Baseball Teams as Early-Modern States

We are in the doldrums of the baseball year. We are eagerly awaiting the day pitchers and catchers report, even though nothing interesting happens for weeks thereafter. That’s just how bad it is for baseball fans right now. Almost all the big signings are completed. Sometimes a splash (like the recent Angels-Blue Jays trade) is enough just to make us wish the baseball was already back. Well, except for Angels fans. They probably want to start the offseason over again.

Thus, for some levity, I present to you perhaps the nerdiest of the team analogies you will ever see, at least until someone does baseball-teams-as-atomic-elements. It is admittedly very incomplete. This is for two reasons. First, real life has intervened in my blogging and made me very, very busy. Second, there are a lot of baseball teams and trying to pigeonhole them is difficult (for example, the Marlins, who I do not have a country for, would also have been a good choice for Transylvania).

There are plenty of teams and states left – I am kicking myself that I could not think of a good comparison for Bavaria, Hungary, or Württemberg – so if anyone has good ideas in the comments I will add them to the post.

American League East

New York Yankees: Austrian Habsburgs

While not always spending their immense resources efficiently to attain it, the Yankees/Habsburgs consider it worth the prestige afforded through the imperial crown. Idealistic and almost mystical histories provide the Yankees/Habsburgs with a sense of purpose and a naturally powerful demeanor. While not always victorious, their power and influence leads to awe, respect, and resentment from both allies and enemies. Even in down times, then, the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs can use their historic influence to rally free agents/Imperial defense and taxes to their cause. Any moments of weakness, however, are seized by their rivals and lead immediately to calls of imminent demise, but old historiographical assumptions of inefficiency denoting stagnance and internal corruption are increasingly overturned. Incredible abilities to bounce back from some of the most crushing blows, like having Vienna besieged or Andy Pettitte retire.

  • George Steinbrenner before his first suspension: Ferdinand II
  • Before his second suspension: Ferdinand III
  • Thereafter: Leopold I
  • Hank Steinbrenner pre-shutting up: Joseph I
  • Hank Steinbrenner post-shutting up: Francis-Stephen of Lorraine
  • Hal Steinbrenner: Maria Theresa
  • Wallenstein: Alex Rodriguez (can also be Dave Winfield)
  • Mariano Rivera: Prince Eugen of Savoy

Boston Red Sox: France

Often playing second fiddle to their greatest rivals, the Red Sox/France has achieved an interesting combination of unnecessary feelings of insecurity, superiority, and entitlement. Red Sox fans/Louis XIV jumped the gun after their great victories in 2004/1648 and assumed they had detached the Yankees/Habsburgs from their perches, perhaps permanently, but it was not to be. Recent allies disliked having a new top dog and powerful victories blinded officials to their own weaknesses.  A large fanbase/population, strong financials, and officials in the forefront of cutting-edge economic thought mean that they will remain at the level of their hated rivals for the foreseeable future.

  • Theo Epstein: Colbert de Croissy
  • Terry Francona: Turenne
  • Johnny Damon: Prince of Condé
  • Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, and every other free agent the Red Sox media machine kicked in the butt on the way out: Huguenots
  • Peter Gammons: Whoever was able to convince people France joined the thirty years war to “defend German liberty”
  • John Lester: Duc de Belle-Isle
  • Jason Varitek: Duc de Broglie

Tampa Bay Rays: Sweden

A small fan base/population and a relatively recent arrival on the scene, the Tampa Bay Rays/Sweden did not seem about ready to jump into the ranks of the great powers when they did. As the little guy who battled the Yanks and Sox/saved Protestantism, media types/historians love their stories. While more recent thinkers have begun to question the popular wisdom that Joe Maddon/Gustavus Adolphus is a completely new age manager/military leader and note that, to a large extent, it’s simply the re-application of known tactics in different circumstances, there is genius to that as well when the opposition does not expect it at all. Surprising victories led to adulation in Germany/from sabermetricly-inclined bloggers. Even with subsidies in the form of developing high draft picks/French subsidies, though, limited resources mean the window is closing

  • Gustavus Adolphus: Joe Maddon
  • Axel Oxenstierna: Friedmann

Toronto Blue Jays: Russia

Striking out from a place that gets very, very cold in winter, the Blue Jays/Russia enjoy a competitive advantage in the form of a potentially huge fan base/population, although mobilizing it is probably impossible. One could suggest that their inner problems are insurmountable, with new and old empires in the same division/as European neighbors. Being about a generation behind in current thought (c’mon, building a team focused on power hitters? What, is it 1998?) it might seem to many that the Blue Jays/Russia will never reach its potential. However, an incredible crop of young pitchers and stabilization in the offensive results of young position players/tough, intelligent and unyielding Czars just might bring strong success sooner than anyone else thinks. Help comes in the former of completely unexpected jumps forward, in the form of unloading Vernon Wells/building St. Petersburg.

