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Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Welcome back to the Misery Index

By Jim Caple
Page 2

The bad news for Cubs and Indians fans is that if misery truly loves company, they won't have as many teams coming over for barbecues anymore. The worse news is misery is still sleeping on their couches.

Off Base

In the years since I compiled my original baseball Misery Index in 2004 -- ranking the teams on historic despair, recent despair, historic pain, recent pain, intangible misery and misery outlook (see the Six Facets of Misery) -- four clubs in the Top 10 ended their misery with World Series victories (the Red Sox, White Sox, Phillies and Giants); two more reached the World Series (Astros and Rangers); and one team moved to D.C. to abandon its old misery and create new misery (Expos/Nationals).

In other words, it's time for a Misery update.

Thanks to two World Series wins, the Red Sox plummeted from sixth to 27th on the Misery Index, and one title apiece sent the White Sox from fourth to 15th, the Giants from eighth to 20th and the Phillies from seventh to 24th. And the Expos, who previously held the No. 1 slot, took out a lease on the No. 23 position in Washington. Just like your junior college credits did not all transfer to the expensive four-year university, Montreal's misery points did not all transfer to Washington, D.C. In this age of $25 airline baggage fees, it pays to travel light.

Even though teams moved up the rankings to take the places of those teams, as the Rangers can attest, the Top 10 or even the Top 15 neighborhoods aren't nearly as miserable as they previously were. I wouldn't be surprised if their neighborhoods even have a Starbucks now. In fact, despite the Pirates and Royals, the total number of misery points plunged from 935 in the first index to 730½. And remember, this is a completely scientific ranking!

Bud Selig is telling the truth. Baseball really is a happier port than it was just six or so years ago. Although fans in Cleveland, Wrigleyville and Pittsburgh might disagree.

The updated Misery Index II (with original rank in parenthesis)

1. Chicago Cubs (3): Congratulations, Cubs fans! You're finally first in something, replacing the Expos at the top of the Misery Index. The Expos left their decades of misery behind in Montreal (along with Youppi!) when they moved to D.C., but you're still in Chicago -- and judging by the Cubs survivors I speak with, you're more miserable than ever. It's been more than 100 years since your last world championship, 66 years since your last World Series and, worst of all, barely a year since general manager Jim Hendry's last bonehead move. Oprah could tape her last show at Wrigley and give away free pallets of beer kegs, and Cubs fans still would be groaning about Alfonso Soriano's contract. Can't say I blame them.

Historic despair: 10. Recent despair: 8. Historic pain: 7. Recent pain: 8. Intangible misery: 8. Misery outlook: 7. Misery index: 48.

2. Cleveland Indians (2): Cleveland hasn't won a World Series since 1948, and its only appearances have been embarrassing (swept despite a then-record 111 regular-season wins in 1954) or painful (Jose Mesa!!!!!) in 1997. And since the initial Misery Index, Cleveland has traded away two Cy Young winners while completely disintegrating after leading the 2007 ALCS 3-1. Cleveland likely would have edged the Cubs for the top spot but unfortunately, LeBron doesn't play baseball.

Historic despair: 10. Recent despair: 6. Historic pain: 7. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 10. Misery outlook: 7. Misery index: 46.

3. Milwaukee Brewers (5): They blew a Game 7 lead in their only World Series and have reached the postseason only once in the 29 years since then (they lost the first series, then lost their best pitcher to free agency). It's a wonder the fans -- who still show up in astounding numbers -- don't rise up and tear down the new statue of Bud Selig, the man who once offered Paul Molitor a pay cut.

Historic despair: 8. Recent despair: 8. Historic pain: 6. Recent pain: 5. Intangible misery: 7. Misery outlook: 6. Misery index: 40.

