With the end of another baseball season and a sad, cold winter staring us in the face, the hour has come: It's time for our tri-annual Tortured Fanbase Rankings. I do this every year for the NBA, the NFL and, now, Major League Baseball. For reference, here are last year's MLB rankings. A recap of the process, if you're not familiar with it already:
It's a ranking of every team's fanbase, from most to least spoiled. The goal is to figure which one deserves winning a championship the most: who you, as a disinterested party, should be cheering for next year. Lots of factors are involved: fan loyalty, historical success, particularly painful eras, near-miss title chances, current roster, any ineffable notion that just occurs to me while I'm putting this list together.
I've done my best to take into account reader comments, changes in circumstances over the last year, specious assessments from the past and everything else in this year's rankings, but this is an ongoing process, a march toward perfect. If there's any major change I've made from last year's rankings, it's not to overrate a recent-ish title. A lot can go wrong between now and then. Still, an ongoing process. So anything you don't like or believe I have wrong, email me at email@example.com.
So here we go:
30. San Francisco Giants. Last title: 2014. World Series appearances: 20. Championships: 8. Yeah, when you win three titles in five years, you tend end up at the bottom of this list. With that ballpark, all those likable players (Hunter Pence! Madison Bumgarner! Posey! Panda! Panik!), Giants fans have nothing to complain about for a long, long time.
29. Boston Red Sox. Last title: 2013. World Series appearances: 12. Championships: 8. If you ask an average Red Sox fan, they'll tell you that the last-place finish this year was so painful that this is way too low on this list; in fact, my favorite thing about doing these rankings is how many people seem desperate for the world to acknowledge them as miserable and suffering. But the Red Sox have won three World Series in the last 10 years. And they're going to be among the favorites again in 2015.
28. St. Louis Cardinals. Last title: 2011. World Series appearances: 19. Championships: 11. The Cardinals have now reached at least the National League Championship Series in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. In that time, four teams (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington) haven't even made one LCS. The Cardinals are doing all right.
27. New York Yankees. Last title: 2009. World Series appearances: 40. Championships: 27. It has been two years since the Yankees made the playoffs, which is a lifetime only for Yankees fans. And they've even had a better record the last couple of years than they probably should have. The Yankees don't even bottom out like the rest of us.
26. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last title: 2002. World Series appearances: 1. Titles: 1. It was a glorious year for the Angels before that playoff flameout, and there's a bit of a worry that those huge contracts to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton will come home to roost. This is still a top-tier team, though, and fans get to watch Mike Trout every day, minimum, for the next five years. It might take a while to shake the sting of that ALDS wipeout, though.
25. Philadelphia Phillies. Last title: 2008. World Series appearances: 7. Championships: 2. The Phillies are going to keep climbing this list for a while, one suspects: Even senior advisor Pat Gillick admits this team won't be competitive for the next couple of years. That's the sort of honest assessment that hasn't happened for a while in Philadelphia, and in the long-term, it's for the best. But the next few years are going to be rough.
24. Miami Marlins. Last title: 2003. World Series appearances: 2. Championships: 2. I am sympathetic to arguments that current Marlins fans have gone through a ton, not least of which having that dope annoying everyone with his jacket during the World Series. This does not offset those two random championships out of nowhere. As I wrote last year, "Normally, fans suffer for decades before finally winning that long-elusive championship. Marlins fans are simply doing this in reverse." It's going to be a few more years before they burn those off.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks. Last title: 2001. World Series appearances: 1. Titles: 1. They finally cleaned house, maybe a year or two too late, but now they've got Tony LaRussa in charge, which increases the entertainment level substantially, among other things. He can't make the situation much worse.
22. Chicago White Sox. Last title: 2005. World Series appearances: 5. Titles: 3. Perpetually underrated, but not so tortured, with that title still coming in the last decade. The problem with so many repeat champions in the last decade -- since the White Sox won their title, the Giants have won three titles, and the Red Sox and Cardinals have won two -- is that it makes it that much harder to move up this list. The White Sox are still relatively fresh-faced at this title-winning business.
21. San Diego Padres. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 2. The biggest faller on this list -- they were No. 12 last year -- even though they had another rough year. This one I have to chalk up to reader response from last year's rankings: I actually had tons of Padres fans email me and tell me I had their fan base as too tortured. (This is essentially the exact opposite of what every other fan base does.) I thought having the two best teams in franchise history -- 1984 and 1998 -- have to run up against two of the best teams in baseball history in the World Series was particularly cruel … but Padres fans seem OK with it. I guess it's difficult to feel too tortured in that city?
20. Colorado Rockies. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1. The Rockies hold steady at No. 20, but if you've noticed, a lot of the buzz from this franchise is gone. If they trade Troy Tulowitzki, look out below.
19. Minnesota Twins. Last title: 1991. World Series appearances: 6. Titles: 3. The Twins, with a promising farm system, look on the verge of turning a recent slump around. Now, if they can make sure the one team they face in the playoffs isn't the Yankees.
18. Tampa Bay Rays. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1. This is where you have to take in the number of fans into account. If you have stuck with the Rays every season since they began play, you are a brave, loyal glutton for pain, and you deserve every accolade I can give you. But there aren't that many of you. This year was particularly rough, though: With Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon leaving, and that stadium situation still far from resolved, this is the darkest it has looked in a while. There's still talent here, though, with smart people still in charge. Maybe they'll pull it together in time for the team to move to Montreal.
17. Washington Nationals. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: None. The Nats are shooting up this list with a bullet. They had another painful postseason flameout after a terrific regular season, though this NLDS wasn't quite as brutal as 2012's. The Nationals are loaded with talent, so the odds are excellent they'll be back in the postseason next year, with a chance to move back up this list … or, you know, win a World Series.
