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'Team of the Decade' debate heating up

'Team of the Decade' debate heating up

With four more wins, either the Yankees or Phillies are going to have a joyous celebration. The mighty Bronx Bombers can become World Series champions for the first time since 2000. Either that, or the Phillies will be the first back-to-back champs in the Majors since those Yankees of 1998-00.

But there could be a less tangible honor that goes to the winner of this World Series. Could it be that the "Team of the Decade" is about to emerge? The decade we refer to, which has seemingly gone by in a blur, is 2000-09.

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Then again, in the minds of some, the team of the decade is already done playing in 2009 -- that being the Boston Red Sox.

What can't be questioned is that the honor should go to the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies, with the two American League East rivals currently shaping up as the favorites in the panel of baseball insiders polled by MLB.com.

The Red Sox are currently the only team with two World Series titles in this decade -- scored in '04 and '07 with Fall Classic sweeps of the Cardinals and Rockies, respectively. But either the Yankees or the Phillies will tie the Red Sox for decade championships once this World Series is over.

"For me, right now, if the Phillies win it again, it's the Red Sox," said Rick Sutcliffe, the 1984 National League Cy Young Award winner and current ESPN analyst. "But if the Yankees go on to win it, the way they've dominated their division, I would go with them. Their overall winning percentage is going to be a lot higher."

"It bothers me that the regular season doesn't mean more. It really is the true test of who the best team in baseball is. It's like the Cardinals in 2006. They weren't the best team in baseball."

The Red Sox qualified for the postseason six times in the decade, but only once as division champion. The Yankees, backed by eight AL East titles, only missed the postseason once since the turn of the century, that coming in 2008.

BY THE NUMBERS
NYY BOS PHI
Regular season rec. 965-651 920-699 850-769
Regular season winning PCT .597 .568 .525
Avg. wins per season 96.5 92 85
Avg. losses per season 65.1 69.9 77
Division titles 8 1 3
Postseason berths 9 6 3
Postseason record 48-39 34-23 18-8
Posteason winning PCT .551 .596 .692
LCS berths 5 4 2
World Series berths 4 2 2
WS titles 1 2 1

Not only that, but the Yankees averaged 96.5 wins per season. This, to go along with four AL pennants and an overall regular-season winning percentage of .597. So yes, if the Yankees bookend this decade with World Series titles, perhaps they surpass the Red Sox in terms of the overall body of work. But in the minds of some, maybe not.

"It would have to be the Red Sox," said FOX's lead analyst, Tim McCarver. "They won it after waiting for so long, and the way they came back against the Yankees for the first time ever. They swept both World Series they were in. It's pretty easy to me."

Johnny Damon has a unique perspective, having been the center fielder for Boston's '04 title team that came back from an 3-0 ALCS deficit against New York, but is now a key contributor to the 2009 Yankees.

Are the Yankees the team of the decade if they dethrone the Phillies?

"Possibly," said Damon. "The Yankees are the team of all time. They're the franchise that every kid grows up and says, 'I would love to be able to put the Pinstripes on.' I've been fortunate to be able to and some guys have been fortunate enough to do it their entire careers. I've enjoyed my time playing here, and hopefully we can go win a World Series, and hopefully I can be back for many more years."

There are those experts, however, that feel that what Damon's '04 team accomplished is one of the most impressive feats in baseball history, especially when you couple it with that they did in '07 (Damon wasn't on that team), coming back from a 3-1 ALCS deficit against the Indians. Not only that, but Boston's '04 title followed an 86-year drought.

"That one championship was so unique," said ESPN's Peter Gammons. "The Phillies could end up with two very easily -- I think they're going to end up with two. But it's still not quite the same as being down, 3-0, to the Yankees and coming back, and you look at the way they did it. All the drama and the history that went with it. The Phillies have been really good, too. They didn't have great years early in the century.

In truth, the Phillies would be better candidates for the team of the latter half of the decade. They didn't make the postseason until 2007, and didn't win a postseason series until last year. Over the past 10 years, the Phillies have averaged 85 wins for a mediocre winning percentage of .525.