  • Alex Anthopolous: Peter the Great (heck, after that trade, he can be Catherine the Great too)

Baltimore Orioles: Poland

Once a strong, powerful, and proud team/nation that won three World Series/dominated Eastern Europe and formed a shield against onrushing hordes from Central Asia, the Orioles/Poland have fallen on hard times. With a governing structure that makes adaptation and serious reform all but impossible, the GM/king all but falls into figurehead status at times. These internal forces prevented the productive use of the team’s/country’s bounty of resources, leaving a wide-open path for unproductive interference from Peter Angelos/France and Saxony. Eventually the Orioles/Poland fell into such disarray that it was simply devoured by the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays/Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

  • Peter Angelos: the Sejm
  • Cal Ripken, Jr.: The various Saxon Kings
  • Buck Showalter: Tadeusz Kościuszko
  • Brooks Robinson: Henry II the Pious

American League Central

Minnesota Twins: Netherlands

A smaller market/population than that of its powerful neighbors has not been able top the Twins/Netherlands from remaining powerful and competitive. An incredibly advanced use of markets to the point of trading with the enemy keeps the Twins/Netherlands competitive while naysayers continue to eulogize them and predict their doom. Their focus on defense at home and powerful offensive weapons demonstrate not only a distinct organizational philosophy but also its efficacy. Quickly falling from a brief perch, the Twins/Netherlands have remained a powerful force. Still among the great powers, just one of the weaker ones now.

  • Ron Gardenhire: William III
  • Jim Thome: 1628 Spanish treasure fleet
  • Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau: Dutch Navy
  • Constant stream of good prospects: Dykes system
  • Twins-Yankees Postseason Series: Anglo-Dutch Wars

Detroit Tigers: Portugal

The Tigers/Portugal were one of the early great teams/countries of baseball/Europe. Overtaken in power and economic strength both due to the rise of its rivals and mismanagement at home, the Tigers/Portugal soon fell into the second strata of powers. While occasionally able to rise up and reclaim some former glory, either in the form of the 2005 World Series appearance or the 1640 uprising against Spain, the Tigers/Portugal have shown an overall downward trend from special beginnings. This does not mean, though, that they are without influence, simply that others have passed them by.

  • Ty Cobb: Afonso Henriques
  • Hank Greenberg: Vasco de Gama
  • Charlie Gehringer: Pedro Alvares Cabral
  • Jim Leyland: John IV
  • Kansas City Royals: Lorraine

Once a powerful, proud team/country – a long, long time ago – it has since fallen on difficult and ignominious times. Year after year, misplaced hopes on the abilities of the GM/army to rebuild it into something even approaching mediocrity lead to increasing disappointments. Years of battling stronger teams in the AL/fighting France again and again and again have beaten down this once proud franchise. There is some hope for the future in a powerful farm/there really is no hope.

American League West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Electoral Palatine

The Angels/Electoral Palatine often give the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs fits. The feeling they deserve something more drives Angels fans/Bavaria to the point of conspiracy theories and paranoia when things don’t go their way. That decision to trade for Vernon Wells/accept the Bohemian crown will not get them to the World Series/Imperial Crown and may prove more damaging than a simple waste of surprising resources. If the trade ends up for the Angels as I think it will, and it’s analogous to Electoral Palatine during the Thirty Years War, things do not look good for the Angels

  • Tony Reagins: Frederick V the Winter King

Oakland Athletics: Transylvania

The Athletics/Transylvania have a decent fan base/resource base but are surrounded by teams with higher payroll/the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. In order to maintain a competitive edge, the Athletics have had to find market value in everything they do/constantly change sides, getting aid from one gigantic neighbor while fighting the other. It’s a delicate balancing act and no matter how good your balance, if you fall once, it can be difficult to get back up. The long-term competitiveness of the Athletics/survival of semi-independent Transylvania is really quite astonishing.

  • Billy Beane until 2006: Gabor Bethlen
  • Billy Bean since 2006: George II Rákóczi

National League East

New York Mets: Spain

Related to their cousins, the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs, the Mets/Spanish Habsburgs first emerged from the unification of the fan bases of the Dodgers and Giants/the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.  The defeat of the Moors/Orioles solidified their power, and the development of amazing players/New World conquests turned them into primary powers during the 1500s/1980s. Internal corruption and inefficiency among the colonies/players slowly rotted out the team/empire, although seemingly inexhaustible resources meant that you could almost never count them out. Much like the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs, the Mets/Spain could take a punch, make some poor moves, and still come out victorious, but serious internal problems make them less successful at it.

