Last Week in the Irrelevant Ranks, I posed the following hypothetical to myself: Pretend the Baseball Gods have granted you a second chance to choose which MLB team to root for. You can forget geographical obligations and familial blood-lines, and there will be no guilt attached to whatever decision you make. You’ll just automatically be assimilated into that fan base, and all former allegiances will be erased from your memory.
This week is a continuation of that, only we’ll be touching on teams #1 – #15. For criteria, stipulations, and teams #30 – #16, you can check out Part I here.
15. Kansas City Royals
Like Brewers fans, Billy Butler is fat and lovable, and Eric Hosmer may be the next Joey Votto. Mike Moustakas looks like a bonafide bopper, Alex Gordon isn’t a bust, and Alcides Escobar is good … at running the bases. In Prospectown, Will Myers has 24 home runs, and Bubba Starling could be the Kansas City Joe Mauer. So, the offense should at least be exciting for the foreseeable future. The pitching though, gross. My underdog complex and infatuation with the Royals baby-blue jerseys make up at least 75-percent of this ranking. Bruce Chen makes up three-percent.
14. San Francisco Giants
I’m as surprised as you that they’re this high. I liked the pitching staff a whole lot better before Brian Wilson blew out his beard and Tim Lincecum freaked out. And while I’m visually stimulated by AT&T Park, it stifles offense to the point where only a man injected with a massive dose of rhino semen can succeed there. Speaking of Barry Bonds, do Giants fans still talk about him in reverential terms? That’d be a deal-breaker if they did.
So why is San Fran in the top-half of these rankings? Maybe it’s because the pitching staff is formidable even without Tim and Brian, or maybe it’s because the NL West is up for grabs every year. Maybe I love the fact that when Barry Zito’s contract comes off the books in 2014 they’ll have something like $970 million to spend on free agents. Maybe I’m a fan of Bruce Bochy’s surliness, and Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval excite me in ways I can’t discuss out loud. Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to travel to San Francisco so I can visit the Golden Gate Bridge, tour the Full House house, and then stand at the bottom of Lombard Street and pleasure myself take pictures.
13. Detroit Tigers
I wish I could get more behind the Tigers. I mean, there’s not trio of studs like Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder anywhere in the league, and stuff, Detroit IS America, right? Unfortunately, knowing that owner Michael Ilitch suckles from the teat of Scott Boras makes me shudder, and not just because I’m now actually picturing that happening. There’s no arguing that signing Fielder bolstered their short-term chances of winning a championship, but by the time the deal expires, Ilitch will be 90 years old, if he’s anything at all. What does he care if Fielder is a fat, waddling DH six-years into the deal? And what happens when Verlander and Cabrera become free agents (in 2014 and 2015), will he sign them to long-term contracts too? Probably. There’s no telling what other franchise-crushing deals Ilitch will dole out in an effort to win a World Series before he dies, but I’m sure Boras, sporting a pitchfork and pointy goatee, will be on his shoulder to whisper suggestions. The potential of a title is appealing, but personally, this is a situation I’d rather avoid. Also, I don’t want my Honda Civic to get keyed every time I attend a game at Comerica Park.
12. New York Mets
I know Fred Wilpon has as much debt as your typical college graduate, but I kind of like the idea of randomly rooting for the sucky team in New York. As an added bonus, one of my favorite sports books of all time, Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won, deals with the Mets 1986 championship season, and tells the inspiring tale of how hard-work, good-luck, excessive-drinking, and wife-swapping orgies helped the Mets capture the title. I was already planning on making my kids read it at an inappropriately young age anyway, and it’d have a bigger impact if they were also Mets fans. Plus, can you imagine all the cool memorabilia that could be owned from that season? A Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson autographed ball; a coke mirror shared by Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry; a Keith Hernandez signed copy of the Seinfeld Season 3 DVD. Lot of options.
Subconscious Side Note: I failed to mention my intense, borderline homoerotic obsession with David Wright because, frankly, I didn’t think it impacted this ranking at all (although it totally did).
