For some of us, 1983 doesn’t feel that long ago. But in baseball terms, 35 years is a vast expanse.
Cal Ripken Jr. was a baby-faced 22 when the Orioles’ last World Series season kicked off. He’s been in the Hall of Fame for 11 years now. The steroid era came and went in that period. The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs ended the game’s most famous curses. Adam Jones, a veteran leader on the current Orioles, was still almost two years from being born when the franchise last ended its season with a champagne celebration.
Anyway, you get the point. It’s been a long time, and in the years since the Orioles last won, 20 franchises have claimed at least one World Series title. But that means they’re keeping company with nine other teams that have not.
Where do the Orioles rank among these 10 when it comes to the misery they’ve inflicted on themselves and their fans? Read on for an unscientific ranking.
10) Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays feel like a bit of a cheat because they did not stumble into existence until 1998, a full 15 years into the Orioles’ championship-free period. But give them credit for stumbling with gusto. They lost at least 90 games in each of their first 10 seasons and created one of the most lifeless home environments in the sport.
That said, the Rays became downright formidable from 2008 to 2013, when they made the playoffs four times and reached a World Series, which they lost in five games. They even generated some sabermetric buzz as the evolutionary successor to the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics.
The Rays have trended back toward mediocrity in recent seasons, but their failings don’t carry the gravitas to put them high on this list. If they still haven’t won a championship in 20 years, then we’ll talk.
The Rockies also lose misery points because they’ve only been around since 1993. They’re an odd case because they achieved respectability almost right away with a winning record in their third season, but they’ve won 90 or more games just twice in 25 years. They’ve made four playoff appearances and were swept in the 2007 World Series.
The Rockies face the eternal Coors Field conundrum. It’s the game’s most offense-friendly park and a cool setting, but the franchise has always struggled to tailor a roster to the extreme environment.
Colorado did win 87 games last year, so the hopelessness there is at a relative low ebb.
They began life as the Washington Senators in 1961 before moving to Texas in 1972. Remarkably enough, they didn’t make the playoffs a single time until 1996.
Then they began torturing their fans in a different way, building gifted young clubs that couldn’t get over the hump.
The Rangers made the playoffs three times in four years between 1996 and 1999 and then five times in seven years between 2010 and 2016. They made the World Series in 2010 and 2011, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games the latter year. Their teams have packed plenty of star power, from Nolan Ryan to Iván Rodríguez to Adrián Beltré.
No championships in 57 years screams hopeless, but the strong performance in recent years keeps them from the depths of futility.
7) Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles’ story differs from many on the list in that it’s truly a narrative of contrast. From 1960 to 1985, they were the most consistent club in baseball, posting 24 winning records in 26 years and making the playoffs eight times in that period. They were the emblem of baseball intelligence for an entire generation.
But in the more than three decades since, they’ve been a losing team more often than not. They dropped their first 21 games in 1988, finished below .500 every year from 1998 through 2011 and came truly close to a World Series return just once, in 1997.
The Orioles would have challenged the top of this list six years ago, before Buck Showalter, Adam Jones and Co. led a renaissance. But with the core of those recent teams in danger of breaking up, fans fear a return to mediocrity or worse, and 1983 feels further and further away.
Of all the teams on the list, the Pirates have the most in common with the Orioles. Their World Series drought is four years longer (fittingly, they beat Baltimore for that title in 1979). They sprung to life for two bursts of playoff success, one from 1990 to 1992 and the other from 2013 to 2015. But they posted losing records for 20 straight years between those two oases. They also play in an acclaimed downtown ballpark and have toiled in the shadow of a more successful NFL franchise.
They got an extra kick in the teeth when their greatest modern star, Barry Bonds, left for San Francisco in his prime.
It’s the familiar story of a proud franchise struggling for a consistent identity in the modern game.
Which dispirits a fan base more? A desperately mediocre club or a talent-laden one that consistently disappoints in the playoffs?
Washingtonians might argue for the latter after four playoff appearances in the past six years have each ended in the divisional round.
This franchise gets extra credit for tormenting two cities. Before they moved to Washington in 2005, the Montreal Expos made just one postseason appearance in 36 years. Like their D.C. successors, they fell short despite a wave of homegrown talent that included Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Vladimir Guerrero. Their best team lost its World Series chance to the 1994 work stoppage.
The final cherry is the District’s overall history as a baseball city. Combine the Nationals with various iterations of the Senators, and no Washington team has won the World Series since 1924.
It’s easy to overlook the underwhelming baseball played in San Diego — because the coast and the weather are so gorgeous, who cares?
But the Padres began play in 1969 and have made the postseason just five times in 49 seasons. They reached the World Series as a massive underdog in 1984 and again in 1998, but fell quietly in each case. At least they did it with a beloved signature star in Tony Gwynn.
The bleakest reality for Padres fans is the current trend line. The club hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and hasn’t achieved a winning record since 2010.
The Mariners have been a sneakily pitiful franchise considering the cluster of stars they brought to town in the 1990s and early 2000s. Did any fan base have a cooler quartet of players to root for than Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, young Álex Rodríguez and Ichiro Suzuki?
Led by those superstars, the Mariners made the playoffs four times in seven years and won 116 games in 2001, tying the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most single-season wins in major league history.
But in 41 seasons of existence, the Mariners have never even played in a World Series. They posted losing records in each of their first 14 seasons and haven’t made the playoffs since 2001. That’s a whole lot of ugly wrapped around one burst of success.
Talk about a baseball desert. The Brewers began life as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and moved to Milwaukee — a city with a proud baseball history — in 1970. They’ve made the playoffs a grand total of four times in 49 years. Their most tantalizing shot came in 1982, when they outlasted the Orioles in a dramatic pennant race and then pushed the Cardinals to seven games in the World Series.
But the Brewers have never made it back. The closest they came was a National League Championship Series appearance in 2011, and they’ve managed just six winning records in the past 25 seasons.
The Brewers did win 86 games last season and added several stars in the offseason. So hope springs anew in the land of racing sausages.
With the Red Sox and Cubs out of the way, the Indians are the current kings of the cursed. They haven’t won the World Series since 1948.
Like any truly vexing franchise, they’ve mixed periods of deep hopelessness with spectacular near-misses. There’s a reason the makers of “Major League” picked the Indians as the ultimate symbol of futility.
After they lost the 1954 World Series to Willie Mays and the New York Giants, they didn’t make it back to the postseason until 1995. And in most of those seasons, they didn’t come close.
Then they became an outstanding team with an armada of young hitting stars, making the playoffs six times in seven years and losing the 1997 World Series in seven games on an agonizing bloop hit. After a shorter down period, they’ve been terrific again in recent seasons. But they lost a memorable seven-game World Series to the aforementioned Cubs in 2016.
It’s the type of tortured drama only the Red Sox and a few other sports franchises could understand.