What if a Team Went Undefeated?

Imagining a world in which a team never loses

The Rays’ 9-0 start has me checking their score every day. “They won again!” I tell anybody who happens to be around at the moment.

I’ve noticed that more and more have caught on, but it made me wonder. When would it be the biggest story in sports? In the nation? In the world?

Of course it’s impossible — even if an MLB team managed to stack their 162 game schedule against college teams, they’d probably lose a few. But if they did win them all, here’s probably what it would look like:

Late March – The streak begins with a single game. The teams’ fans go home happy, thinking “1-0, best possible start!” A dad leaving the stadium makes a joke how the team might go undefeated this year, and his kids roll their eyes not realizing what’s about to happen over the next six months.

Early April – The team is still undefeated, and beyond the most involved baseball obsessives, other fans are starting to take notice. If you went to an MLB game in a random city, 15% of randomly polled attendees would be able to tell you who the undefeated team is. (This is where we are with the Rays right now.) A few baseball-centric websites and blogs start to pop up with stories in a “hey how did this team manage to go 10-0?” kind of manner.

Mid-April – We’re now approaching the all-time record of most consecutive wins to start a season, and the rest of the sports world is taking notice. The crawl on cable sports channels reads “[Team] wins 12th in a row; one shy of MLB record.”

Once the record is tied, it’s the first headline on MLB.com, opens a tweet economy of fun facts and baseball blogs that provide details on the statistical outliers during the team’s start, and provokes retrospectives on the 1982 Atlanta and 1987 Milwaukee teams that started 13-0.

It’s a different world now, of course, with 24-hour news cycles and social media, and there were fewer diversions for which baseball had to compete.

But in 1987, the Brewers’ streak was big national news. The record-tying 13th game drew in media from around the country, as the White Sox received more than 90 additional requests for media passes for the game. The local fans in those cities were going wild in the meantime.

George Webb Restaurant (a local chain of diners) gave away 168,194 free hamburgers to fans in celebration. Atlanta saw crowds bigger than their recent playoff runs, and gave out posters to fans attending the game-tying event that said “I was there.”

Attendance in the undefeated team’s home games starts to soar around this time.

Late April – Attention turns away at this time from the team’s record-breaking start to the season and now to the all-time win streak record of 26 by the 1916 New York Giants. We don’t have to go too far back in time to know how this one will go. Cleveland won 22 in a row as recently as 2017. Cleveland’s win streak was reported on by the New York Times and other national outlets.

I think having the streak to begin the season is a little different though, as 22-0 just has different vibes. At this point, our fictional undefeated team is on the mind of most baseball fans, and there starts to be an uptick in the team’s road games as well as people start to come out to see a part of history, maybe.

More than half of randomly polled fans at MLB games can tell you what team is undefeated, and at least can get within a few games of telling you how many in a row they’ve won. It’s now also the biggest national sports story, leading the crawls on sports channels and the “sports” section on news websites. NPR also dedicates a significant segment to the breaking of the win streak record.

Mid-May – It’s getting ridiculous now. Baseball websites like this one have a story about the undefeated team running every day. It’s mentioned in just about every article, and some sites even have a person dedicated to just writing about this historic team so they can cover it all.

The team is now the World Series favorite in betting markets, regardless of their preseason projections.

While the baseball economy is humming with the historic streak, more casual sports fans have moved from “wow!” to “oh.” It’s still on the crawl every night, but there’s no real historic records to fall, except for the preposterous notion that a team could go undefeated for a whole season, which still no one takes seriously, but it does begin to cross everyone’s mind.

Mid-June – Now in the national consciousness, it’s not just written words talking about the streak. It’s everywhere. Business meeting small talk leads off with “did you see they won again?” In barber shops, diners, and over suburban fences, most everyone is now aware of what’s happening. 100% of game attendees now know the exact record of the undefeated team.

Mid-July – It’s now the All-Star break, and we’ve reached 1998 homerun chase levels of interest. The team’s undefeated streak is not just the biggest sports story in the country, but now also leads most news’ sites ledes each day.

Every game that is not currently scheduled for a national broadcast is turned into one. MLB sells an agreement to a major streaming service to just broadcast all of the undefeated team’s games. All the late-night talk shows mention it. They become the highest-rated non-World Series games on record. The team’s city, meanwhile, is selling out every game in a playoff-like atmosphere, and the city itself has a giant counter put up on its most prominent building with the win total.

