When the New Orleans Saints beat the Vikings on Sunday — and I still can’t quite believe the Vikes let that one get away — they were happily crossed off an even-dwindling list: Professional football, basketball and baseball teams that have never reached their sport’s championship finals.
In the NFL, that misery index is now down to three: the Cleveland Browns (who began play in 1999), Jacksonville Jaguars (1995) and Houston Texans (2002). Note that I’m referring to the new Cleveland Browns; the old Browns played in seven NFL title games in the 1950s, winning three, and also won a Super Bowl in their Baltimore Ravens incarnation. And also note that while the Detroit Lions have never been in a Super Bowl, they did win three NFL championships in the 1950s, and also lost to the Browns in the 1954 finals.
In the NBA, seven teams have never made the NBA finals: the Buffalo Braves/San Diego-Los Angeles Clippers (formed in 1970), Denver Nuggets (1976), Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets (1988), Minnesota Timberwolves (1989), Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (1995), Toronto Raptors (1995) and Charlotte Bobcats (2004).
In MLB, the list of teams never to experience the World Series has lost several members in recent years — the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Angels in 2002, the Astros in 2005, and the Rays in 2008. That’s four teams biting the (gold) dust in an eight-year span. (Update: I somehow forgot the Rockies in 2007; that makes five in eight years)
And now, only three teams remain that have never advanced to the Fall Classic: the Texas Rangers (born in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators, then moved to Arlington in 1972), the Washington Nationals (born in 1969 as the Montreal Expos) and, yes, the Seattle Mariners (born 1977).
The Nationals, coming off seasons of 103 and 102 losses, obviously have a major rebuilding job ahead before they can seriously contend for the World Series. Stephen Strasburg is a nice piece to start with, and they will once again pick No. 1 overall in this year’s draft with a shot at phenom catcher Bryce Harper. But the Nats realistically are far behind in this race.
The Mariners and Rangers have more realistic aspirations of ending their World Series schneid. For all the optimism that currently surrounds the Mariners, and the giddiness over the acumen of GM Jack Zduriencik, it’s easy to forget that the Rangers won 87 games last year — two more than the Mariners. They, too, have a forward-thinking GM in Jon Daniels. The Rangers out-bid the Mariners this winter for Rich Harden, who is one healthy year away from a breakout (heard that one before, right?). They also added Vlad Guerrero to be DH, signed Colby Lewis out of Japan to join the rotation, augmented their bullpen with Darren Oliver and Chris Ray, and signed Khalil Greene to be a utility man. Departing was Kevin Millwood to Baltimore in a trade, and free agents Marlon Byrd, signed by the Cubs, and Andruw Jones, signed by the White Sox. The Rangers have developed one of the best farm systems in baseball, feeding them exciting players like shortstop Elvis Andrus, new center fielder Julio Borbon, and phenom pitcher Neftali Feliz, with more on the way.
But the biggest change with the Rangers might be the ownership transition from Tom Hicks, the man who lived to rue the day he gave Alex Rodriguez $252 million, to the tandem of Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan (pictured at the top of this blog). Columnist Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram interviewed Ryan about his goals as a co-owner, and they are ambitious:
“The main responsibility for me is to make the Rangers one of the premier organizations in baseball, one that plays for championships and wins championships,” he said.
“That’s the only way to measure success. We know what the history has been here, but now we are in charge of changing that history. It has to change. I want to see that happen and I want to be a part of it.”
One other thing …
“If we don’t win the division this season, I will be extremely disappointed. I think we should win the division,” said Ryan.
The Mariners also believe they have positioned themselves to win. And now both teams are among those who appear to be vying for free-agent Ben Sheets (along with another AL West team, the A’s. The Mets and Cubs are also involved, tweets former Nationals’ GM Jim Bowden).
Let the race to the World Series continue.
(Photo by Associated Press)