Major League Baseball is about to throw open the gates for another year … and for some reason I am especially interested in baseball (at all levels) this spring.
So, to celebrate the big moment, all three of my readers get treated to something new — my rankings of the 30 Major League Baseball teams, from worst to best.
Now, these rankings are not performance-based. They bear no relation to how the chin-bearded, baggy-pantsed young men who fill these 30 sets of laundry will actually fare when the bell rings.
No, they’re based on sentiment, and slop, and geography, and perception, and half-forgotten baseball cards, and accumulated lore dating back 40 years or more.
I can’t really explain why I like the Twins more than the Dodgers any more than I can explain why I listen to Black and Blue more than Let It Bleed. But I’ll give it a shot and see what comes out, anyway.
OK, then. From basement to penthouse:
30. Atlanta Braves: I got heartily sick of them during that 12- or 13-year period when, like automatons, they dominated the National League East. I’m also not a huge fan of the inherent racism in their name (really, folks — Native American names and imagery are overdue to go), nor of the craven, undemocratic way in which they moved out of a perfectly good stadium into the lily-white suburbs and stuck the residents with a bill that is forcing them to rethink libraries.
Basically, everything Atlanta Braves pretty much sucks.
29. St. Louis Cardinals. I hate the Cardinals’ success too. I hate the hype their fanbase has been given as the best/smartest in baseball, which is nonsense. As a kid, I always found them bland and featureless — the sort of team whose baseball cards you would unload on your trading partners, if only you could find a trading partner who gave a goddamn about the St. Louis Cardinals. Plus they were boring on the field: They’d have one guy who hit 20 homers and everybody else would bunt and steal a lot.
In fairness, I have kind of a geographic blind spot when it comes to the Midwest: I don’t feel any great connection to most of it, nor do I appreciate its many high points. So the Cardinals probably suffer in my estimation as a result.
28. Texas Rangers. Has this team ever meant anything to anybody anywhere?
27. New York Yankees. I bet you were wondering where somebody who loathes extended excellence so very much would rate the Yanks. I hated hated hated ’em as a kid, and am not tremendously fonder of them now. Any year they get bumped out before winning the World Series is cause for celebration.
26. Cincinnati Reds. Simply the most boring team in the world. Except for the 1970s Big Red Machine, they have never had an identity.
Perversely, I might have become a fan: An old friend of my dad’s moved there in the early ’80s. I recall him inviting my family to visit, and mentioning a Reds game as possible entertainment. Alas, we never went, so no magic night that would have turned me into a Reds fan at first sight — like Nick Hornby had with Arsenal in Fever Pitch — ensued.
25. Arizona Diamondbacks. I don’t hate them, per se, but this team could go away tomorrow and I wouldn’t care. Having read about the long-term unsustainability of the city of Phoenix, I do wonder if they’re running their ballpark with water piped in from three states away.
24. San Diego Padres. The only points they get are for the brown-and-yellow uniforms they once wore, and to which they might someday return.
23. Colorado Rockies. Been there; nice park; great state; the team itself has failed to impress any special personality upon me.
22. San Francisco Giants. Again, great city; nice enough ballpark. Just never got attached to the team itself, which seems to plug on every year in its plain old uniforms of orange and black.
It feels to me like San Francisco’s history of holy weirdness has never really attached itself to the Giants. The individuality of, say, Anchor Steam Beer or the Jefferson Airplane has no reflection in the city’s ballclub.
21. Tampa Bay Rays. Great uniforms, at least, and I do enjoy their dingy old dome from a distance. (The only thing better than a brand-new dome is a dingy old one.)
20. Los Angeles Dodgers. Mike Love’s team. Nice ballpark; great history; I would have rated them higher during my formative years. They lose points because I don’t care for the city, I guess. (Unlike the Giants, the Dodgers are very much a reflection of the culture of their adopted city, but in their case that’s not a positive.)
I used to think the Dodgers’ uniforms looked clean and crisp and classic, but worn in the current baggy style, they now look just about as cheesy as everybody else’s.
19. Cleveland Indians. I hated ’em when I was a kid because they seemed so downtrodden and pathetic. (A lack of glamour is usually a selling point to me, but somehow it wasn’t in this case.) They’ve climbed somewhat in my estimation over the years — but again, they have to find a path forward and away from the Native American imagery. Then they’ll move up on this list.
18. Pittsburgh Pirates. I’m glad the city has rejuvenated itself; I remember the mid-’80s, when Bill James was comparing baseball to British soccer and suggesting Pittsburgh be relegated to the minors and Louisville promoted. Glorious ballpark here, apparently.
I’m somewhat spooked by western PA people’s unswerving allegiance to Pittsburgh. They’re practically Texan in their attachment to their home city, and it puts me off. I also seemed to get a higher-than-average number of Pirates cards as a kid, when the team was lousy; I’m still swimming in Doug Frobels and Manny Sarmientos and Sammy Khalifas.
17. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Fabulous uniforms when I was a kid, and I coulda maybe become a fan, except, again, I dislike southern California (or my cliched personal perception of same) too much.
16. Boston Red Sox. I’ve seen the Sox play more games in person than any other team, and have concluded they’re not really likeable at their core. They used to be grumbly, pissy, chip-on-the-shoulder underdogs with a not-distant-enough history of racism; now they’re the Yankees in a grungy, fan-hostile old ballpark. (Plus they gave the world “Sweet Caroline;” they lose points for that too.)