4. Houston Astros (9): Houston is a good case study for the nuances of the Misery Index. As Red Sox fans can -- and unfortunately will -- explain at great length, reaching the World Series doesn't necessarily reduce misery if you don't win. Sure enough, Houston finally reached the World Series for the first time in 2005, something that probably would have satisfied Cubs fans until Chicago finally ran out of B-list celebrities to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." But the Astros got swept in that series, losing two games by one run (including a 1-0 clincher) and a third in 14 innings (Geoff Blum!!!!). The Astros haven't been to the World Series since while going through four managers and losing Biggio and Bagwell to retirement. So that, plus the success of other teams, which lowered the others' misery numbers, means Houston's Misery Index rank actually went up, just like beer prices.

Historic despair: 6. Recent despair: 4. Historic pain: 9. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 8. Misery outlook: 5.5. Misery index: 38.5.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (12). Since the first Misery Index, they've added seven more losing seasons to what is now 18 in a row, a major league record. And sadly, it's soon to be 19. You know a team is in miserable shape when the best news in recent years is finding a videotape of a 50-year-old World Series game.

Historic despair: 6. Recent despair: 10. Historic pain: 4. Recent pain: 4. Intangible misery: 6. Misery outlook: 8. Misery index: 38.

6. Seattle Mariners (14) Since the last Misery Index, Edgar Martinez retired, the Mariners added two 101-loss seasons, failed to draft Tim Lincecum, screwed up a chance to pick Stephen Strasburg, signed Carlos Silva to a huge contract and traded him for Milton Bradley and his even larger contract, changed managers six times and, not too surprisingly, Seattle still hasn't reached the World Series -- the only team apart from the Nationals not to have done so.

Historic despair: 8. Recent despair: 7. Historic pain: 5. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 5.5. Misery outlook: 6. Misery index: 37.5.

7. San Diego Padres (11): The Padres still haven't won a World Series, have added two division series losses and two heart-crushing, final-day-of-the-season playoff eliminations (they blew a 6½-game, late-August lead this past season) since the last Index, and still have those mustard-and-brown uniforms in their past.

Historic despair: 8. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 4. Recent pain: 7. Intangible misery: 7. Misery outlook: 6. Misery index: 35.

8. Kansas City Royals (18): It's been more than a quarter century since the Royals reached the postseason, almost two decades since George Brett retired, eight years since they had a winning season and, sadly, just three weeks since they traded away their best player (again). And worse, you just know they'll trade away several best players in yet another rebuilding phase before the next Misery Index.

Historic despair: 3. Recent despair: 9. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 6. Misery outlook: 7. Misery index: 34.

9. Detroit Tigers (13). They bounced back from a 119-loss season just before the original Misery Index to go to the World Series in 2006, then experienced one of the epic regular-season collapses in 2009 when they blew a three-game lead with four to go and lost a 12-inning playoff game to Minnesota. Oh, and they're constantly exposed to manager Jim Leyland's secondhand smoke.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 6. Historic pain: 5. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 5. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 31.

10. Texas Rangers (10): Tom Hicks is gone, and Nolan Ryan is minority owner. And despite losing the World Series, their first American League pennant is still a fresh enough memory that fans will be happily wearing their Claw and Antler T-shirts under their $100 Super Bowl XLV sweatshirts when the game is played in Arlington next month.

Historic despair: 7. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 4. Recent pain: 4. Intangible misery: 6. Misery outlook: 3. Misery index: 27.

11. Baltimore Orioles (26): The majority of their history remains envious and Camden Yards is still heavenly, but after 13 consecutive losing seasons -- geez, not even their predecessor, the St. Louis Browns, managed that -- Baltimore fans wouldn't mind if the Irsay family backed up the U-Hauls in the middle of the night again and drove off with Peter Angelos tied up in the trunk.

Historic despair: 3. Recent despair: 7. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 4. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 6. Misery index: 26.

12. New York Mets (20): Shea Stadium, home to the greatest moments and fondest memories in Mets history, is now nothing but a parking lot. So New York fans have that going for them despite recent seasons that have made Mr. Met's head swell even further.

