Friday, February 17, 2017

Final Countdown

Recently Twinkie Town - the SBNation blog on the Minnesota Twins - posted two articles concerning a top-to-bottom ranking of MLB teams. Their main criteria was "Don't rank your top three teams and then say the rest are all tiedI want to see you rank all 30 teams, and explain why you ranked them like you did."  Their second post compiled all of their reader input into a comprehensive ranking of teams from favorite to least favorite. This exercise excited me for several reasons: I wanted up to start talking baseball again, I wanted to start talking baseball again, spring training is right around the corner, and I wanted to start talking baseball again. #Baseball Even though my first objective was to talk about baseball again, a major reason that this was exciting was that there is no cop-out. You can't just lump a group of teams together and say that they have no discernible difference in your personal feelings. There must be a reason that one team is #20 and the next is #21. Being judgmental is REQUIRED! 

[Between the posting of the rankings on Twinkie Town and the publishing of my list, the folks over at Purple Row did the same thing. The Colorado-centric rankings can be found here.]

So here is my take on all 30 teams with the rationale behind each ranking. It is a long post so buckle up, enjoy the list, and let's argue in the comments. 

Courtesy of New York Times
Pond Scum
30. St. Louis Cardinals - A few years ago, this spot could easily have been taken by the Red Sox (insufferable winners), Yankees (pompous winners), or Cubs (fanatical, excuse-laden perpetual losers). At this point, however, the Massholes have calmed down their obnoxious World Series drought schtick (at least in Colorado), the Yankees have not been relevant for a while, and the Cubs hired a manager that I greatly admire and amassed a roster that I cannot dislike (despite my valiant attempts). Through their tiresome "Best Fans in Baseball" mantra, their insistence in their successes being a result of the "Cardinal Way," their overzealous love of a Molina, and their obnoxious overvaluing of utility role players, the St. Louis Cardinals have shouldered their way into the position of my least favorite team. If you think my claims are off-base, head over to @BestFansStLouis and you will understand my hatred completely. 

29. San Francisco Giants - Being a consistently competitive division rival of the Rockies should be enough to place the Giants at the bottom of this list. Employing perma-jerks like Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent should also place them here. But that is not the major reason why the Giants are mired in my dislike. No, they are here because any poor performance against the Rockies is accompanied by an excuse. The base runners are tipping pitches. A organization employee in the outfield is stealing signs. And the worst of the excuses - the Rockies are swapping out juiced, dry, humidor-free balls when the Giants take the field at Coors. To this day, I have been unable to figure out how the Rockies could have actually executed this plan. The Rockies would have duped the MLB staff monitoring the humidor, successfully swapped out balls at the right time, and correctly predicted how many balls would be wasted each half inning to only take the juiced balls to the mound in the bottom of the inning. Also, they could not take too many juiced balls to the home plate umpire because if the inning ended then the Giants would get some of the juiced balls in the top half of the next inning. To any reasonably intelligent person, the past few sentences are ridiculous. The Giants are apparently neither reasonable or intelligent. 

Courtesy of CBS Boston
28. Boston Red Sox - Insufferable Massholes. Jonathan Papelbon. David Ortiz's resurgence once he left the Twins. The 2007 World Series. The insufferable loser mentality that immediately changed to a pompous, boastful, and arrogant fan base the instant the 2004 World Series ended. This team and their fans clearly belong in the bottom third. 

27. New York Yankees - Years of mediocre baseball have softened the repugnance surrounding the blue pinstripes, but not enough to pull them out of the dredges of this bottom group. Plus Joe Girardi wants to ban the shift, which is asinine. Isn't every defensive play a shift to some extent? If you anticipate a bunt, the third baseman moves in. Runner on first with less than two outs? Double play depth. Small lead late in the game? Outfields adjust their position based on the batter to prevent extra base hits. The idea by itself is so stupid that it deserves a Pond Scum category nomination, much less the fact that it came from the Evil Empire. 

