Last June, I introduced my Tortured Franchise Rankings, which attempted to quantify which franchises and fanbases had suffered the most -- in other words, which ones were in most dire need of a championship. To quote from the NBA rankings intro:
It's a ranking of every team's fan base, from most to least spoiled. I want to find out who deserves it the most: who you, as a disinterested party, should be cheering for next year. Lots of factors are involved here: 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'm doing my best to give an honest accounting here. This ranking will get a lot better once all of you have had a chance to look at it and tell me what I got wrong.
We're going to do one of these at the end of every major sport's playoffs, thus, the NBA in June, and today, Major League Baseball. The idea is, really, who is most due: Which team and its fanbase most deserves a title? Who has been through the most? Who has earned it? We'll go from most spoiled to least spoiled, and we'll do a new list at the end of every season: You never know, after all, when it could be The Year to break through.
Let's get to it.
30. Boston Red Sox. Last title: 2013. World Series appearances: 12. Championships: 8.
Easy pick here: The Sox not only are less than a week removed from a championship -- there's probably still detritus from the parade on the streets of Boston -- it was their third in the last decade. Look out: David Ortiz is only two rings behind Derek Jeter now, and he looks a lot closer to his fourth than Jeter does to his sixth.
29. St. Louis Cardinals. Last title: 2011. World Series appearances: 19.
The Cardinals came up short against the Red Sox for the second time in nine years, but, suffice it to say, sympathy from the baseball world was low. The Cardinals have now reached at least the NLCS in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Also, the Cardinals, thanks to its farm system and prudent roster and financial management, are simply getting started. I'd call the last 10 years of Cardinals baseball the golden era, if I didn't suspect another one is just about to begin.
28. San Francisco Giants. Last title: 2012. World Series appearances: 19. Championships: 7.
The Giants finally got their long-awaited first title in San Francisco in 2010, and they followed it up with another, possibly less fluky one in 2012. This is a franchise that likes stability and familiar faces; witness the overpays for fan favorites Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum. It might be a while until the Giants make it back to the Fall Classic, but winning two in three years is more than enough to tide fans over.
27. New York Yankees. Last title: 2009. World Series appearances: 40. Championships: 27.
This is the first time I've done these, but this has to be as high on the list as the Yankees have been in 30 years, right? I'm of the opinion that the Yankees will be better sooner than people think, but either way, one suspects the Red Sox and Cardinals' competition to be the New Hated Yankees will be short-lived. The Yankees will never lie dormant for long.
26. Miami Marlins. Last title: 2003. World Series appearances: 2. Championships: 2.
If you're a diehard Miami Marlins fan these days, every year is its own familiar torture, with established players shipped out, and greenhorn rookies and cheap pickups taking their spots. Also, you helped pay for a huge, expensive stadium just so the ownership group could gut the team. Again. That said, you've been around for 20 years and have two World Series titles. Normally fans suffer for decades before finally winning that long-elusive championship. Marlins fans are simply doing this in reverse.
25. Philadelphia Phillies. Last title: 2008. World Series appearances: 7. Championships: 2.
When you look at the Phillies now, and you see a team with elderly/injured players with crazy contracts -- an imbalanced roster that has little hope of short-term improvement -- realize how worse it could have been. Many teams had a core like the Phillies have had over the last decade and never got a title to show for it. The mid-90's Indians, the late-90's Mariners, so on. The Phillies at least got one. It's gonna have to hold them over for a while.
24. Tampa Bay Rays. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1.
Considering the low attendance and depressingly meager revenue for a franchise with one of baseball's smartest front offices, Rays fans almost have to feel lucky to have what they have. Anyone who dragged themselves through the first 10 years of this organization was justly rewarded with the success of the last few years, while still being frustrated by some postseason flameouts. The problem is that there just aren't enough of those anyones.
23. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last title: 2002. World Series appearances: 1. Titles: 1.
The Angels have an owner who is willing to spend money and does so with a sense of urgency. It is simply the fans' misfortune that much of this money is being spent poorly. (Fangraphs lists the Angels as having two of the worst contracts in baseball, both signed in the last two years.) The Angels, oddly, were better off when they had Scott Spiezio and Darin Erstad rather than Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Still, rich, engaged owners are hard to come by, and the Angels didn't win a World Series all that long ago.
