Winning 'Championships' the Ultimate

The Ultimate Standings say a lot about what fans want. But, in reality, winning is what's ultimately most important.

Originally Published: February 4, 2004
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

After looking at the results of the SportsNation Ultimate Standings (MLB division), I have to conclude that either 1) ESPN The Magazine's methodology is faulty, or 2) baseball fans are big fat liars.

Why? Because according to the method, "Championships" ("Titles already won or expected -- soon") counts for only 7.7 percent of the final rating, with "Bang for the Buck," "Fan Relations," and "Ownership" all counting for at least twice as much as "Championships."

Sorry, but I don't buy it.

If you ask your average American what's more important, quality public schools for his children or having enough money to buy that shiny new S.U.V., why of course he's going to say schools because that's what you're supposed to say. But what happens when he gets into that voting booth where nobody can see him? Thumbs down on the schools, brother.

It's like that with sports teams. Yes, we might say we care about the honesty of our team's owner, and how much the players hustle, and whether or not the manager attends the local Elks Club dinner. But we don't, really. We care about winning, and if I were designing a system I wouldn't pay any attention to what the fans say. I would start by making "Championships" (or "Winning") worth 50 percent of everything, and then let all the other stuff fill in the rest.

Troy Glaus
In 2002, Troy Glaus and the Angels provided their fans with the greatest gift -- a World Series title.

How do we know that actually winning games isn't weighted heavily enough? The Ultimate Standings are designed, as I understand them, to essentially measure how well each team satisfies its fans. If fans are satisfied, then presumably they will buy tickets. And yet, No. 5 on the Ultimate (MLB) Standings is held by the Royals, who ranked 22nd in major league attendance (granted, the Royals do play in one of the smallest markets in the majors, but they also are No. 1 in the affordability standings among all major sports teams).

With all that out of my system, a few more observations on the Ultimate Standings:

  • Maybe I just don't understand the "Championships" category, or perhaps the survey respondents didn't understand it. How else to explain the Royals ranking 48th in the category, and the Red Sox 101st? Yes, the Royals won a World Series "only" 19 years ago, and of course it's been a while for the Red Sox. But looking at the bigger picture, the Red Sox have won five World Series, and they're certainly a better bet than the Royals to win another one soon (remember, "soon" is supposed to be one of the criteria). I suppose a fan's response to this part of the survey is tied to expectations. And if you're a Red Sox fan, you'd like to have more championships in the last 85 years than the Patriots have won in the last three.

  • Though Wrigley Field and Fenway Park resemble each other as much as two early-20th century ballparks can, Cubs fans and Red Sox fans apparently have significantly different opinions of them.

  • Speaking of stadiums, looking at the overall Standings we find that among all 121 "major" sports teams, the greatest venue is the home of the ... Columbus Blue Jackets? Yes, Nationwide Arena is greater than Lambeau Field, Fenway Park, and every other sports palace. As Brian Kenny might say, "Who knew?"

  • Something else about the NHL I didn't know ... the good fans in Chicago really, really don't like whoever owns the Blackhawks. How do we know this? Again, there are 121 teams, and here are the bottom three, as ranked by "Ownership":

      119 Brewers
      120 Blackhawks
      121 Expos

    So you've got the Blackhawks, and a couple of teams owned by Bud Selig.

  • I think the single most interesting result is the most obvious result: topping the MLB list are the Anaheim Angels. Long considered the poor sister of SoCal baseball, the Angels whipped the Dodgers, who at No. 14 are in the middle of the Ultimate Standings. And this isn't just a function of the methodology; in 2003 the Dodgers ranked fourth in the majors in attendance ... and the Angels ranked fifth, just a thousand fans per game behind the Dodgers. Considering 1) the Angels' moves this seasons, 2) the likely effect of those moves on the standings, and 3) the Dodgers' rumored cost-cutting, it seems likely that the Angels will actually outdraw the Dodgers in 2004, which is something that's never happened before.

  • Not so interesting: bottoming the list are the Detroit Tigers (of course, the survey was conducted before the Tigers acquired a Hall of Fame catcher). Actually, there's one truly interesting number there ... Comerica Park, the franchise's spanking new ballpark, ranked just 22nd among major league stadiums, and worst among the so-called "retro" ballparks. In Monday's column, I noted that Hall of Fame-quality catchers generally don't fare well upon entering their middle 30s. I didn't come out and say that spending $40 million on Ivan Rodriguez is crazy, but I wouldn't blame a reader for reaching that conclusion. However, a number of readers felt compelled to tell me that of course Rodriguez's production will decline, but that doesn't matter because he's being signed to add "credibility" to a franchise that desperately needs some.

    Maybe? But didn't people say the same thing when the Tigers lavished the ridiculous contract on Bobby Higginson a few years ago? Credibility comes from winning, and I suspect that in four years we'll suspect that $40 million could have bought more winning than it actually did.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-authored with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

  • ALSO SEE