Saturday, June 7, 2008

Top 5 Major League Baseball Teams

Tim's Top 5:
I know, some people are purists and are able to have one team and only one team. Really, that’s fine if you grew up somewhere that had one team. I’m a migrant and have never lived in a city with any major non-collegiate sports team. And in any event, I could rank the top 30 in a relatively indisputable order if necessary. Obviously, such list is adjusted by how the team’s successes or failures affect the teams I actually like.

1. Cleveland Indians – Having grown up a Reds fan while living in Dayton, I can tell you the precise day when I knew I was more of an Indians fan than a Reds fan. March 22, 1993 – the day that Steve Olin and Tim Crews died in a boat crash in Winter Haven, home to Indians spring training. It was probably the most tragic news I could remember in baseball, and it really made me pull for the team to pull things together and do something. Well, they didn’t. They went 76-86 and finished sixth after finishing fourth the year before. They had Junior Ortiz, Alvaro Espinoza and Felix Fermin as everyday players and Jose Mesa was their best starting pitcher. But I was hooked on the misery and finally gave up on the Reds, who had traded my favorite player (Eric Davis, hence my propensity for injury) after the 1991 season and let my next favorite Red go in free agency in 1992 (Greg Swindell). The Reds still have my interest and I remember listening to pre-Clear Channel Marty and Joe on WLW, but it’s not the same now.

2. Cincinnati Reds – I grew up in Reds country, my early baseball memories all revolve around Riverfront, and they’ve always had likeable players. Their new stadium was a huge disappointment to me and they have a habit of making only two kinds of moves – terrible moves (trading Sean Casey for Dave Williams, hiring Dan O’Brien, hiring Wayne Krivsky, hiring Bob Boone, hiring Dusty Baker) or moves that seemed like good moves that would turn out to be devoid of substance (acquiring Griffey).

3. Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies are a team you can pull for because of the people that have been associated with the team since I moved here. Rollins and Utley are amazing athletes and great players, they have guys like Chris Coste playing significant roles, and Citizens Bank Park is hands down my favorite stadium in the Majors. My first playoff game was the Phillies opener against the Rockies last year, and the only real happy memories I have of Major League games are all Phillies games at Citizens Bank Park (I can’t remember a single Reds win at Riverfront, though I’m sure I saw at least one in the dozen or more games I attended).

4. Washington Nationals – The difference between #3 and #4 is approximately the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it. The Expos would have been my number 3 team for much of my lifetime, but moving around Philadelphia forced me to appreciate some sporting aspect of the town, and obviously the Phillies are the only non-hateworthy team in the mix (lord, I loathe the Eagles and their fans). My love for the Expos was longstanding before they moved to D.C., my hope to move to D.C. helps force me to at least root for them to not fold before I get there (or after), and they acquired Austin Kearns, which was all I really needed before I became the owner of a Nationals jersey. That said, their fans are lousy to non-existent, the plan of putting a stadium in D.C., while something I would appreciate, is utterly impractical for a commuter city of government employees who work until 5 and drive to Rockville or Alexandria or the nutjobs who live in Frederick or Baltimore.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates – The difference between #4 and #5…see #4. The Pirates are a likeable team because they’re not the Steelers, they have no history of success in my lifetime, and they have a really nice stadium in a great location. The real secret here is that when I was interviewing for a job in Pittsburgh a couple years ago (and thus wearing a suit), I wandered down to PNC Park to kill some time before the interview and someone asked me if I worked in the front office. It was one of the greatest moments of my otherwise empty and hollow shell of a life. He even seemed like he'd be impressed to meet someone who worked with Dave Littlefield, as opposed to someone who accurately perceived how evil that would make such a person.

Honorable mention: Kansas City Royals. I don’t hate them. I used to sort of like them. But they have a way of losing 100 games and then meeting the Indians in late September and sweeping them right out of contention. I like most of their players now, and I wish them no specific ill.

Ryan's Top Five

1. Kansas City Royals - The story of the Royals' downfall is a veritable tragedy to those who care about baseball in Kansas City, and that is a number ever-dwindling thanks to the cruel Cycle of Ineptitude that has permeated the organization since Kauffman died. Kansas City used to be a baseball town. The Royals and the Yankees used to battle year after year. Now KC is a football town, which is dangerous when your football team sucks so much. (Here's something I never thought I'd say in life: of my four primary teams that I follow--Royals, Chiefs, Jayhawk Basketball, Jayhawk Football--I have the least amount of hope for the Chiefs [read: over KU FOOTBALL].) The Royals really need to play their cards right (their cards are shitty '91 Fleer cards, incidentally) to contend in the next few years; pitching will hopefully be solid (lots of prospects in the minors, 2-3 should pan out), but there are absolutely no hitters that aren't a long way's away. We need to luck out on a free agent signing (a la Josh Hamilton) or pray that Moustakas and Hosmer have Pujols-like ascendancy. Bah. I have more hope now when Allard Baird and Buddy Bell were here, but it's such an uphill battle. Some of my fondest childhood memories are going to watch George Brett, Jeff Montgomery, Bret Mark Gubicza, Bo Jackson, Danny Tartabull, David Cone (the strike really killed baseball for me for almost a decade), etc.

