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June 9 - Baby, What a Big Surprise…

We have passed the one-third mark in the Major League Baseball Season and the Chicago White Sox
(!) continue to roll along with the best record in the sport, winning more than two-thirds of their games.

With apologies to their namesake band, you could say Buehrle, Konerko and Co. are "Feeling Stronger
Every Day".

And the biggest surprise of all is that they’re not even the biggest surprise of all.

As I write, the five division leaders, other than St. Louis, finished a combined 70 games out of first place
in 2004.  The Nationals (née Les Expos), and Orioles, two of the worst franchises of the past several
years, neither picked by virtually anyone to finish above third and certainly not to contend for – gasp! – a
wild card spot, have been even greater stories.  Both teams may seem to have overachieved to date, but
by showing their mettle beating teams within their division consistently (the Nats have played the large
majority of their games against teams with winning records), the next four months could well unfold like
the first two have.

I’ve been a Yankee fan for nearly 30 years, the majority of which have produced teams which legitimately
could contend for the title.  Even the mid-1980s, while they didn’t deliver a championship, still were
interesting times for Yankee rooters.  Clearly, the economic structure of the game today has helped the
Yankees and Red Sox be nearly automatic contenders year after year.

Still, I must say I’m fascinated – and no longer surprised – by the success of the Minnesota Twins.  And I
can’t help but root for one of the have-nots to push their way into the Championship Series and, if the
Yanks can’t be there, the World Series.  In watching the Twins take two of three from New York at the
Metrodome last week, it’s obvious that for all the Yankees’ money, Minnesota’s starting nine and key
bullpen members are as good, if not better, than their big-market counterparts.  The Yanks even missed
the Twins’ top two starters, Johan Santana and Brad Radke, and still looked outclassed.

With the prospects of a World Series in the Bronx seeming dimmer with every Paul Quantrill
appearance, and the significant roster revamping needed to get there not likely to happen, I have a
renewed interest in the rest of the league.  It’s not simply a case of who the Yanks and Sox will have to
face, respectively, in the Division Series, but a real seven-teams-for-four-spots race in the A.L. and
maybe a 10 to 12 team battle for the Senior Circuit’s four berths.

A true pennant race?  Now that would be a nice surprise.