22. Arizona Diamondbacks. Last title: 2001. World Series appearances: 1. Titles: 1.
The Diamondbacks have the fun distinction of having won the only World Series against the Yankees in which the majority of baseball fans were actually cheering for the Yankees, which wins the D-Backs some points, the more you think about it. That season still feels like an anomaly -- it's the reason people still predict postseason series based off which team has the two best starting pitchers -- and Arizona may never be forgiven for allowing the phrase "Bob Brenly, World Series-winning manager" to enter the lexicon. This paragraph may soon be traded for not being gritty enough.
21. Washington Nationals. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: None.
This is where I remind you that this ranking is not for a tortured city fanbase. That would obviously rank higher (lower?) for Washington as a whole, but the Nationals and their fans are still feeling their way around. I bet they move up (down?) this list rapidly in the next few years, though; 2012 was their Pain Year -- a terrific team having its heart broken in the offseason. Every year they don't win a title with Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg is another blow to fan morale -- and another mark in their favor on this list. Losing puts hair on your chest, Nats fans!
20. Colorado Rockies. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 1.
The Rockies have only made the World Series once, and they were quickly swept away by the Red Sox. And it wasn't even the Blake Street Bombers team that made it, dangit. The Rockies franchise still hasn't quite figured out that ballpark, and their postseason success mostly consists of one crazy-ass win streak six years ago. But they get to play in that gorgeous city, in that gorgeous ballpark, so life can't be too bad.
19. Toronto Blue Jays. Last title: 1993. World Series appearances: 2. Titles: 2.
That Joe Carter highlight is enough to last these guys several lifetimes, particularly because it was their second title in a row. It's worth noting, though, that those championships were right before the season we lost the World Series to a labor dispute -- still the worst thing that's happened to baseball since the Black Sox scandal, and I'd argue it was even worse -- so it feels like it happened longer ago than it did. Last year was a crusher: the first time the Jays were favored to outlast the Yanks and Sox in two decades, and they fell on their face.
18. Chicago White Sox. Last title: 2005. World Series appearances: 5. Titles: 3.
The White Sox have to play second fiddle to a more beloved (if not necessarily more historic) franchise, even when they win their first World Series in 88 years. Their release of pent-up frustration came so soon on the heels of the Red Sox's 2004 title that the sports world barely noticed. (They even had a more entertaining World Series sweep than the Red Sox did.) That'll have to hold over Sox fans for a long time, because this is a franchise stuck in reverse right now. It might be another 88 years until that next championship. Maybe more people will appreciate it then.
17. Minnesota Twins. Last title: 1991. World Series appearances: 6. Titles: 3.
The Twins lost to the Yankees in the ALDS four times in seven years, something no fanbase should ever have to go through. Still, those two titles in four years -- in that old lunatic asylum of a "ballpark" -- linger. The team is in reset mode now, a strange place to be for a franchise that has had two managers since 1986.
16. Cincinnati Reds. Last title: 1990. World Series appearances: 9. Titles: 5.
Dusty Baker may be respected within the game of baseball, but the Reds are now the third team Baker has managed at their peak without ever winning them a title. The Reds are still super-talented, but they've never quite made it all the way. All they have to show for this recent Reds uptick have been two losses in the NLDS and one in a wild-card play-in game. The clock is running out.
15. Atlanta Braves. Last title: 1995. World Series appearances: 9. Titles: 3.
Braves fans will claim this is too low, and it brings up a good question: Is it more painful to have success every season but have only one title to show for it, or is it more painful to never make the postseason at all? Most franchises would be elated to miss the postseason only five times since 1990 -- four of those were 2006-09 -- so you can't lament the Braves' circumstances all that much. That said, they only won one title in that time, and the last few seasons have been particularly brutal, postseason-wise. It comes down, ultimately, to that one title. Had the Braves not won in 1995, they might be in the top five on this list. But flags fly forever.
