter responder said 9/11 is brought up often to explain the Mariners’ collapse, but even the watered-down version of this theory, that it was the long layoff, requires the Mariners to have been uniquely affected by something that every baseball team went through. Sometimes, there’s no simple reason for this stuff—the other three teams on this ignominious list don’t have national tragedies to explain their playoff losses. Sometimes regular season wins don’t translate to postseason success. Sometimes the best team doesn’t win; sometimes the team with the most wins isn’t the best team.