If you’re a pure baseball fan, you should care about, and root for parity.
Inevitably, each fan is going to gravitate and root for his or her “team”- that is completely natural. Rooting for your “team” inevitably is a package deal including natural rivalries built from divisional alignments and prior history. There are teams you do not want to see do well no matter the circumstances- e.g., Red Sox & Yankees, Dodgers & Giants, and most recently the Reds & Cardinals.
Aside from those heated rivalries, true fans of the game should appreciate and maybe even root for those teams whose recent history has not treated them so kindly and have had to deal with 15+ years of playoff droughts and irrelevance.
Every season, my brother and I informally discuss and pick teams that we think “would be cool if they were good.” Usually these teams are ones who have not been relevant in 6+ years, and especially teams who have had no real history of contending in 10-15 years.
Our informal tradition (#oxymoron) has seen some success over the years. Even as die-hard Red Sox fans, we grew tired of seeing the AL East brethren Devil Rays be a complete non-factor in any American League discussion or consideration. We saw that they were picking at the top of the draft class year after year and kept predicting that eventually those top picks would pan out and they would put something together. Well 2008 finally saw the Rays put it together and unfortunately the aforementioned top picks “put it together” against the Red Sox and saw the likes of B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and David Price swat and shut down the defending champions to finally make their presence known. The Tampa franchise has not looked back and have constantly been a thorn in the sides of the AL East Alphas ever since..
Even the successful and revered Baltimore Orioles found themselves in a rut of irrelevance and non-contention for a long span of recent history. From 1998-2011, the Orioles did not crack 80 wins in one single season. Near the end of this run even I began to feel bad. My brother and I discussed how it would be good to see them contend again and turn things somewhat around. They are a classic franchise with a beautiful and historic Camden Yards which will go down in history as ushering the era of new and modern ballpark boom. Despite all of this, they had barely scratched relevance in my conscious years as a mid-twenties baseball fan. To me they were basement dwellers who had a pretty storied history before I was close to joining this world.
The 2011 Orioles squad only scratched out 69 wins, but the 69th was quite the thorn in the Red Sox side and finished off the infamous “chicken and beer” collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. Since then, the Orioles have had the Red Sox number (to the tune of 24-13),finally made the playoffs in 2012 with 93 wins, and were in the thick of the race in 2013 with 85 wins.
First the Rays, now the Orioles...“Be careful what you ask for”, indeed.
For years and years, the two biggest teams in need of some relevance were the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. 2013 was amazing to finally see the Pirates break through after not having a winning season since 1992. Not only did they get their winning season, they popped off 93 wins and a playoff birth. It was so awesome to see suffering fans of Pittsburgh fill the breathtaking PNC Park with excitement and jubilation baseball fans in their city had not seen since I was 3 years old.
2013 capped off a stretch of nearly every team finally getting their fun in the sun. Even the Royals remained relevant until the end with 86 games.
As 2014 has begun, I have struggled to figure out who is left. Who “would be cool if they were good again”? There are not many teams that fit the bill.. The game has seen a great amount of parity in the last decade where nearly every team has had their year where they have had legitimate hope and were playing relevant games into late September and beyond.
Is it the Astros even though they made the World Series in 2005? They have been wretched the past few years, but they are stacking up their farm system heavily and they won 86 games in 2008.
The Rangers came from the toiling in the AL West basement for a few years to win back-to-back AL Pennants. The A’s have won back to back division titles after some down years. The 2010 Reds broke through after many years in the dumps and it was “cool that they were good again.” They have topped 90 games in 3 of the last 4 seasons. The Nationals have finally burst onto the scene following the same path as the Rays and their years of stacking top draft picks. The Indians broke out of their mini-drought in 2013.
Any of the teams that may fit into this category in 2014 have been relevant at some point in recent history. It now becomes a cyclical game to answer the question, because the teams remaining who are “due” to be good again were good 4-6 years ago. We are no longer seeing 10-15 year droughts. Most of the gaps have been closed and there is a healthy parity happening in baseball.
For now we are left with the Jays (85 wins ‘10), the Mariners (85 wins ‘09), the Cubs (97 wins in ‘08), Rockies (92 wins ‘09), Padres (90 wins ‘10) maybe the Astros despite their 2005 NL Pennant and 86 win 2008, and surprisingly the Twins who have turned in 3 straight 60 win seasons despite an amazingly consistent run in the 90s (even they won 94 as recently as 2010). That's a pretty short list and nothing that compares to some of the recently ended droughts by the Rays, Orioles, Reds, Pirates, and Royals.
One could argue that the Marlins and Mets belong in the list above, but the Marlins have secured two titles in their brief history, and along with the Mets, have horrible owners who are tough to root for. The Mets are a strong candidate for this list as they have not cracked 80 wins since ‘08 and have not cracked 90 since ‘06- but even then they were only a few breaks away from going to the World Series. It is hard for me to put them on the list as a huge-market team who should have no problem cracking 85 wins for just showing up.
Alas, there are no true stand-out teams this year for the “would be cool if they were good” award. There is a short list of teams who have had a 3-6 bad years. It is nothing like the droughts the Pirates, Royals, Rays, and Orioles were in the midst of for the bulk of the past two decades.
It is a great time to be a baseball fan knowing that your team has a good shot of making noise within a 3-4 year period. The expansion era has never seen such parity. Sure not every year is going to be roses, but things can turn around quickly. And if you happen to see another team that has hit hard times, feel free to root for them and think, “it would be cool if they were finally good again”- because they make for moments like this.