Eight of the teams’ players are named All-Star starters (if it’s the American League, Ohtani still gets the DH/P spot– we’re still being somewhat realistic, after all) as everyone is now behind the undefeated team.

Late July – Scandal breaks. Our human brains are not wired to just accept things so far outside of our prior expectations or experience. As a result, the scrutiny on the unbeaten turns up to 11, and there’s something uncovered that’s not quite right.

It could be some statistically-significant outlier that an intrepid analyst reports (here my money is on there being an irregularity with the balls in use during the team’s games), or a hard-luck opposing pitcher making an offhand comment suggesting improprieties in the team’s knowledge of the pitches that are coming.

With 30 teams in the league, there are all kinds of irregularities, outliers, and gamesmanship (within the rules or not) that happen every season; when there’s essentially one team everyone is paying attention to, those are magnified exponentially, and eventually someone will find something that casts doubt on the streak. Rob Manfred pledges to investigate, and doubt is cast on MLB’s ability to be impartial given the league’s cash cow that the undefeateds have become.

After two weeks of dominating the news cycle, it’s found to simply be an irregularity in the data or random variance, or it’s determined that another team that is currently at the bottom of the standings is doing the same thing, and we all collectively decide to move on because we want to believe in the impossible.

Early September – Scandal now firmly in the rearview mirror, the 131-0 team enters the last month of the season. Every game, home and away, is a sellout with tickets going for triple their face value on the secondary market. The new angle every written piece approaches is if this team can close out the entire postseason without a loss.

There is a brief blip where a starting pitcher may look injured and there are pieces in national news magazines and academic journals alike that debate the medical, ethical, and economic implications of sitting him out as opposed to pitching it through it to go for history.

The pressure has been relentless on the team all season, and cracks are starting to show as it gets closer to the playoffs. There’s a minor controversy in the media coverage when a relief pitcher half-jokingly mentions he’d rather just lose one to get it over with.

He has to clarify his comments publicly, and that retraction or explanation also leads the national news for the day. There’s a scrum in the locker room around this time from players who are getting nerves frayed from being under a microscope every day and they all secretly agree with the reliever that they could go back to just having fun playing baseball every day again.

By now it has also become the biggest sports story in baseball-loving countries. Japan sends media to follow each game, and the countries with players represented on the team are treating them as national heroes and broadcasting each of their games.

Early October – Game 162 is in the books. It was the highest-rated game globally in MLB history, and the most expensive tickets rivaled Super Bowl prices. The team secured its playoff spot in early August, and the division shortly thereafter, but this champagne celebration is better.

The players are relieved to have made it through the gauntlet of the regular season and are looking forward to a new, different challenge they can focus on in the postseason. For a short period of time, the pressure gets released.

The undefeated team is the betting favorite to win it all (+5000), over the field even. The most popular hot-take tweet/columns in the nation (sports sites and otherwise) are “Why [Team] won’t win the World Series.”

As the playoffs commence, players on other teams are also hoping that the undefeated team gets bounced — partly because they don’t want to face them, but also they are tired of answering questions after every postseason victory about how they’re going to approach those games with [Team] looming.

Late October – It’s over. One hundred and sixty-two, plus the playoffs. The mood is initially celebratory, with the undefeated team reigniting the nation’s love affair with baseball after dominating not just the sports sphere, but the entire news cycle for the better part of six months.

The immediate reactions are to compare the team to the best in other sports, and then the best in any fields — “Why the [Team] are better than the 1972 Dolphins,” and later “Lessons in Corporate Leadership Synergy from the [Year] [Team].”

(The latter becomes a national bestseller in the “pop business book” genre, and inadvertently launches a thousand new corporate buzzwords that become part of the corporate lexicon.)

Then, still unbelieving of what we just saw in front of us, another round of figuring out how this happened. Scientists, psychologists, and priests alike all weigh in, privately and in quotes from news stories, trying to figure out how a team could possible go unbeaten on the up and up.

There are still murmurs about the July mini-scandal, and it will be brought up again when the team is discussed as among the greatest achievements, athletic and otherwise, in history. But that skepticism is a much smaller part of the story — going into the offseason, we’re more appreciative that we’ve been given something like this to be a part of.

If this could happen, what else could?

Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts is a baseball columnist for Pitcher List. His work has been featured on Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, and October. He's still getting used to the DH in the national league. @seanroberts.bsky.social

2 responses to “What if a Team Went Undefeated?”

  1. J.C. Aoudad says:

    Well done!

  2. Jason says:

    I would be convinced that I was living in a simulation if this happened

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