I grew up rooting for a baseball team that at best was not quite good enough and not infrequently was just god-awful, and whose rivals, the spawn of Satan down south and the carpetbaggers across the bay, were often successful in spite, or perhaps because of, their manifest evil. (In retrospect, hiring front office staff using criteria other than “can put booze away fast enough to keep up with the owner” may have been a factor as well.)

Thus I became fascinated with futility …

and have been keeping track, ever since, of just how futile various teams have been. Just as an example, here’s a chart of how long it has been since each team won a World Series or a pennant. Having gone without winning for 25 years or more is in blue, 50 years or more in purple, 75 years or more in red.

Team World Series Pennant
A’s 1989 1990
Angels 2002 2002
Astros never (est. 1962) 2005
Blue Jays 1993 1993
Braves 1995 1999
Brewers never (est. 1969) 1982
Cardinals 2011 2011
Cubs 1908 1945
Diamondbacks 2001 2001
Dodgers 1988 1988
Giants 2012 2012
Indians 1948 1997
Mariners never (est. 1977) never (est. 1977)
Marlins 2003 2003
Mets 1986 2000
Nationals never (est. 1969) never (est. 1969)
Orioles 1983 1983
Padres never (est. 1969) 1998
Phillies 2008 2009
Pirates 1979 1979
Rangers never (est. 1961) 2011
Rays never (est. 1998) 2008
Red Sox 2007 2007
Reds 1990 1990
Rockies never (est. 1993) 2007
Royals 1985 1985
Tigers 1984 2012
Twins 1991 1991
White Sox 2005 2005
Yankees 2009 2009

That is, while Pirates and Royals fans might have good reasons to feel cursed, by comparison their teams are the Yankees.

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. I resisted reading this post, because I know nothing about sports, but as we know, Resistance is Futile.

    When you say “I…have been keeping track, ever since, of just how futile various teams have been. Just as an example…”

    Am I to infer this is only *one* metric of futility that you have been tracking? How many axes of futility are there, and can you draw any conclusions about what makes a team especially futility-prone?

    “To win, you need to be skilled, work hard, have lots of money, and good luck. To lose? Pull up a chair, son, the reasons are many and complex.”

    • There are others, like years between pennants, consecutive losing seasons, consecutive years in the second division, etc. Some of it is luck, e.g. the Giants of the 60s were good enough to win championship, but every year, another team did slightly better, which is why they finished second five years in a row. But mostly it’s ineptitude at the top: inability to evaluate and attract talent.

      • I think that uears between titles is a poor metric. By definition, you are always going to have at least 5 teams with a 25+ year drought. And, as you note, a team can be very good and still not secure a title. That is little solace to fans who want to see them hoist a trophy, but it is better than the extended periods of sub-.500 ball some teams are mired in.

        • When it’s more than 100 years (or more than 80, as with the two Sox teams until recently) something is going on.

          • Agreed. Which is why I’d say highlighting 75 year droughts is meaningful but 25 year droughts are statistically guaranteed to happen.

          • OK, point out some of the franchises that havent won a pennant in 25 years (and yes, I just moved the goalposts a bit) that you think have been well-run and successful during that period but unlucky.

          • The Twins are at 22 years and have generally been well run given their financial constraints. MVPs, division titles, stable coaching.

            The A’s and Reds are both at 23 years. The former has been a model franchise for at least part of that time but could never get past the Yanks. They also face real financial obstacles. Schott was a legit nut in the Reds’ FO but has been gone a long time and the team has been run competently in terms of on-field decision making.

          • Shifting a bit, my team, the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl but have been a model organization for the better part of two decades. But they couldn’t get over the hump despite spending several years as a top 3 team. It happens. I’ve never thought of them as futile. Well, maybe a few times when Andy Reid had the red flag in his hand. But not otherwise.

          • The best example of Kazzy’s point is the Braves, who won exactly one World Series during a roughly 20-year stretch when they were the best team in the National League.

            Also: Mike, you have moved the goalposts, and in a significant way. Winning a pennant used to mean having the best record in your league. Now it means surviving two rounds of playoffs. The Marlins have won two World Series, but they’ve never really won a pennant.

          • You make an interesting point about pennants. By that measure the Mariners deserved one in 2001, when they went 116-46 but couldn’t win more than one game in the ALCS. (Though that season was weird — everyone had a career year, and the same group won only 93 games in 2002.) The only one the Giants would have won since 1962 came in 2000, when they lost to the Mets in the NLCS.

            Anyway, let’s look at the Braves. They finished first in their division every year between 1991 and 2005 (excluding ’94). That’s 14 years of postseasons, 3 in the two-division setup and 11 with the wildcard. All things being equal, you’d expect 4.25 pennants and 2.125 championships. Instead, they got 5 and 1 respectively. Not far off, even though the whole world will tell you they underachieved terribly in the postseason. They did have the best record in the NL in 92, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 02, and 03, though that’s somewhat skewed by having the Expos and in most seasons the Marlins to beat up on.

          • Beat up on? During two of those years (97 and 03), the Marlins were World Series Champions!

            Of course the Braves underachieved in the postseason, precisely because other things aren’t equal; the Braves were usually better than the team that beat them. This doesn’t condemn the Braves so much as the irrational system baseball has adopted to anoint its champions.

          • Which is why I said “most seasons”, since good Marlins teams lasted about 10 minutes before being sold off. (OK, the 2004 and 2005 teams won 83 games each before slipping back below .500.)

  2. Why can’t the Cubbies win so much as a pennant?

    They’re… what? The fifth biggest franchise in the league? Hell, the Marlins were able to buy a World Series. Why can’t Chicago?

    • Some people claim that it’s the Curse of the Goat. That’s a silly superstition. It’s really the Curse of Fred Merkle.

      • And the Pirates haven’t had a winning year since 1992 because of the curse of Barry Bonds. It’s Bonehead and Bighead.

    • The Cubs are a statistical anomaly that may be the most convincing proof that god exists, and that he/she hates Chicago. The ending of the equally anomalous Chicago White Sox futility streak may be evidence that he/she is reconsidering that hatred. Maybe the Cubs will win it some time this decade.

      • On the other hand, the success of the Yankees may be proof that god is actually a deeply malevolent being.

        • I’ve a friend who is a Yankees fan and a long-time one. “I was a fan of theirs in the 80’s, Jay!” he yelled at me once. “Do you know how much it sucked to be a fan of the Yankees in the 80’s?”

          So there’s that.

          • “Do you know how much it sucked to be a fan of the Yankees in the 80′s?”

            The Yankees won the Series in ’77 and ’78, and won their division in ’80 and the pennant in ’81. Then they finished over .500 every year between ’83 and ’88. And your friend thinks we should all feel sorry for him.

            THAT is why people hate Yankee fans.

          • Dude, I was a Braves fan in the 80s. Here are their winning percentages between 1984 and 1990: .494, .407, .447, .420, .338, .394, .401. Like Mike says, this is why people hate Yankees fans.

            Also, Dale Murphy rocks.

          • I remain convinced that if the Braves had been better, TBS would be the fifth national broadcast network by now.

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