  • Frank Cashen: major Spanish king during the empire
  • Fred Wilpon: Philip IV
  • Omar Minaya: Olivares
  • Sandy Alderson: Charles III or Charles IV? We will see

Washington Nationals:  Prussia

In its first incarnation as the Expos/Electorate of Brandenburg, the team/German state was one of the weakest of the important powers. Under Frederick I/who the power base shifted from its original position in Montreal/Brandenburg to Washington/Prussia. Not perceived by contemporaries at the time, this shift, while not immediately adding significant strength, marked a huge turning point. Two generations later, Frederick the Great made his mark on European history by defeating the Austrian Habsburgs. Will the Nationals, who currently have several absurdly promising players preparing to join the major league team, make a similar leap?

  • Frederick I: Steve Kasten
  • Frederick II (as king): Mike Rizzo?
  • Frederick II (as military leader): Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper?

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: Ottoman Empire

Absolutely feared a century before, the Cubs/Ottoman Empire have been suffering from a long, painful decline. While not as bad as pundits make it out to be – the Cubs/Ottomans were not always the weakest power in that whole period – there are certainly reasons to feel cursed. Neither the steamroller once envisaged by contemporaries nor the “sick man” later scholars consider them, the Cubs/Ottomans continue to have an incredible fan base/population and set of resources that means both continued strength and confusion at continued failure. After a period of heavy spending and semi-successful warfare, reforms are approaching. They had better be the right ones.

  • Steve Bartmann: John III Sobieski
  • Dusty Baker: Mustafa Pasha

St. Louis Cardinals: England

A long-lasting, extremely successful franchise/nation that nevertheless has failed to reach the prestige of the Yankees/Habsburgs, the Cardinals/England grew success through intelligent decisions while often seemingly on the rim of American baseball/Europe. From incredible early successes in the Hundred Years’ War/deadball era through dominance of the oceans in the eighteenth century/National League Central in the 2000s, as long as they maintain their strengths there is no reason to suspect a major slide.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Bohemia

A long-ago strong team/A powerful kingdom during the interregnum, the Pirates/Bohemia faded from initial glory during losses to the Yankees/Habsburgs in 1927/1276. The Pirates/Bohemia at first glance look like they have become subsidiaries of the Yankees/Austrian Habsburgs, constantly picking up leftover Yankee pitchers/being pulled further into the centralized Habsburg orbit. There is a chance to recover former glory, but tactics have to change. Obviously whatever the Pirates consider their player development system/throwing people out of windows is not working.

National League West

Colorado Rockies: Switzerland

The Rockies/Switzerland play in a mountainous region. Beyond that comes excellent defensive capabilities: while often lacking the ability to defeat larger and more powerful enemies away from home, the Rockies/Switzerland excel in their base.

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11 Responses to Baseball Teams as Early-Modern States

  1. Pingback: In which the Yankees are the Austrian Habsburgs | HardballTalk

  2. Larry Faria says:

    Did you run out of gas, or countries? At least add Dodgers/Venice. If you can stomach subdivisions of the Ottomans, you could tie the short-lived Sultanate of Morocco to the Diamondbacks, and the Angels/Papal States might work.

    • I ran out of comparisons that made immediate sense in my head. I know less about the West Coast teams for example. If you want to e-mail me and explain why you think Dodgers/Venice or Diamondbacks/Morocco works (beyond water/desert) I’ll gladly put it up on the post. I already have the Angels as Electoral Palatine, unless you were implying you disagreed with that one.

      No problem with subdivisions. I used several Holy Roman Empire states and Transylvania was technically a subdivision of the Ottomans and/or Habsburgs, depending on the day of the week. They were all pretty much doing what they wanted, though.

  3. Mike Raleigh says:

    Excellent! One quibble: John III Sobieski was noted for his victories over the Ottomans (Cubs) so I get the Bartmann reference, but was in fact Polish. This would put him on the Orioles, while it was the Marlins that Bartmann secured victory for.

    • Thanks Mike!

      I was doing each team relatively independently. Otherwise it would have been impossible to find as many matches as I did. Originally, Steve Bartmann was going to be Mustafa Pasha himself (he’s a Cubs fan, actually) but I liked the idea of the collective blogging world blaiming Mustafa Pasha for ruining young pitching arms.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Baseball Teams as Early-Modern States | History and Futility -- Topsy.com

  5. A Squirrel says:

    I came here from HardBallTalk, and I found this post to be great fun. You’ve got me thinkin’ about my White Sox (maybe the Basques, with the Cubs as Spain and the Cards as France? I dunno.) Good work!

  6. Pingback: Baseball Teams as Early-Modern States | History and Futility | Sports News

  7. Pingback: Toronto’s patriotic problems with sports | History and Futility

  8. Matt Robare says:

    The Seattle Mariners are the South Slavs, oppressed by the Yankees/Habsburgs and not even having a country until the empire gets divided.

    Felix Hernandez is Karageorge Petrovich and Ichiro is George Castriot while Ken Griffey, Jr was Matthias Corvinus.

    I think the Atlanta Braves are Italy in some way, but the Papacy is definitely MLB, with the Commissioner being the pope and the owners the cardinals. Bud Selig is either Leo X or Pius V.

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