11. Philadelphia Phillies
Since the major league team consists mostly of aging, injured, expensive vets, and the farm system has been raided, pillaged, and burnt to the ground, the Phillies should probably be lower. Especially considering the fan base’s reputation as Santa-booing, battery-throwing, injury-cheering assholes. But I gotta say, I recently spent a few days trapped with a large group of Phillies fans at a Holiday Inn in Clearwater Beach, and they weren’t nearly as obnoxious as I anticipated. Although to be fair, I didn’t see them in action at the stadium – mostly they just stumbled around the tiki bar in Hunter Pence jerseys and barfed in the pool. In all honesty, the main reason I put Philly this high is because, as my buddy B-Co once warned – “It’s better to be with the battery-throwers than it is to be concussed and bleeding.” So true.
10. Boston Red Sox
There are plenty of reasons to root for Boston, and I’m sure you’ve heard every one. What I want to focus on are the reasons NOT to root for them (because I’m a dick like that). For starters, the ownership group may have a ton of money, but they’re spending a lot of it on Liverpool FC, which they also own. As a Sox fan, the situation would make me very nervous. It’s almost like John Henry has two families, one on each side of the pond. The wives know about each other, and hate the situation, but they need Henry’s cash to keep the children in private school, so they’ve accepted the divided attention … for now. Let’s see how reasonable and patient Sox fans are if the team tries to bring in next season’s equivalent of Nick Punto and Cody Ross again during the offseason.
Further worries include GM Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine. The kid Cherington has been on trial since taking over, and after botching several deals, the jury is having one hell of a discussion about his competence to even stand trial. Valentine is competent, but he’s a flame sitting atop a powder-keg, and I think we all know how this will end – with Bobby V fired in the middle of a losing season for pulling his pants down during a team meeting, bending over, and making everyone stare at his pulled-apart butt-cheeks because he “wanted them to see what they played like – S***!!” Or something like that. Above all else, the least appealing part about becoming a Red Sox fan, is Red Sox fans. Once a lovable group of neurotic diehards, Red Sox Nation has devolved into an entitled group of whiny, self-obsessed, Neil Diamond-singing, pink-hat wearing posers. Nobody wants to be that. I would like to go to Fenway Park though (figured I’d end on a positive note).
9. New York Yankees
I hate New York. Not just the Yankees, the whole city. Granted, I’ve never been there, and everything I think I know about it comes from fictionalized movies and books, but still, I’m pretty sure I hate everything about the place. Just to be sure, I asked the only person I know with my background (middle-American) who has firsthand experience living in the Big Apple. He quickly sent me 1,000 words confirming all my preconceived notions – crowded, dirty, old, noisy, wet, ugly, harsh, broken, etc, etc. The highlight was a personal account involving a masturbating man, a restaurant table, and an ill-fated handshake, the point of which, I think, was to illustrate that being able to quickly identify the scent of jism is a survival skill in NYC. Call me un-American, but that’s not a place I want to visit.
As for the people of New York, and Yankees fans in particular, I held similar biases. Then I went to a Yankees vs. Red Sox spring training game, and had everything confirmed. Loud, drunk and arrogant, with an attitude that said “ay, I’m walkin’ here!” even when they were seated and stuffing their face with a hot dog, Yankees fans were everything I feared they’d be. At first I was appalled, but as I watched a bald man in a pinstriped Paul O’Neil jersey – looking every bit the part of an old-timey escaped convict – berate a nearby Red Sox fan, I finally got it: Yankees fans can’t help the way they are any more than a baby born to a Hatfield or McCoy can. The city and surroundings breed a loud, brash, “look at me but don’t friggin’ look at me” attitude, and their sheer numbers give even the weakest of the bunch the confidence to turn friendly taunts into repeated kicks to the ribs if the situation warrants it (and sometimes if it doesn’t). Even if the discussion remains cordial and is contained to words, Yankees supporters can get away with massive amounts of heckling and smack talking because they know there’s not an argument in the world that can beat “27 rings, motherf***a!” If I had that kind of power, I’d abuse it too.
As for the actual team, there are some serious long-term issues, but nothing hundreds of millions of dollars can’t fix.