14. Los Angeles Dodgers. Last title: 1988. World Series appearances: 18. Titles: 6.
It has been 26 years since the Dodgers last won a World Series. It doesn't seem that long, does it? They've actually lost three of the last six NLCS -- two to Philadelphia and one to St. Louis -- a substantial amount of postseason pain in a short amount of time. That's not even including the Frank McCourt ownership experience, which no one should ever have to go through. Still, this team is outspending the Yankees, it plays in the most underrated stadium in sports, and Vin Scully calls all their games. Also, occasionally Bryan Cranston shows up.
13. Oakland A's. Last title: 1989. World Series appearances: 14. Titles: 9.
Their lone championship of the Bash Brothers era was always underappreciated, because it took place during the Earthquake Series. More to the point, the difficulty this franchise has had in the postseason under Billy Beane's stewardship is unprecedented. The A's have lost in the ALDS six times since 2000 … and every single one of them went the full five games. That is just brutal.
12. San Diego Padres. Last title: Never. World Series appearances: 2. Titles: None.
Sad fact about the Padres' two World Series: They had the misfortune to win the National League pennant in two seasons when the American League winner was a historically great team. (The 1984 Detroit Tigers won 104 games, and the 1998 New York Yankees won 114.) They haven't won a postseason series since that 1998 season, with only two NLDS losses to the Cardinals in 2005 and 2006 to show for all their time. Fortunately, they play their home games in one of the most pleasant cities on earth. Maybe they'll have some luck now that this guy isn't the mayor.
11. Detroit Tigers. Last title: 1984. World Series: 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. It wasn't until I closely looked at that I realized just how many tortured franchises there are in baseball. The Tigers keep going all-in, every year, and never quite making it, and this season, it's sad to say, might have been their best opportunity. (You think the Cardinals had trouble hitting the Red Sox's starters? Imagine if they were looking at Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez.) The Tigers keep winning postseason series but never grabbing the ring, and it has taken a toll; all you had to do is look at Jim Leyland's face after losing to Boston this year to see that.
10. New York Mets. Last title: 1986. World Series: 4. Titles: 2.
Mets fans will be appalled to find themselves this low, but seriously, you guys, you were on the winning side of the Buckner play. The Mets have been more comically inept than torturous; their most painful moment was the 2006 National League Championship Series, which hurt, sure, particularly because the franchise fell into disrepair almost immediately afterward. (Usually on the last day of the season.) That said, the Mets have won two World Series since they came into the league in 1962; that's as many as the other seven teams who came into existence that decade have combined. They had Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, and they won a title with them; when you're at this level of fanbase hurt, you need to have squandered every opportunity, particularly with your stars in their prime. This is cold comfort, Mets fans, but there are nine teams' fans who have had it worse.
9. Houston Astros. Last title: Never. World Series: 1.
Some have argued there should be an actual Curse of the Astros; the only time they ever sneaked in the World Series, they were swept, with all four games maximizing the pain involved. The Killer B's ended up never quite making it, and now they're in Year 3 of a rebuilding process that is smart but also positively gruesome. So why are they so low? Well, the pain involving the 10 teams ahead of them is intense as well, and they're penalized for continuing to have a hill in center field. Also, they should be forced to call their stadium "Enron Field" until the original 30-year contract is completed. They're halfway there!
8. Texas Rangers. Last title: Never. World Series: 2.
They had to be in the top 10 for Game 6 of the 2011 World Series alone. The Rangers lost the World Series the year before that -- their first-ever appearance -- but nobody remembers that or cares. The Rangers died lifetimes in that Game 6. Here's the most brutal section from a Rangers gamer after that series ended: "Clubhouse attendants covered the lockers in the Rangers clubhouse to protect clothes and uniform from the champagne showers in the ninth. Then after [David] Freese's two-run, two-strike triple they tore everything down and removed the champagne. When Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the 10th, they put the wrapping up again, only to rip it down when the Cards tied the score. Said Rangers GM Jon Daniels: 'I went into the laundry room to compose myself for a second and there were the champagne bottles.'" That is just cruel.