Courtesy of
26. Chicago Cubs - Over the last several years, the Cubs have desperately tried to win my favor. They hired a man who I hoped would become the Rockies manager (Joe Maddon). They signed one of my all-time favorite personalities to come through the Rockies organization (Dexter Fowler). And their resident kid genius (Theo Epstein) put together a roster of immensely talented and likable players (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Fowler). But I continue to resist - their fans are loud and proud at Coors when the Cubbies roll into town and it drives me nuts. I understand that prior to the creation of the Rockies, the only baseball to watch was WGN (Cubs) or TBS (Braves) so there are bound to be plentiful amounts of Cubs fans in the area. But the fact that we are 20+ years into the Rockies existence and the local supporters cannot suppress the onslaught of Chicago fans is tough to swallow. It might be this way in other MLB cities as well, but it still irks me. Maddon, Fowler, and crew might have overcome the annoying fans, but there is still the lingering issue with the ball club tat started in the eighth inning of game six of the 2003 NLCS. You know the game. Bartman. The Cubs held a 3-2 series lead and a 3-0 score advantage in the game. With one out in the eighth, Luis Castillo fouled a ball down the line in left field. Steve Bartman tipped the ball away from the closing Moises Alou, taking away a potential out from the Cubs, and blasting his name into baseball history. Alou's reaction was ridiculous. He demonstratively lambasted Bartman and the fans at Wrigley Field followed suit. The situation got so bad that Bartman was escorted out of the stadium. The Cubs ended up losing the game EIGHT TO THREE. They had a three run lead with five outs to go and they gave up EIGHT RUNS. Should Bartman have backed away from the ball as it came toward him? Yes. Would 90% of the fans watching the game make the same mistake had they been in Bartman's seat? Hell yes, they would. When a baseball flies toward you, your natural instinct is to catch it. The response from Cubs fans that pinned that loss on Bartman was ridiculous and fit perfectly with the Cubs' longstanding scapegoating that has permeated through the organization.

25. Arizona Diamondbacks - I could probably just post a picture of their 2016 jerseys and their position on the list would make sense. Or I could post the original turquoise and purple ones. Instead, I'll post a video of Eric Byrnes grounding out to give the Rockies a berth in the 2007 World Series. I hate the Diamondbacks. 

24. Los Angeles Dodgers - Yankees West. Division rivals. Chase Utley. (Although I do love B-Mac and Kershaw)

23. Detroit Tigers - The Tigers are a division rival to my Twinkies. As a native of Minnesota, you tend to avoid anything related to the state of Michigan. 

22. Philadelphia Phillies - They paid Chase Utley a ton of money and he is a jerkwad. Plus, Philadelphia sports fans hate Santa Claus. 

21. Cincinnati Reds - As I compiled the teams for this list, I listed out the teams division by division. For some reason, I could not remember the fifth team in the NL Central and embarrassingly had to look it up. It was the Reds. While the Big Red Machine was a dynasty and Marge Schott was a crazy person, this team is not memorable at all. Therefore, they are relegated toward the bottom of the group of meh. 

20. Kansas City Royals - Another team that I do not have too much of feeling either way. Even though they are division rivals of the Twins, they had been so bad for so many years that they were completely irrelevant. The reason that they are ahead of the Reds? Their sweet powder blue jerseys. 
Courtesy of ESPN

19. Tampa Bay Rays - This team would have been higher a few years ago as they challenged the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL East title with Joe Maddon at the helm and Evan Longoria (Tulo's fellow LBSU Dirtbag) dominating the hot corner. But now Longoria has declined, Maddon has left, and all the familiar players like David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Carl Crawford are long gone. I cannot find a connection between me and this franchise. 

18. San Diego Padres - Talk about complete irrelevance. The Padres are just... there. Their most famous player, Tony Gwynn, was a hitting machine beloved by baseball fans, but his unassuming personality was overshadowed by the others of his time - Ripken, Canseco, McGwire, Bonds, Henderson, Clemens, Schmidt, Dawson, etc. The most notable things about this team are their ridiculous pitchers park and their camouflage jerseys.  

17. New York Mets - The Mets have a lot of things going in their favor. Their rotation is the one of the best in the league, they are the cross-town alternative to the Yankees, and they embraced old man Bartolo Colon. However, this team has historically had a couple successful seasons followed by brutal stretches of ineptitude. Plus, after the Rockies decided that wife-beating Jose Reyes was not worth the roster spot, the Mets happily picked him back up. Throwing people through sliding glass doors is not okay, dude. 