But entering this World Series, they have dominated in the past two postseasons, winning 18 of their past 23 games. And there is something to be said for winning back-to-back titles in this age. In fact, no National League team has won two in a row since the Big Red Machine of 1975-76.

Team of the decade?
Yankees
Year Regular season Postseason
2000 87-74 11-5
2001 95-65 10-7
2002 103-58 1-3
2003 101-61 9-8
2004 101-61 6-5
2005 95-67 2-3
2006 97-65 1-3
2007 94-68 1-3
2008 89-73
2009 103-59 7-2
Total 965-651 48-39
Red Sox
Year Regular season Postseason
2000 85-77
2001 82-79
2002 93-69
2003 95-67 6-6
2004 98-64 11-3
2005 95-67 0-3
2006 86-76
2007 96-66 11-3
2008 95-67 7-4
2009 95-67 0-3
Total 920-699 35-22
Phillies
Year Regular season Postseason
2000 65-97
2001 86-76
2002 80-81
2003 86-76
2004 86-76
2005 88-74
2006 85-77
2007 89-73 0-3
2008 92-70 11-3
2009 93-69 7-2
Total 850-769 18-8

Still, the Hall of Fame second baseman from that Big Red Machine doesn't think that back-to-back titles by the Phillies would match the Red Sox.

"I would say Boston because of the way they did it," said Joe Morgan. "More than just the wins, but the atmosphere after 80-something years and all the stuff that surrounded it."

FOX play-by-play man Joe Buck also supports the argument for the Red Sox.

"When they won it again in '07, they had a ton of veterans," Buck said. "But they had kids who could play, too. They've had a good mix. They're not an old team. They're going to make changes as they go, but they don't have to retool. I just think they're consistent winners."

The Red Sox went to the ALCS four times in the decade and produced a solid postseason record of 34-23. But the Yankees lead them in division titles, 8-1, and Boston's regular-season winning percentage (.568) and average wins per season (92) is solid, but not quite at the level of the Yankees.

"I would say if the Yankees are in the World Series, they're the team of the decade," Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci said just hours before the Yankees eliminated the Angels in Game 6 of the ALCS. "They would have the most wins in the decade and the most World Series appearances and the most pennants. Not the most world championships, depending on the outcome. But I don't think you can argue with choosing a team that won the most games, the most division titles, most pennants so I think winning this pennant clinches the team of the decade for them."

Jon Miller, ESPN's No. 1 baseball play-by-play announcer, admitted that he wasn't sure what the answer was, but he seemed to be leaning toward the Yankees. Miller also points out that the Yankees came within just three Mariano Rivera outs of winning another World Series in 2001.

"The Yankees have had the most success, really," Miller said. "If they win the World Series and have had eight division titles and been the best team in the American League four times, that's impressive. The Yankees lost the '01 World Series, but that was an all-timer. In '01, the only reason they lost is because Mariano gave it up. It was almost like Mariano gave it up to underscore how crucial he had been."

ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian, who prides himself on his knowledge of the game's expansive history, hasn't made up his mind yet. As of now, Kurkjian likes the Red Sox. But he admits he could have a new take by the end of this World Series.

"I think it's the Red Sox because they won two championships and when you gauge team of the decade, you have to start with how many championships and they have the most," Kurkjian said. "I believe only the Yankees have more wins in this decade. Only the Yankees have more postseason wins in this decade. The Red Sox haven't just won two. They've seemingly been in the playoffs every year and have fought for the division just about every year. They've re-done Fenway Park and given us the greatest comeback in the history of sports when they came back from 3-0. It's not an easy decision, but I'd have to pick the Red Sox."

What if the Yankees win beat the Phillies?

"I would have to look at it again," Kurkjian said. "If the Yankees have two [World Series championships], and they have more wins than anyone and have more playoff wins than anyone, I'd have to look at it again."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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