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Crazy as it sounds, California may be out of baseball playoffs

The last time the state did not have a representative in the postseason was 1999, but unless the Angels can somehow sneak in, history will repeat itself.

September 25, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and the reigning champion Giants are among the California teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs.
Former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and the reigning champion Giants… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

What's wrong with California?

We used to be a national leader in education. Now the public school system ranks among the country's worst.

The state once created more jobs than it could fill. Now California's unemployment rate is 12.1%, second to only Nevada.

And it wasn't all that long ago that California was seen as paradise; the place everybody wanted to live. Now more people are moving out of the state than are moving in.

But here's the final indignity: Unless the Angels stage a miracle rally over the next three days, this fall's postseason baseball tournament will not include a California team for the first time this century.

How long has that been? Well, the last time it happened, 1999, Clayton Kershaw and Peter Bourjos were in junior high. And Mike Trout was starting the third grade.

Only 11 months ago, a California team, the San Francisco Giants, was the belle of the ball after winning the World Series. This year, we may not even be invited to the dance for only the second time since baseball went to a three-division format in 1995.

Clearly the Golden State has tarnished.

"I guess we're a little spoiled," Angels pitcher and California native Jered Weaver said. "But that just proves how good the California teams can be."

Speaking of spoiled, Weaver is finishing his fifth full season with the Angels. He made the playoffs the first three times, or once more than Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro did in 24 seasons . And the Dodgers' Andre Ethier had 73 postseason plate appearances by the end of his fourth year in the big leagues, one fewer than Hank Aaron had in 23 seasons.

"People enjoy playing here. Baseball is the biggest thing, for the most part," said Angels catcher Hank Conger, who grew up in Huntington Beach. "Maybe it's just a coincidence."

Maybe. It's probably just the percentages. Eight of the 30 major league teams make the playoffs each year, giving each team better than a one in four chance of playing in October. California is home to five major league teams, more than twice as many as any other state.

So go ahead and do the math. (I would, but I went to high school in California and I keep getting confused.)

Whatever answer you came up, the odds get even better when you break it down by division. One American League West team is guaranteed a playoff spot each year and two of the four teams are from California. In the National League West, three of the five teams are from the Golden State.

All of which means … well, nothing apparently.

"It is an obscure stat," said Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo, another California native. "I doubt there's too many people who root for a combination of teams from California. So I think you probably only notice it if it's your team as opposed to a collective group."

Whatever. People such as Trumbo can dismiss the trend if they wish, but remember once upon a time folks around here took the California grizzly bear for granted. Now the only place you can find one is on a flag.

This is serious stuff. This is about state pride.

Remember when California teams used to win the Rose Bowl every year? We haven't even played in it the last two seasons. In the last 21 years, the Florida Marlins have won as many World Series titles as the five California teams combined. And the NBA champions (remember the NBA?) are from Texas, of all places.

Even the best surfer in the country, Kelly Slater, comes from somewhere else.

And speaking of the Beach Boys, remember when we wished they all could be California girls? A Californian hasn't been crowned Miss America since 1983.

So although the eyes of the nation may look at the AL wild-card race and see an epic collapse by the Boston Red Sox or a gutty stretch run by the Tampa Bay Rays, in California it's about the Angels fighting to preserve a way of life.

"I don't remember playoffs too much growing up as a kid. But there always seemed that there was a California team that was a contender," Weaver said. "Times change and things change.

"We'll see what happens. Hopefully, we keep it close enough to have a chance "

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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