They would be lower on this list, except they mean something to people who mean something to me, so I hope they win occasionally.
15. Chicago Cubs. Great ballpark. Neat city that I’m slowly warming to. Glad they finally won the big one. They were too content to be lovable losers for too long, and the stink of that hasn’t totally cleared yet.
14. Miami Marlins. It says something about me that I am still charmed by the fact that Charlie Hough pitched there. The original teal unis were pretty cool, as was Joe Robbie Stadium in its old baseball layout. Current incarnation of this bunch is a joke but somehow not enough to put me off.
13. Oakland A’s.
12. Seattle Mariners. Sailors! You gotta love sailors. Their rating here is based almost entirely on the early ’80s, when they played in that awesome dome and dressed cool and sent me a big team poster and a media guide in the mail after I wrote to them once. I will always be a little bit of a Marinerd thanks to that.
11. Chicago White Sox. A high school friend of mine got their games on cable, and we would watch because it didn’t seem like anyone else in the world in 1990 cared about the White Sox. I even bought a cap with the curly-C logo, which I still have someplace. There was/is evidence that my grandma liked ’em. The particularly cool guy in my dad’s college band grew up liking ’em. Boss Daley liked ’em. Plus, the Cubs are for tourists. 😉
10. Washington Nationals. It’s a weird thing: Many of my perceptions are based on childhood, and baseball wasn’t being played in D.C. when I was a kid, but it feels right and natural and necessary that it be played there. These guys would rank higher if they were still the Expos, or if they had a more colorful nickname than Nationals.
9. Milwaukee Brewers. They’re named after beer, for cripes’ sake. And they had Gorman Thomas! And … the Rust Belt! And that fabulous ball-and-glove logo! And the ’82 Series, which is one of those Northern equivalents of the Lost Cause!
Somehow these guys get a pass on the Midwestern stigma that lays low Cincinnati and St. Louis and Cleveland. Yeah, I think it must be the beer.
8. Houston Astros. Y’know how Texas is half-cool (great music! Tex-Mex food! natural beauty!) and half-horrible (Bible-thumping! Lots of guns! 20,000-seat high school football stadia!)? Somehow the Astros embody the cool half of Texas to me while the Rangers embody the other half. Anyway, I love their use of orange and their connection to the space program. As a kid I once wrote a poem about the Astrodome even though I’d never set foot inside it. (Yeah, don’t ask.) To top it off, those tequila sunrise uniforms were and are classic.
7. Minnesota Twins. Despite my aversion to the Midwest, Minnesota — snowy, liberal, north-facing, hockey-loving — seems like a place where I could get along; and perhaps that’s why I rate the Twins so highly. They also score points for invariably great uniforms; for their complete lack of glamour or flash, even when they’re winning; and because of that ineffable and unending coolness that reflects eternally on teams that employed Rod Carew.
6. Toronto Blue Jays. You’d think these guys would be higher, given that I have the typical American fascination with Canada. I even have a Blue Jays cap I bought at Rogers Centre. Unfortunately, on the two occasions I’ve been there, I’ve been verbally assailed by (a) an asshole scalper, and (b) several asshole drunk fans. It’s gonna take a great third visit — if I give it one — to turn that around.
5. Detroit Tigers. Classic unis, great fans. Plus I have the typical American fascination with Detroit. If you don’t love the Detroit Tigers … well, you are simply incapable of love, my friend.
4. Kansas City Royals. Dark blue is my favorite color and the Royals have always deployed it well — when they weren’t wearing their even-more-gorgeous Seventies and Eighties powder blues. I love the sound of the word “Royal” because it sounds deep and solid and rich and … royal.
In my lifetime, Kauffman Stadium has gone from one of baseball’s newest parks to one of its oldest. My heart goes out to anyone else trying to wring a few more years out of 1973-vintage infrastructure. Gets harder every year, dude.
3. New York Mets. I was a Mets fan for many years of my youth, in which they went from lameness to world champions. (Eventually I would get a sense of the drama surrounding them, as it surrounds all New York teams, and that would put me off a little bit. I don’t like drama much.)
The libraries of my childhood seemed to have every book every written about the 1962-’69 Mets, all of which I inhaled. Some of those attachments linger, even though the history stories that charmed me are now fifty-plus years old.
2. Baltimore Orioles. The parent club of my hometown Rochester Red Wings, back in the day; I saw a bunch of future Orioles stars before they were stars. In the era fetished by so many of us bloggers (say, 1964-84), these guys were the absolute case study in how to run a ballclub, and I’d love to see them get back to the “Oriole Way” someday.
Also: Great history, great baseball town, chronically beautiful uniforms. They benefit from my East Coast bias. And Camden Yards is the finest ballpark I have ever visited — it looks like it’s been there since 1920, but six-footers can sit comfortably and watch the game from anywhere in the park. If you offered me a ticket to any big-league park I’d choose Camden.
1. Philadelphia Phillies. They’re just survivors. They’ve never become too bloated or smug when they win (like, say, the Yankees), and they’ve never created a cult of suckitude around themselves in their down periods (hi, Red Sox and Cubs.) They’ve always dressed great, and from time to time they play that way as well. A solid, classy, historically deep choice.
And to top it all off, they’re Art Garfunkel’s team.