Historic despair: 4. Recent despair: 2. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 4.5. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 23.5.

13. Minnesota Twins (15): Since the last Misery Index, the Twins have reached the postseason four times but failed to get past the first round and have lost nine consecutive playoff games to the Yankees. On the other hand, they moved out of the Metrodome. (And just in time, I'd say.) It's hard to be too miserable when you're sitting inside a wonderful ballpark, spooning up hearty wild rice soup and watching Joe Mauer walk up to the plate. Although it isn't all that hard if the Twins are blowing another lead to the Yankees.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 4. Recent pain: 5. Intangible misery: 4. Misery outlook: 2. Misery index: 23.

14. Colorado Rockies (17): They had one of the most exciting runs in baseball history to reach the World Series in 2007. Sure, they got swept, but they're still competitive, and if fans ever get too down, they can just listen for 10 minutes to manager Jim Tracy, who, to steal a line from an old colleague, could find a silver lining in a mushroom cloud. Or they could just go drink at that fabulous brewpub in right field.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 2. Recent pain: 3. Intangible misery: 5. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 22.

15. Chicago White Sox (4): I have the ultimate respect for White Sox fans. They were as miserable as the Cubs and Red Sox fans ever were but always had the good decency to keep it to themselves. And when they finally won the World Series, they celebrated without annoying every other fan in the country.

Historic despair: 8. Recent despair: 1. Historic pain: 4. Recent pain: 1. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 21.

16. Cincinnati Reds (24): They waited 15 years to get into the postseason again, then got no-hit in their first game. So, although things are definitely improving, Big Red Machine 2.0 isn't quite fully operational. Yet.

Historic despair: 3.5. Recent despair: 4. Historic pain: 2. Recent pain: 3.5. Intangible misery: 4.5. Misery outlook: 3. Misery index: 20.5.

17. Los Angeles Angels (19): Every year since 2002, it gets just a little more difficult to remember all the misery these fans silently suffered for so long. Good for them.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 2. Historic pain: 7. Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 2. Misery outlook: 2. Misery index: 20.

18. Oakland Athletics (21): If the Athletics don't return to contention this summer, at least fans can go see "Moneyball," the most eagerly awaited baseball movie since Kevin Costner had hair. Funny, though, how the storyline of "Moneyball" was more appealing when Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson were in the rotation.

Historic despair: 3. Recent despair: 3.5. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 4.5. Misery index: 19.

19. Atlanta Braves (28): Note to Atlanta fans -- Cleveland fans don't want to hear about how you won so many games and went to so many consecutive postseasons but won the World Series only once. Cubs and Mariners fans probably don't want to hear it, either.

Historic despair: 4. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 3. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 2.5. Misery index: 18.5.

20. San Francisco Giants (8): Winning a World Series doesn't completely erase all the misery of the past. But it certainly helps.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 0. Historic pain: 8.5. Recent pain: 0. Intangible misery: 3.5. Misery outlook: 1. Misery index: 18.

21. Los Angeles Dodgers (22): The biggest question about the messy McCourt divorce? Will Dodgers fans be compensated for the mental anguish the co-owners inflicted on them? ("No" would be a good guess.)

Historic despair: 3. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 3. Intangible misery: 2.5. Misery outlook: 3. Misery index: 17.5.

22. Toronto Blue Jays (25): Toronto has a proud history, but Joe Carter's home run seems further and further in the past. I think the Jays might be happier in another division.

Historic despair: 2. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 3. Recent pain: 3. Intangible misery: 2. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 17.

23. Washington Nationals (1). Although the Expos left their 50 misery points and top billing behind in Montreal, Washington fans get bonus credit for having previous miserable teams leave town on them. Those points would be higher if more people had actually attended their games (the Senators drew 655,000 fans the year before they moved to Arlington) or were alive when they left (the previous Senators squad moved to Minnesota in 1961). The Nationals also lose misery points for getting Stephen Strasburg in the draft but gain points for his getting hurt. The Nationals have yet to have a winning season, but with so many great young players, the future holds promise for much better times … or more misery-inducing injuries.