16. Atlanta Braves - A perennial powerhouse for my entire youth, the Braves should be way lower on this list. They were the foil to the 1991 Twins World Series victory, so I should not like them one bit. But my wife is a Colorado native and she was one of the few who spurned WGN baseball for TBS baseball. Her fandom has softened my feelings on the team, just not enough to get into the top half of the league. 

Courtesy of ESPN
15. Giancarlo Stanton - I do not like the Marlins. Their owner is the poster child of rich team owners scamming their loyal, local taxpayers. Their old ballpark was horrendous. Their new ballpark has whatever you call that thing in center field. Marlins barely jump into the top half of teams for one reason: Giancarlo Stanton. Anyone who tells you that they are not entertained by this man-giant is a liar. Stanton is the best power hitter in the game right now and watching him at the plate is a joy.

14. Los Angeles Angels - Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. But they once called themselves the Los Angeles California in Anaheim North of Mexico Close to the Pacific Ocean Angels. Super embarrassing for them. 

13. Seattle Mariners - Ken. Griffey. Junior. 
Courtesy of CBS Sports

12. Chicago White Sox - It might seem weird to see an AL Central team this far up the list. Their open dislike of the Twins should force them much further down the list. I may have a special spot for the Pale Hoes because they are the anti-Cubs, but the real reason for their position lies in a huge piece of my childhood - baseball cards. For some reason, I had a ton baseball cards depicting White Sox players, none more than Carlton Fisk. While I have touched on this before, baseball cards and a hand-me-down Black Sox hat that I wore all the time made Fisk one of my all time favorites. 

The Favorables
11. Cleveland Indians - Well lookie here... another AL Central team?! And one with a super racist logo? How dare you?!! As terrible as Chief Wahoo is and as much as a division rival should be hated, the Indians have one of the best social media accounts in all of sports. The work that their social media team does is just fantastic. In addition, the Indians remind me of Major League and that makes Jobu happy. 

Courtesy of Yahoo Sports
10. Houston Astros - A few years ago, the Astros spent most of their season fielding a team that was barely fit for AAA and I honestly could not have been more jealous of Astros fans. When Jeff Luhnow took over that position in 2011, he realized that this team was mired in mediocrity and needed an overhaul. He convinced his owners to obliterate their roster and build the deepest farm system in the league. In the age of instant gratification, this approach was uncommon. It required the team to be absolutely horrendous for a while while they traded off all of their older and valuable assets. And horrendous they were - they lost over 100 games for three straight years. The Astros' plan was exactly what I wanted from Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett and the Rockies. While the Astros were stumbling over themselves at the major league level, their minor league system was filling up with major league quality talent. Jose Altuve (all 4'-9" of him), Carlos Correa, and George Springer were central to this development process and now are the nucleus of a young and improving roster that will be a contender in the AL West for many years.

9. Washington Nationals - Contrary to the opinions of baseball purists, I love the swagger and chaotic game of Bryce Harper. I love how he will run through a wall to catch the ball in the outfield. I love his violent and powerful swing. I love his "Make Baseball Fun Again" hat. And let us be real here - a baseball purist is just an old cranky sourpuss that hates millenials, fun, and sabermetrics. Add in some of the other players on the Nationals' roster like Stephen Strasburg (a phenom that actually has translated into a quality starting pitcher), Max Scherzer (with his different color eyes), and Trae Turner (a 15 year old boy undercover as a professional baseball player) and you have a young, fun, and talented roster that slides into the top ten of my rankings. 
Courtesy of USA Today
8. Oakland Athletics - When March comes around and the CSU Rams are not in the NCAA basketball tournament, I spend the rest of my time cheering for the underdog. Underdog stories might be the easiest bandwagon to join and the Athletics are the baseball equivalent to this story. The organization's front office of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta were at the forefront of baseball's statistical revolution, most famously depicted in Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. While Bill James and sabermetrics had been around the sport for a while, the A's use of this information in their front office completely changed the way that teams approached their roster decisions across the league. Advanced statistical analysis has trickled into every other sport and the nerd in me loves every second of this transformation.

