I'm going to pick on Paul because he's the most recent purveyor of this theory, but it is rampant among sports fans. Some prefer it in rhyme: "The ring's the thing." Paul says the M's 2001 season "ended for them in the ALCS, thus resulting in the Mariners winning...nothing." Well, besides the division title and the Divisional Series with the Indians. How many times have we heard this line?
-The Bosox/Yankees "rivalry" isn't really a rivalry because the Sox "haven't won anything."
-The Oakland A's may have some good records, but they've "never made it past the first round."
-Pundits, in criticism of a particular player, say said player may have accomplished a lot, but they still haven't won a championship. The last time I heard someone say this it was applied to Gary Payton. (Never mind his Western Division championship on the way to the 1996 NBA finals.)
-General Managers, from any sport, touting the latesting signing of an OK veteran player by adding that "they know what it takes to win a championship." Like, say, Shane Spencer. If only the M's had signed Shane Spencer.
There are so many examples of great players that have not won their particuarly sport's championship that this line of reasoning is absurd. But beyond that, it's absurd to discount the many levels of accomplishment that teams achieve before the World Series, the NBA finals, the Final Four, the Superbowl, the Stanley Cup. This is especially true in baseball, one of the few remaining sports where most teams still do NOT make the playoffs.
So the A's haven't been to the ALCS in the last decade. They've certainly accomplished a lot more in those years than, say, the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies, the L.A. Dodgers, etc. The Red Sox have been a very successful franchise in recent memory, and have indeed won a lot more games against the Yankees than a lot of other clubs. And while the Yanks have had a good run since 1996, the Sox did beat out New York for the division title in 1995, a post-season which I certainly don't think was insignificant.
So Barry Bonds doesn't have a World Series ring. How does that diminish the fact that he is arguably the best hitter in baseball--EVER? As if Barry Bonds just didn't have the special World-Series-Champion-Aura that Chad Curtis gave the Yankees in 1999. This is, incidentally, the same line of reasoning that kept Alex Rodriguez from getting an MVP for so long. "How valuable can he be on a last place team?" For starters, a lot more valuable than anyone else would be on that team. As Rob Neyer pointed out, that's why it's called the Most Valueable Player award.
But I've deviated from my original topic: team accomplishments short of championships are not worthless. That doesn't mean we can't long for a World Series victory for the M's, but it does mean that we can, if we work hard enough to forget what the team is doing right now, think fondly of the banners hanging in Safeco Field and be proud of them.