Historic despair: 3.5 (bonus from Senators days). Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 3 (again, Senators bonus). Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 2. Misery outlook: 3. Misery index: 16.5

24. Philadelphia Phillies (7): With a world championship, two World Series and four postseason appearances in the past four years, plus a starting rotation that is now the ultimate power in the universe, the only misery left for Philadelphia fans is if Matthew Clemmens intentionally vomited on them.

Historic despair: 5.5. Recent despair: 1. Historic pain: 4.5. Recent pain: 1. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 1. Misery index: 16.

25. Tampa Bay Rays (16): The "Devil" Rays never had a winning season. The Rays, however, have had three winning seasons in as many years, reaching the postseason twice and the World Series once. Plus, there isn't much misery when you don't have enough fans who care one way or the other.

Historic despair: 5. Recent despair: 2. Historic pain: 1. Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 3.5. Misery outlook: 2. Misery index: 15.5.

26. Florida Marlins (27): Two World Series championships in 18 seasons. Their fans can afford to sit through some rain delays and fire sales.

Historic despair: 2. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 2. Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 3. Misery outlook: 3. Misery index: 15.

27. Red Sox (6): Their Misery Index has plummeted from No. 6 to 27. The misery has skyrocketed, however, for anyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with a Boston fan.

Historic despair: 3. Recent despair: 0. Historic pain: 9. Recent pain: 0. Intangible misery: 2.5. Misery outlook: 0. Misery index: 14.5.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks (29): We hope Arizona fans still enjoy that World Series the team won in its fourth season of existence. Because they're still paying for it. And I mean literally. Arizona still owes Matt Williams money, though his last game was in 2003, and must pay Bernard Gilkey (last game 2000) until 2017.

Historic despair: 2. Recent despair: 3. Historic pain: 1. Recent pain: 2. Intangible misery: 2. Misery outlook: 4. Misery index: 14.

29. St. Louis Cardinals (23): They have a terrific history, went to the 2004 World Series, won the 2006 World Series and have the best hitter in the game. What do St. Louis fans have to be miserable about? Well, as if it weren't bad enough to have yet another book on Tony La Russa, they're threatening to make "Three Nights in August" into a movie.

Historic despair: 2. Recent despair: 2. Historic pain: 2. Recent pain: 3. Intangible misery: 2. Misery outlook: 2. Misery index: 13.

30. Yankees (30): Oh, c'mon. Please. Like it was going to be anyone else?

Historic despair: 0. Recent despair: 0. Historic pain: 0. Recent pain: 0. Intangible misery: 5*. Misery outlook: 0. Misery index: 5.

* Remember, they do have to hang out with other Yankees fans.

CSI: BOX SCORE

I normally give you a fragment from an old box score. This time I give you almost the entire box score. But your challenge is the same. Why was this game significant? I give this a degree of difficulty of 5.0. Answer below.

BASEBALL CARD OF THE WEEK

Hoffman
Trevor seemed to do OK when he decided to put the bat down and take the mound.

Now, here's an interesting card (1989 Billings Mustangs team set). It shows all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman -- but he's holding a bat. That's because Hoffman began his career as a shortstop in the Reds organization. He didn't show much power -- one home run in his first season (1989) -- and didn't hit for much of an average (.212 in 1990), but he had a pretty good arm, and the Reds converted him to a pitcher in 1991. You could say that move worked out for him. Hoffman retired Tuesday, two decades later, after making seven All-Star teams, finishing second in the Cy Young twice, recording a record 601 saves and earning more than $80 million for himself and substantial royalties for AC/DC (for roughly 500 broadcasts of "Hells Bells").

Congratulations on your career, Trevor. Frequent readers know I'm not big on closers, but you were always a class act and a great representative of the game.