7. Texas Rangers - The Rangers have been in existence since 1961 when they were the Washington Senators. They currently have as many World Series championships that I do. Zero. You would think that the futility of the organization would result in fans like the Cubs or Red Sox. But I have never met a Rangers fan that is a petulant whiner or excessive excuse maker. Plus the Rangers of late are fun. Adrian Beltre is a future Hall of Famer (just do not touch his head), Elvis Andrus makes ridiculous plays look routine, Rougned Odor landed the best punch in baseball fight history, and Prince Fielder just retired after a long stint in Arlington (I will chat about Prince later). I feel like every time I see Rangers highlights, you see shenanigans from Andrus and Beltre that are completely endearing.

6. Baltimore Orioles - When you are in the same division of the Red Sox and Yankees, you default to a favored team in my world. When your history includes the Iron Man, a legendary ballpark that now shares a name with my son, and a cool cartoon logo with a black-white-orange color scheme, you rise up even further. Just look at that lid on that man.

5. Toronto Blue Jays - When I was in college, the Lids store in the Foothills Mall was having a clearance sale. For $5, I picked up a Toronto Blue Jays cap as a tribute to the last bastion of Canadian hardball (RIP Montreal Expos). Like the Orioles, my love for the Blue Jays is an offset for my hatred of their rivals in Boston and New York. But the Blue Jays have Jose Batista (professional dinger smacker), Jason Grilli (former Rockie), Josh Donaldson (Bringer of Rain but not as good as Nolan), Melvin Upton Jr (my favorite Upton brother), and Troy Tulowitzki (still one of the greatest Rockies of all time). 

Courtesy of Whirl Magazine
4. Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pittsburgh Steelers can kick rocks. The Pittsburgh Penguins can pound sand. But there is something about the Pirates... Part of this ranking can be attributed to Clint Hurdle, who led the Rockies to the World Series before being fired and picking up the manager position in Pittsburgh. Some of this ranking can be attributed to PNC Park, which I have heard is absolutely stunning and rivals the beauty of Coors Field. As is the theme of most of this list - baseball is about the personalities. The Pirates can be included in that list as most of this ranking can be attributed to a guy that I long wished was playing for one of my favorite teams - Andrew McCutchen. Even as his impact has subsided the past few seasons, McCutchen plays the game with an infectious joy and I have loved the Cutch since his early years in the game. He is one of the few non-Twins and non-Rockies bobbleheads in my collection. 

3. Milwaukee Brewers - When one of your parents was raised outside of Milwaukee (the Good Land) and the other is a native of St. Paul, you tend to get pulled multiple directions on the sports front. It is hard to explain to people that you do not hate the Packers OR Vikings. In baseball, it is way easier - the Twins are in the American League and the Brewers are in the National League. They are not natural rivals, unlike their collegiate and NFL affiliates. I grew up adoring baseball because of my mom's dad. He lived his entire life in Wisconsin and loved the Brewers. Therefore, I will always be a fan of the Brew Crew. 