7. Baltimore Orioles. Last title: 1983. World Series: 6. Titles: 3.
Before the 2012 season, Orioles fan Tom Scocca, then of Deadspin, wrote one of the best pieces about fandom I've ever read. One statement on being an Orioles fan from it:
Tomorrow and next year and the long-term plan -- these are a script to fetch the suckers off the midway. The people who talk about "rebuilding," who discuss a baseball roster as a portfolio of assets to be managed for future value, won't admit this. Teams and fans are supposed to recognize that a season, or two or three seasons, is a lost cause, and embrace that. Be smart, give up. You lose today so that tomorrow you can win. (Might win.) (Might have a chance at possibly winning.) (Might potentially, theoretically, have a chance at possibly coming closer to winning.) In fact, you lose this year, and next year you lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose.
And this piece was optimistic about the Orioles! The worst part about the Orioles may be that the last two seasons -- in which they lost to the Yankees in the playoffs and then didn't reach the playoffs at all -- might end up being a multiple-decade highlight.
6. Kansas City Royals. Last title: 1985. World Series: 2. Titles: 1.
In 2013, the Royals won more games than in any season since 1989. This didn't help the fatalistic fanbase, which has seen luck and hope keep pretending like they're just a couple years away before sprinting down east on I-70 instead. If this is re-payment for Don Denkinger, the Royals have had enough already. Also: It's sort of amazing how many of the Royals' vaunted Best Prospect Class Ever members have turned out to disappoint. Not crash-and-burn, just fall short of stardom in the most frustrating way possible. Also: Wil Myers is going to win a World Series before they do, just to be mean.
5. Milwaukee Brewers. Last title: Never. World Series: 1.
The first year I ever watched baseball was 1982, the year my Cardinals beat the Brewers in the World Series. The Brewers were favored; the franchises ended up taking opposite turns after that. That team of Harvey's Wallbangers broke Milwaukee fans' hearts by falling just short, and the Brewers haven't been particularly close since. They've only made the playoffs twice since then, losing in the NLDS to Philadelphia in 2008 and in the NLCS in 2011 to those blasted Cardinals again. Since 2011, they've fallen apart, and oh, yeah, their franchise savior has become, during that time, one of the five least popular athletes in sports.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates. Last title: 1979. World Series: 7. Titles: 5.
Yeah, when a team that had 20 consecutive losing seasons - a streak that began with blowing a ninth-inning lead with the World Series on the line -- only comes in fourth on this list, we're into the realm of the macabre here. The Pirates added another chapter to the ledger of hurt this year, but still, they made the playoffs and showed how terrific that fanbase is, and just how much they have been through. (The crowds at PNC Park in October were downright scary.) The Pirates deserve a title. Of course, they've already had five, including two in a decade in which a lot of you were alive, which keeps them out of the money, horseracing-wise.
3. Seattle Mariners. Last title: None. World Series: None.
The Seattle Mariners have never made the World Series. Other than them, only the Washington Nationals can say that, and they've been around for less than a decade. (We're severing the Expos connection for the sake of clarity and continuity.) This is sort of unbelievable: the showcase event of the whole sport, and the Mariners have never been there in any of their 36 years. It's not like they haven't had some great teams, particularly the 2001 team that won 116 games. (The year after A-Rod left.) That six-year stretch of Mariners greatness -- in front of rabid, packed crowds -- ended up with three fruitless trips to the ALCS, despite Hall of Famers pretty much everywhere you looked. For my money, the Mariners are the great, underappreciated, tortured fanbase in sports. And that World Series rarely has looked further away than it does now.
2. Cleveland Indians. Last title: 1948. World Series: 5. Titles: 2.
Not only have the Indians not won a World Series since Dewey defeated Truman, they also squandered the most stacked roster in the last two decades. Look at that team: Manny. Lofton. Belle. Alomar. Thome. Vizquel. That team should have been the Jeter Yankees. In 1997, extra innings, so close … and then those stupid Marlins. Cleveland has teams at or near the top in all the tortured franchise rankings. The Indians might even be the third most-tortured team in their own town.
1. Chicago Cubs. Last title: 1908. World Series: 10. Titles: 2.
The easiest pick, in any sport. If the Cubs end up winning the World Series, it instantly becomes the biggest story in sports -- maybe even bigger than the 2004 Red Sox. This video only touches on it:
There will have never been anything like it. Which probably means it's never happening.