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So who are baseball’s most storied franchises anyway?

Oct 21, 2013, 4:45 PM EDT


I wrote this earlier today and a couple of people have asked me about it:

The Yankees may be baseball’s most storied franchise, but the Cardinals and Red Sox are probably in the top four.

The question asked: who the other top-four team would be.

Good question! It was a half-throwaway thought at the time, but for what it’s worth I was thinking the Dodgers.  Then I thought a bit more and realized that the Giants have an argument too, especially if you’re looking at overall franchise history and aren’t weighting more heavily for recency.

But wait! Do we weight more heavily for World Series championships? Overall record? Pennants?  Some hard-to-define notion of tradition? Because that could change the answer too! For example, everyone knows the Yankees have the most World Series titles and most know the Cardinals are second. But I bet most of you can’t guess which team has the third most World Series titles. Give up? Yup, the Athletics, with nine. They rarely get talked of as One of the Great Franchises, though, because (a) they moved cities a couple of times; and (b) their gold and green and lack of either an historical or otherwise cool stadium makes them seem less TRADITIONAL.

Raw wins is a problem because it’ll weight too much for the longer-lived NL, right? I mean, the Cubs are second among all baseball teams in raw wins, but we’re not going to call them the second most-storied franchise, are we? Just feels wrong, even though they do have the crazy-old ballpark and tradition coming out of their ears.

Here the top teams in various categories:

World Series titles: Yankees (27), Cardinals (11), Athletics (9), Giants (7), Red Sox (7), Dodgers (6), Reds (5), Pirates (5), Tigers (4), [four teams tied with 3]
Pennants: Yankees (40), Dodgers (22), Giants (22), Cardinals (19), Braves (17), Cubs (16), Athletics (15), Red Sox (13), Tigers (11), Reds (9), Pirates (9)
Overall wins: Giants, Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, Reds, Pirates, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox
Winning percentage: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs, Indians, Reds, Tigers, White Sox
Tradition Index [which I just made up]: Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Cardinals and, then, heck, it starts to fracture.


The Yankees have to be number one, obviously. They dominate everything and have for a century. Not even close.

After that there are all kinds of arguments to make, with the big caveat being that the National League teams have a 25-year head start on the American League, thus inflating their pennant and raw win totals. Still, I think the Cardinals are a no-brainer for the top-four (my arbitrary cutoff from before). World Series titles count for a lot.

The final four teams, then, seem to be the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics and Red Sox. The Giants have the edge in World Series titles over the Dodgers but are short of the A’s. The Giants and Dodgers tie with pennants, and both had only two before the advent of the American League, so their considerable pennant advantage over Philly/KC/Oakland is still pretty legit. It shows that they were more consistent than the feast-or-famine A’s.

What to do with the Red Sox? A lot of early dominance and a lot of recent dominance, but such a relatively fallow (though rarely truly bad) period for so much of the 20th century. They made up for it in the literally “storied” aspects of this exercise because, man, they have tradition out the wazoo and people have been waxing poetically about them for so long. But really: on baseball terms they fall a bit short, don’t they? More World Series wins than the Dodgers, but far fewer pennants. A better winning percentage than the A’s but fewer pennants and World Series titles. A very interesting case indeed.

So, gun to my head, here’s what I got for my list of “most storied franchises,” whatever the heck we want that to mean:

1. Yankees
2. Cardinals
3. Giants
4. Dodgers
5. Athletics
6. Red Sox

That’s different than how I thought it would look when I came up with this half-baked notion earlier today, and it may ruffle the feathers of the people who don’t think an inconsistent, vagabond franchise like the A’s should crack this list, but it’s what my gut tells me right now.

What do you think?

  1. gabeguterres - Oct 21, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    I agree that “storied” doesn’t directly translate to “successful,” but the Cubs story is a pretty depressing one.

    I do think that the number of Hall of Famers should matter in this discussion. I know the election of HOFers isn’t exactly scientific or objective, but for the most part we still look at those players as being exceptional.

    • prestonbucher - Oct 25, 2013 at 7:27 PM

      Storied implies success. I’ve never heard of the Washinton Generals referred to as storied. The Cubs history could be called tragic more than storied. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear Chicago Cubs? More often than not it’s losing, Wrigley or Harry Caray.

  2. buddaley - Oct 21, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    “What to do with the Red Sox? A lot of early dominance and a lot of recent dominance, but such a relatively fallow (though rarely truly bad) period for so much of the 20th century.”
    I am not sure what you mean by “rarely”. I suppose if it means only one or two lengthy periods of terrible results it is legitimate, but if it means only a few truly bad seasons scattered here and there, it is absolutely wrong.