DONNY, YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT

• Now that we know the Hall of Fame's Class of 2011, how do future classes look? Here's a look. The best new player on the ballot next year is Bernie Williams, but I don't think he'll make it. So Barry Larkin likely needs to continue his surge for there to be a player elected next year. And if you think the debate over steroids and Cooperstown was heated this year, wait until 2013, when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza go on the ballot, along with Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio. Biggio probably will go in right away, but I'm not sure how many others will (though most clearly belong). Then, in 2014, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent hit the ballot (Maddux and Glavine are automatics). Finally, in 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield join a very, very crowded ballot. And if people haven't realized the problem with a 10-player limit now, they will by then.

• John Franco didn't receive the minimum 5 percent to stay on the ballot, and Lee Smith has been treading water for a few years; these are pretty good signs that writers are beginning to realize how overrated the save is as a statistic and the closer role is in general. I think the only currently active or retired closers who will one day reach Cooperstown are Mariano Rivera and Hoffman -- and I'm not so sure Hoffman is a slam dunk.

• I saw the movie "Somewhere" over the weekend, and we can now officially classify Sofia Coppola as a one-hit wonder. She's like the Angel Berroa of movie directors. Berroa won the 2003 Rookie of the Year, then got worse every year after that and wound up in AAA Fresno for 2010. Coppola was Oscar-nominated in 2003 for her sublime "Lost in Translation" but hasn't come close to following up with a good movie since. The best review I read of "Somewhere" was critic Lindy West, who wrote in The Stranger that she liked the movie when it was a lot better and called "Lost in Translation." She's right. "Somewhere" really is a complete rehash of "LiT," except each reworking of a previous element is slower, more ponderous, more pretentious and without an ounce of humor. It's like a team that wins the World Series one year, then tries to repeat things by simply playing the same schedule the next year without re-signing the best players (think the 1998 or 2004 Marlins) or playing with real inspiration. And it really makes you appreciate the performance of Bill Murray as the staff ace in "Lost in Translation" (his performance was the equivalent of Ron Guidry's 25-3, 1.74 ERA in 1978). C'mon, Sofia. You're better than this. We get that you're from a movie family. Maybe next time you can direct a film about something other than the burden of fame and the refuge of expensive hotels and chateaus. Hmmm, maybe something about wine-making?

Anna Benson
While major league batters will be sad to see Kris Benson's arm retire, everyone will miss Anna.

• Also retiring this week was Kris Benson, the top pick in the 1996 draft, who finishes his career with a 70-75 record, 4.42 ERA and nearly $40 million in earnings. But he'll probably be best remembered for being married to Anna Benson, who once infamously declared that if she ever caught Kris cheating, she would sleep with every one of his Mets teammates, plus the coaches and the bat boy. Kris is retiring, and somewhere many men are mourning.

CSI: BOX SCORE ANSWER

This was the game in which Robbie Alomar was ejected for spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck. I almost didn't run it because now -- one week after Alomar was elected to the Hall of Fame -- didn't seem like the most appropriate time to bring it up. But what an amazing box score. Alomar ejected. The two Ripkens turning a double play for the final time. Brady Anderson hitting the 49th of his "curious" 50 home run season (he hit 16 the previous season and 18 the next). John Olerud hit by a pitch by Scott Erickson. Eddie Murray's last hit as an Oriole.

But the controversial thing was the spitting incident, which I always thought was overblown. Was it bad? Yes. Should Alomar have been suspended then and there? Yes. And had he been, I think the outrage would have died a quick natural death. Instead, it became a dragged-out story blown so much out of proportion you would have thought it was the one on creatine instead of Brady. I mean, calm down -- Babe Ruth once slugged an umpire in the face! Fortunately, Alomar and Hirschbeck patched things up afterward. And if Hall of Fame voters still held it against him 14 years later, well, too bad. Because he's going into Cooperstown this summer, and it's well-deserved.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter at jimcaple.


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