One of the years that Sarah was in school in Arizona, I went down to visit her during Spring Training (convenient). It was early enough that games had not started but the whole roster had reported and they were practicing. Since Sarah had class that day, I took her car and rolled over to the Brewers' camp. I got there before any baseball activities had started and I was lingering in the parking lot when the players came out of their locker room to head to the fields. At this particular facility, the players had to walk across the parking lot to get from the building to the fields. Professional autograph seekers (meaning a bunch of creepy retired old guys) had lined the path between the two locations in an attempt to get some signatures on their binders of baseball cards. I saw which field the players were heading towards, so I started walking that direction. As I converged with the players walking across the parking lot, I looked to my left and saw Prince Fielder walking a couple feet from me. He looked at me, looked down at my hands and saw they they were without any pens or memorabilia, and gave me a big old smile. I chatted with this surprisingly short MLB superstar for a minute or two as we approached the practice fields. He was such a nice dude. As the players walked through the gate, I found a great spot to watch practice and then proceeded to call my grandparents to give them the report for the upcoming season. I remember my grandpa being so excited that I was watching his team and he quizzed me on what seemed like the entire roster on their progress. Memories of those baseball conversations with my grandpa solidified Milwaukee's position at the top of these rankings. Plus, their old logo is the best and needs to be returned in a full-time capacity. 
Courtesy of CBS Sports
Courtesy of  Otto Greule Jr.
2. Minnesota Twins - Outside of my family, the Twins are the first thing that I remember connecting with as a child. I loved playing baseball as a kid, I loved watching baseball as a kid, I loved collecting baseball cards as a kid. I loved the entire sport. I happened to pick a great time to develop into a fan of the team of my birth state. I was about to turn five when the Twins won their first World Series in 1987. I was almost nine and had just moved to Colorado when they won their second in 1991. Because I was so young, I do not have a great personal recollection of those games. But there are images and moments and people that I remember vividly. I remember Kirby. I remember Hrbek. I remember Gaetti (in fact, I still own a faded plastic cup with his image on it). I remember ten innings of Jack Morris. I remember Danny Gladden getting flipped at home plate. I remember my excitement when my godmother bought me a complete set of 1988 Fleers that were numbered by the standings of the previous year, meaning my Twins were the first cards out of the box. That box of cards is sitting in my closet at my house right now. 

Courtesy of Star Tribune
Naturally, the organic devotion of a young fan will always keep me connected to the Twins. Through the years (even in the bleak stretch in the 90s), they had players that I loved like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Michael Cuddyer, Brad Radke, Scrappy Nick Punto, Shane Mack, old man tall sock with stirrups Jim Thome, Justin Morneau, and (of course) Joe Mauer. So why aren't the Twins number one on the list? Distance. Before Twitter could update me on every pitch and I could buy my own MLB cable package that gave you every game of the season, I had to follow teams through the newspapers, local television channels, the radio, sports almanacs (if you do not know what this is, you are younger than me and therefore a baby), magazines, and sports year in review VHS tapes. Living in Colorado, the local television and radio channels only talked about the local team. The almanacs and videos only gave you a glimpse of what was happening. Following a team remotely now is easy. Following the day to day operations of a team back then was not. 

1. Colorado Rockies - When Colorado finally reaped the rewards of their efforts to get an expansion team in Denver, I was only a couple years removed from a Twins World Series victory, I had just recently moved with my family to Littleton, and I gladly accepted the insertion of local baseball back into my life. From the moment they began playing games in Mile High Stadium in 1993, I had the access to a baseball team that I no longer had with the Twins. My close proximity to the Rockies allowed me to forge a connection with the players, coaches, and ballpark. A connection that is strengthened each subsequent year.

Courtesy of Denver Post
For the past 20+ years, I have watched each transaction, scrutinized every signing, tried to catch Dan O'Dowd outside my parent's church, half jokingly applied for a job with Bill Geivett (dodged a bullet there), attended countless games at Coors Field, and have lived and breathed Colorado Rockies baseball. I will gladly talk to anyone about the lineup put together by the manager, the impact of the bench coach on a rookie's hitting slump, the importance of Igloo cups in the history of the franchise, the immediate impact coming from front office decisions, the high quality of the Coors Field grounds crew, the game stats of the promising minor league prospects, why Game 163 was the greatest I have ever seen in person, the late game pitcher management of the coaching staff, the pitch selection of the day's starter, the defensive inadequacies of the Blake Street Bombers, why Todd Helton belongs in the Hall of Fame, or the off-the-field activities of Denny Neagle. The emergence of and my immersion in social media has only made things worse. Not only is the Rockies twitter feed one of the best in sports, their minor league affiliates have fantastic feeds as well. Add in the local and national baseball reporters, the SB Nation folks at Purple Row, the awesome Purple Dinosaur Podcast, and the smattering of buddies that are die-hard fans and I can dig up more content about this team on my iPhone than I could have gathered in a month during middle school. 
Courtesy of Mile High Sports
So there you have it. The definitive ranking out of the brain of the guy who once pulled a stocking cap over his face and ran into a light pole in a Target parking lot (true story). Now it is your turn.