    Between 1922-1930, Boston finished in last place all but one year when they finished 7th of 8 teams. The three previous years they were also second division and the three years after they finished 6th, 8th and 7th (of 8 teams) also. In that 15 year period, Boston’s best record was .487; their worst was .279! And 8 times they finished under .400.

    Not quite so lengthy or bad, from 1959-1966 Boston finished in the second division every year, next to last 3 times, and 8 (of 10) twice more and never broke .500. In reality, Boston was never a true contender from 1952-1966 with their highest victory total at 84 in that period.

    During significant periods in the 20th century, at least 30 years, Boston was often a terrible team and for long consecutive stretches.

  3. rbern11162 - Oct 21, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    The Red Sox are ahead of the athletics, the Philly athaletics. Did nothing for 30 years . The Red Sox play in a better location , and ballpark . Redsox over the A s

    • kellyb9 - Oct 22, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      And the Red Sox did nothing for the better part of a century. The A’s were the best team in Philly for basically their entire stay. By all measureable standards, we let the wrong team go.

  4. peterjohnjoseph - Oct 21, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    Shouldn’t this be easy? If you’re going to see which the more “storied” franchise is, go on Amazon, or website that back catalogs books, and see how much has been written, filmed, etc. on each franchise. Isn’t that what storied is? How much has been spread nationally about the history of the team? Major League Baseball has an existence of over 100 years. The internet has only existed in its current form for about a 1/5 of that, so most “stories” would of been spread via book, or at most, film.

    If you can accept that as being a viable way to grade them, the Red Sox would actually beat out the Yankee’s in the book department, as pointed out by a writer on this site a few weeks ago. However, I would also argue on a larger scale the Yankee’s take the lead.

    • peterjohnjoseph - Oct 21, 2013 at 10:32 PM

      One last point- If you want to see which teams have the most storied pasts, you can go no further than any elementary, or middle school in the country and ask the kids what they know about baseball. If a team has a storied history than it will transcend the game, and even children will know something related to a team they’ve never even watched. They may never of even seen a single game of baseball, yet they’ll still know certain stories related to franchise’s thousands of miles from their homes. Those are the storied franchises of the game.

  5. blaisie7 - Oct 21, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    I think the number of pennants needs to be looked at as by league. The Yankees have been a rich franchise except for 2 periods. Prior to Babe Ruth and the period between the advent of the amateur draft and free agency (tells you something about how successful with a level financial playing field). The A’s may have less pennants then the Dodgers and Giants, but it was done in the AL which the Yankees owned for a good part the the 20th century. Playing in the AL, the Dodgers and Giants would probably have less pennants. The A’s in the NL would probably have more. Also there are only 2 teams that won 3 or more consecutive World Series titles. The Yankees and the A’s.

    I have no argument about the place of the Yanks and the Cards, but I think the A’s should be 3. Sorry Red Sox fans, you’re right where you belong. For a large part of the 20th century your team was terrible. The author was being nice when he said “rarely truly bad.” They finished 8th out of 8 teams many times and during those years, they were truly bad.

    • peterjohnjoseph - Oct 21, 2013 at 10:23 PM

      But it that what “storied” truly is? To me thats just an argument for “best all time team”. Storied franchises are ones that create a history or through its players, defining moments, and certain games. I can argue that the Sox losing adds just as much mystique as its winning. The 1986 WS adds to its “storied” history. Just like Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone add to the Red Sox storied history.

      On top of that, the 100 year Curse, Ted Williams batting.. these are all Storied. Much is written about them, win or lose. Look what it did in 2004 when they actually won, and look how much has been written about that series since-arguably more than any World Series in almost 20 years. How much has been written on Fenway Park alone, without even talking about the team?

      I’m not making an argument here that Red Sox deserve the top spot, I think the Yankee’s still hold the most tradition in the Nation, however, I think as far as storied pasts go-stories that transcend the game-the Sox are at least in the top 3.

  6. norcalsportsknowledge - Oct 21, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    1) Yankees
    2) Giants
    3) Dodgers
    4) Cardinals
    5) A’s
    6) Red Sox

  7. wouldabeenthere - Oct 21, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    Couldn’t care less…

    Go Sox!

  8. mottershead1972 - Oct 21, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    wow, i wish i had this kind of time on my hands…

  9. psunick - Oct 22, 2013 at 1:32 AM

    Agreed with someone previous: this is an excellent posting, and terrific responses

  10. noonelistensanyway - Oct 22, 2013 at 1:34 AM

    Only thing I know for sure is my Boston Red Sox are going to win another World Series againest the Cards!!!! Go Sox…..