2. San Diego Padres - OK, I don't frantically check the box scores for the Padres like I do the Royals. But yeah, I lived in San Diego during my formative years--92-93, when baseball was king for me--and I went to a number of games. I still root for the Padres whenever it matters, and I do have a soft spot for teams that play in pitchers' parks. (I don't honestly know why.) I like Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez for fantasy reasons.

3. Chicago Cubs - I've been a Royals fan for my entire life, but for the first half of it the Cubs were in second place (though, admittedly, not a very close second). When I was a kid the only baseball I got to consistently watch was the Cubs on WGN, and Harry Caray was a fixture in our household. I also loved Ryne Sandberg even if I never could quite grasp why everyone pronounced his name wrong. (Ryan Fox had rosy misconceptions about "Ryan Sandberg" being in his first-name gang.) I also loved Shawon Dunston and Andre Dawson, and Sammy Sosa before he got on the flaxseed oil. Nowadays, I'm relatively indifferent to the Cubs, but I'd probably cheer for them over most AL opponents in a World Series. Oh yeah, and my mom's from Chicago originally.

4. Tampa Bay Rays - I really like all of their players (now that Elijah Dukes is gone) and I admire what they've accomplished, at long last. And you really have to like a team that fights with both the Yankees AND the Red Sox.

5. Milwaukee Brewers - No specific reason other than a general admiration for a lot of their current players.

Honorable Mentions: Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians. I loathe Chicago and Detroit much more than the Royals' other two AL Central competitors. As often as the Twins beat us, I will always agree that they play the game the right way, consistently (at least they do against us). I liked Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, and Omar Vizquel as a kid. And two of my good friends (Tim and Ben) like the Indians and have the courtesy not to be douchebags (read: Cardinals fans) about it.

Note: The Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves would round out the Bottom 5, if we ever do that list.

Dan's Top 5:

Likewise, I have never lived in an area with a non-collegiate professional sports team. So I can identify with Tim.

1. Chicago Cubs - I started liking the Cubs by meeting a rabid Cubs fan during my sophomore year of college. I had an asshole roommate, and I was looking for any and every excuse to get out of my dorm room. Well, this was 2003, meaning that my newfound friend and I had our hopes dashed in the NL Championship Series. Ever since, I've been embracing a self-destructive relationship with my now beloved Cubs. They also have a rivalry with the White Sox and the Cardinals, which fits nicely with #2 on my list...

2. Kansas City Royals - Ryan is mortally bonded to this team, and since they're in the AL, they are no consistent threat to my Cubs in the NL. (I prefer the NL, for the record. Designated hitter my ass.) I would have no other affection for them except that I saw my first - and to this date only - major league baseball game at Kauffman Stadium with Ryan. Therefore, I have to put them pretty high. They may have lost and it may have been horrendously hot, but you never forget your first ball game. Especially when you're 22.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates - My grandmother was originally from Pittsburgh, so I guess they were the official baseball team to like, except that nobody in the family really liked baseball. Oh yeah, and the Pirates have had a losing season every year since I learned how to multiply numbers together (I am now starting a Ph.D. in Engineering). But when I was a kid, I had a T-shirt with Barry Bonds (the nice version) and Bobby Bonilla on it. I was too young to be paying attention, but apparently the Pirates were good back in those days. I've been sort of hoping that the Pirates can come back and compete one of these days, but not until my Cubs win the World Series.

4. Philadelphia Phillies - I do not like this team. I don't dislike them either. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about them. I can't even tell you which league they're in without looking it up. OK, they're in the NL East. Thanks, Wikipedia. So why are they on my list? Simple - I am living right smack in the middle of Pennsylvania for the next three years - 3 hours to Pittsburgh, 3.5 hours to Philly - so I might as well keep my options open regarding which baseball team I like. The outlook is dim for the Pirates, even though I seem to remember hearing that most people in the area would favor them over the Phillies. I think I had better start learning the names of Phillies players and managers, and why they suck (the duty of every fan).

5. New York Yankees - Yeah, I know they're evil. But the Yankees interrupted their spring training schedule this year (something I'm told most players hate to do) to come to our shitty little college ball field and play the Virginia Tech baseball team after that shooting incident we all went through. And all the players were class acts, and there were no complaints. A-Rod (whom I still admire, since he was my first ever fantasy draft pick) even said it was the most important game he'd ever play. I don't give a damn if they win a game during the regular season or not, but I earned enough respect for them to at least put them on the list.

Honorable Mention: Yeah, I was on the Red Sox bandwagon in 2003. I still don't rabidly hate them, but I can't believe how quickly they fell out of favor with me.

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