“How many times have the Braves finished below .500 since 1990?” I asked baseball-reference.com. “Only four times”, it replied in a computer voice. So, based on the past 23 seasons, there’s like an 82-percent chance you’ll be rooting for a winning ball club if you’re a Braves fan. I like those odds, and I don’t see them going down anytime soon – the Atlanta organization is filled with dominant arms, and Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward form an enticing under-30 core. And yeah, I listed Heyward last for a reason – so we could briefly discuss him. I realize he’s only 23 and has dealt with injuries early in his career, but is anyone else worried that he’s walking less, striking out more, and making considerably less contact than he did as a 21-year old rookie? Has the advanced nature of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout made us unfairly regard Heyward as a disappointment, or is the fact that he has a serious Greg Oden feel to him something to be worried about? I wish baseball-reference.com could answer me that.
7. Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds are the closest team geographically to where I live, the majority of the people I hang out with root for the team, and every game is available for free on my standard cable package. Three pretty solid reasons to hitch my wagon to Reds. In addition, they have a storied history and Great American Launching Pad offers cheap tickets, Skyline Chili dogs, and lots of home runs. The team is in excellent shape with established vets signed long-term, and young prodigies speeding through the system (Billy Hamilton skeet, skeet, skeet). GM Walt Jocketty is as cunning as Marge Schott was crazy, and while I’m not down with Dusty Baker, he’s tolerable, I guess.
On a Completely Unrelated Note: I had my bachelor party in Cincy, and boy what a wholesomely fun evening that was! We watched the Reds take on the White Sox in the Civil Rights Game at Great American, then headed to back to our hotel – where it was rumored that Bill Clinton was also staying – and had a few cocktails, ate some pizza, shared some stories, and then watched two strippers do unspeakable things Baseball Tonight and went to bed. At no point did we almost buy illegal drugs from a wild-eyed man in an alley.
6. Los Angeles Angels
So I most likely get to watch Mike Trout and Albert Pujols for the next nine years? Ok, I’m listening. You’ll add Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson for the next four? Go on. Manager Mike Scioscia is signed through 2018? (nodding head) I like it. And you say owner Arte Moreno has so much cash he pays Cee Lo Green to sing at all of his bowel movements? Alright, I’m in.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
Frank McCourt has been vanquished, and Magic Johnson now sits on the throne for the controlling group of La-La Land’s Dodgers. That alone is worth 20 spots. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw – the best hitter/pitcher combo in the league – are worth a few more, and Donnie Baseball gets them all the way up to sixth. Mid-Paragraph Side Note: My favorite Don Mattingly quote from this year (discussing a particularly unorthodox lineup): “That’s what happens when Matt Kemp goes on the DL. You drink, you wake up with a hangover and then you make a lineup like this. It’s different, I know.” I also like that Dodgers games (and Angels games) don’t come on until 10:00pm in the eastern time zone, which would finally give me a “legitimate” reason to stay up until 1:00 am on weeknights. Not that I don’t consider watching On-Demand episodes of Real Sex a worthy late-night hobby, but I need a line for the wife.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
It’s very hard for me to respect a rival team. Hate, on the other hand, I do that well, and often. However, on very rare occasions, a team or organization has been able to pry the respect out of my clenched-fist grip, and the Cardinals are one of them. I guess you could say I like the way they mount their steer, although I don’t know why you would. Over the past 12 seasons, the Redbirds have averaged 90 wins and captured six division flags, and in their long, storied history they have 11 World Series titles and 18 National League pennants. The St. Louis fan base is every bit as knowledgeable and generation-spanning as the Yankees and Red Sox, only they’re not dicks about it. As an added bonus, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery is in St. Louis, and I’ve always wanted to drunkenly steal a Clydesdale.
3. Washington Nationals
Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw may be the best, most established hitter/pitcher combo in the league, but Stephen Strasburg/Bryce Harper is the one I’m paying my cable company to watch every night. I hate to get too hyperbolic (that’s a lie), but couldn’t this be the greatest combo in the history of organized baseball? Imagine if Justin Verlander took steroids, and Josh Hamilton never did crack, and then they somehow ended up playing together for five seasons during their prime – that’s the upside of a Strasburg/Harper. So yeah, I wouldn’t mind jumping on the Nationals bandwagon. It’s not like the thing is crowded.