  11. evanpenn - Oct 22, 2013 at 3:46 AM

    “Storied” I think means most written about.
    2. Red Sox
    3. Cubs
    4. Dodgers
    5. Mets
    6. Giants

    Not sure that wins and losses are very important in this debate.
    To a large degree the bigger the city a team plays for, the more storied the franchise.
    New York is the capitol of the world, any team in any sport from New York will almost automatically crack the top 5. Think NY Rangers, Knicks, NY Giants (Football). (Ok, the Jets don’t make the list, but the exception proves the rule. The Islanders…Long Island is not New York City.).

    For Pro Football:
    2. 49ers
    3. Steelers
    4. Giants
    5. Pats
    Da bears and Packers don’t even make the top 5. But in football, every team seems storied, because this country is football crazy.

    1. Lakers
    2. Celtics
    3. Bulls
    4. Knicks

    There is no #5 that I can think of.

    • jarathen - Oct 22, 2013 at 8:11 AM

      I’d think the Spurs or Pistons might qualify for #5. The Spurs’ excellence is mostly recent, and making the playoffs in the NBA is basically a coin flip, but they’ve been consistently great for 20 years and have been led by two no-doubt HoFers in Robinson and Duncan, and I imagine Parker is in the discussion as well. Also, ICEMAN.

      I looked at the Pistons and maybe they’re in the discussion for a top ten, but yeah, Spurs.

    • florida76 - Oct 22, 2013 at 9:54 AM

      Websters Dictionary defines storied as meaning celebrated in history, and that means success. It doesn’t mean not having any living fans with a strong memory of the last world title, so the Cubs just don’t qualify in that area. Even worse, the majority of their success occurred before 1950.

      The real top three storied franchises have to be the Yankees, Cards, and Bosox. And celebrated in history also includes being accurate, because the record books and our memories always use the city name as part of that achievement. While sports are a business, they’re also much different in the fact of the unique connection they have to cities represented. Teams aren’t like a restaurant chain, which are virtually identical across the country, and I’ve never seen another business with the city name stitched on the uniform of employees. So in reality, transplanted teams have always had their own, separate identities, forged when those teams began play in those new cities. Very few people in Atlanta cared about the Milwaukee Braves until they officially became THEIR team. And how many people in Brooklyn under the age of 70 care about the Dodgers?

      So it’s really a worthless statement to use the word franchise in the attempt to link the current city with the past. The New York Giants were more successful than the San Francisco Giants, and the Oakland A’s were vastly more successful than the KC A’s. So if you’re a SF Giants fan, your history will always be limited to when play actually began in your city. It’s factually inaccurate to claim seven titles, when you’ve only won two. Good luck on finding that Mel Ott jersey on a SF Giants fan.

    • prestonbucher - Oct 25, 2013 at 6:17 PM

      The bigger the city does not mean the more storied franchise……

    • prestonbucher - Oct 25, 2013 at 6:20 PM

      Your opinion should be deleted for putting the Mets on that list. I could think of 10 teams that Id put ahead of them including my beloved Cards at #2….not quite sure how you missed that….

  12. jarathen - Oct 22, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    Craig, I actually think you’re dead-on. Correct order and everything.

  13. jaturso - Oct 22, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    “Recency”? Is that even a word?

  14. bailey2626 - Oct 22, 2013 at 8:01 PM

  15. rc33 - Oct 24, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    The Red Sox clearly became the “trendy” team in the early 2000’s; the cap you’d see on college campuses around the country, at the airport, the mall, etc.. .I live in TX and I’m often surprised how regularly I see Red Sox hats down here.
    I never see a Giants or A’s cap.
    This counts for something as well.

  16. prestonbucher - Oct 25, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    From Branch Rickey inventing the farm system in the 20’s to the Gas House Gang of the 1930’sto Country Slaughters “Mad Dash” in 1946 to Stan Musials’ quiet dominance for 20 years to Bob Gibson dominating in the 1960’s to Curt Flood and players rights in the 70’s to Whitey Ball and Ozzie Smith and Go Crazy Folks of the 80’s to Big Mac and Sammy saving baseball in 98 Pujols decade of dominance and the Cinderella Cards of 2006 and 2011 there is plenty of storied history to this great organization. The ONLY team besides the Yankees that could be more storied would be the Dodgers going back to their Brooklyn days.

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