16. Cincinnati Reds. Last title: 1990. World Series appearances: 9. Titles: 5. I hadn't realized until I wrote the Cardinals item just how long it had been since the Reds had made an LCS: 1995, a sweep of Atlanta. It's starting to look dark in the Queen City. A strong argument could be made that the Reds should seriously consider rebuilding and starting over, particularly with the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates building powerhouses in the division. But that doesn't ever seem to be the mindset here, which is why this might get worse before it gets better.
15. Atlanta Braves. Last title: 1995. World Series appearances: 9. Titles: 3. The Braves are such a tough team to peg in these rankings. This year had yet another painful ending -- this one happened a little earlier than usual -- but they've had such sustained success for so long that it almost works against them. It is worth noting that they have made the playoffs nine times since 2000 but have only reached the NLCS once.
14. Toronto Blue Jays. Last title: 1993. World Series appearances: 2. Titles: 2. Now that the Royals have broken their streak, the Blue Jays have the longest current postseason drought in the four major North American sports. That they are only 14 in these rankings is proof of just how difficult it is to do these rankings every year, with so many tortured teams. Everyone has a claim to the throne.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers. Last title: 1988. World Series appearances: 18. Titles: 6. We're now at 26 years since their last title (and their last World Series appearance), spanning eight postseason berths. I know it's tough to think of a team with this payroll as "tortured," but they seem to have the carrot yanked away from them often.
12. Houston Astros. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1. Matters are so barren in Houston right now that a minor uptick in wins and Jose Altuve's emergence as one of the most entertaining players in baseball has hardly moved the needle. Still, the Astros have been through a lot, however different their American League incarnation feels from their NL ones, and when they're ready to be relevant again, the fans will be there.
11. Detroit Tigers. Last title: 1984. World Series appearances: 11. Titles: 4. Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty. All 11 teams remaining on this list have real claims at being in the top three. Another year, another desperate grab at a title that fell short. The Tigers keep coming up just short every season, and they keep coming up short for the same reason.
10. Seattle Mariners. Last title: None. World Series appearances: None. I had them at No. 3 last year, and I've come to think that was too high. I put them there almost exclusively because they've never made a World Series -- one of only two franchises (Washington/Montreal is the other one) not to make it. But honestly, if you're under 50 years old, what's the difference between never having made one or having made one in 1979 or 1982? There really isn't one. The Mariners had a little flash this year, and they'll rue that 2001 team forever, but this year, they have to drop.
9. Oakland A's. Last title: 1989. World Series appearances: 14. Titles: 9. I've documented how much playoff pain the A's have been through, and this year might have been the peak of it with this amazing season collapsing down the stretch, and then that tough loss in the Wild Card game. The A's just never quite get over the hump.
8. Texas Rangers. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 2. This year's surprising last-place finish keeps them even in the rankings: For the first time in awhile, the season was less a "disappointment" than "something to avert your eyes from as soon as possible." They remain solidly in the top 10 for 2011 alone.
7. Kansas City Royals. Last title: 1985. World Series appearances: 3. Titles: 1. What to do with these guys? On one hand, they fell one game -- 90 feet -- short in a Game 7 in front of the loudest baseball crowd I have heard in my life. On the other hand: What a season! This was an immensely likable Royals team that went further than anyone could have imagined (and further than they probably should have). That doesn't change the pain the fans have gone through over the last 29 years, and it doesn't end the World Series drought, and they'll think about that Game 7 for a long time … but that doesn't erase the joy this team provided this season. If the Royals fade back into obscurity, we'll re-evaluate, but for now, they drop a spot from last year's rankings.
6. Baltimore Orioles. Last title: 1983. World Series appearances: 6. Titles: 3. It is the Orioles' grand misfortune that their likable breakthrough team after years of suffering happened the same year as the Royals' likable breakthrough team after years of suffering. You also hope the Orioles' window hasn't closed. They won the division easily, but the Red Sox and the Yankees, those old saws, are coming.
5. New York Mets. Last title: 1986. World Series appearances: 4. Titles: 2. All right, Mets fans: You've convinced me. Up five spots on this list from last year, I find the argument that what the Mets have gone through since Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS is as tough as any sports fan should have to withstand … I find it compelling.
4. Cleveland Indians. Last title: 1948. World Series appearances: 5. Titles: 2. It's not like anything got better from last season -- when I had them No. 2 -- except that now that I think about it, they really might be the third-most tortured franchise in their own city. They're probably the one with the least hope right now, though, which might be the most depressing part of all.
3. Milwaukee Brewers. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1. The Brewers were one of baseball's best stories this season … until a total implosion down the stretch left them out of the playoffs all together. (They ended up barely finishing above .500.) If there were a season to sneak out an NL Central title, this was the year, and the Brewers were there until it all, cruelly, went poof. This is one of the most loyal, plentiful fan bases in all of baseball; a small-market story made good, and their fans have been rewarded with one World Series appearance … which they lost to their current division rival.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates. Last title: 1979. World Series appearances: 7. Titles: 5. After two consecutive playoff appearances, it's not so charming anymore. The aftershocks of the Pirates' home crowd during the 2013 postseason are still being felt -- you felt like the Royals fans were specifically trying to outdo Pirates fans -- but now it's time to see more results. The Pirates are primed to be excellent in the coming years. This is the time for the payoff.
1. Chicago Cubs. Last title: 1908. World Series: 10. Titles: 2. The three most tortured teams all end up playing in the same division. As I mentioned in my Joe Maddon column, this could end up being the biggest story in all of sports. Everything is set up for them. Now the Cubs just have to make it happen.