There is a wild card in this situation, a guy standing by the gas pump with an open Zippo and a crazy grin – G.M. Mike Rizzo. Not that I’m saying he’ll accidentally on purpose destroy this thing, but he’s an outspoken risk-taker with an open check book – disaster could certainly strike. Either way, success or failure, there won’t be a more interesting team over the next decade than the Nationals.
2. Texas Rangers
As a kid, my grandpa gave me a ball with a picture of Nolan Ryan’s face on it. I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and since my last name was also Ryan, I used that ball to convince myself, and others, that Nolan and I were related. I might have even written him a letter telling him so, and asking if I could live at his house. Eventually, I accepted the reality that we were just two people who happened to share a fairly common last name, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still want to take a ride on The Ryan Express. Especially considering Jon Daniels is the conductor, and Ron Washington is crazily dancing down the aisles taking tickets. The Brothers Maddux are chaperoning the young pitchers in the back of the train, so you’ll know they’ll be on the best behavior, and in the front, lead-off hitter Ian Kinsler, two-hole guy Elvis Andrus, and clean-up man Adrian Beltre are seated together – all with their tickets punched through 2015. They’re anxiously looking out the windows in the hopes of seeing Josh Hamilton trotting down the platform before the train leaves the station, and so am I. It’d be a shame if they had to ask some stranger to join their euchre game.
1. Chicago Cubs
Hey, I get it. Go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do. Scream, yell, fire-off a nasty email, take a dump on your neighbors porch – whatever it is you do when you feel an injustice has been carried out, you’re completely justified. No reasonable person, when offered any team in the league, would willingly choose to root for an organization known specifically for losing. I was raised a Cubs fan though, so I’m not reasonable. I was taught to think that next year will be better, and the year after that, even better. And now that Theo Epstein and his clan have moved into the old Hendry place, I’m so certain that the curse/drought/self-fulfilling prophecy will be ended, that I can’t bring myself to sever ties to the Cubs, not now, not even in a hypothetical situation such as this.
There are legitimate reasons for my decision, and while I know you’re not buying any of it, here they are, for giggles.
- Wrigley Field – I mean … have you ever been to Wrigley? If I had to choose a baseball-related Groundhog Day, I’m not sure there’d a better option than waking up at 11:00 am next to a blonde in a Sandberg jersey, walking the half-block from the apartment down to Wrigleyville, popping into Murphy’s for a Bloody Mary, then spending the next three hours shirtless in the bleachers, eating Chicago dogs and enjoying the hell out of a sunny, wind-blowing-out afternoon.
- Out with the Old School – sometimes “old school” is a nice way of saying “antiquated and embarrassing”; Jim Hendry was an old school GM.
- In with the New School – “new school” is a short way of saying relevant, “with-it”, more complex and smarter than the old school; Theo Epstein and his staff basically founded the new school.
- Building Blocks – Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Jorge Soler could be potential superstars, and guys like Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Junior Lake offer athleticism and stocked tool-belts. 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora was ranked by ESPN’s Keith Law as the number one prospect in the Cubs system, ahead of even Rizzo, and when you throw in whatever they’re able to land in deals for Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano, plus the number one pick in 2013 (and probably 2014), all of a sudden visions of being a yearly contender don’t seem so far-fetched.
- The Rickets Family – Tom Ricketts and his family are sitting on a Scrooge McDuck pile of cash, and Wrigley Field craps out golden nuggets even when the Cubs suck. The NL Central is a small-market division, and Chicago could dominate for an entire decade with the right amount of competency and coin – both of which they have in abundance.
- Hope – Add it all up, and there’s real hope among the Cubs faithful that the 103 years of suffering will finally be re-paid in full. When it is, when the final out of the final game is made and the Cubs are in the lead, there will be tears, hugs, fires, high-fives, bare breasts, turned over police cars, free shots, tear-gas, more hugs, emotional outbursts, a lot more shots, and in the end, as the sun rises over the destroyed city of Chicago, the most fulfilled and euphoric feeling ever felt by someone who truly cared for a sports team. How could you not want to be a part of that?