It's time for the eighth edition of "30 teams," my annual ranking of every major league team from the greatest team that ever lived to the one that reminds you of that time you stepped in dog shit.
This tradition, started when I was a kid in my bedroom, is right up there with many preseason rituals. I coordinate it to run near the start of spring training, and for this edition of the ranking, I dug out cards that feature photos that were taken during spring training.
There are certain tell-tale signs of a spring training photo. Trees, for starters, is a huge tip-off, especially palm trees. How great it must be to live in a place where the word "frond" is used on a regular basis.
Other clues include: fences without padding, metal benches, signs for Jim's Hair Restoration, and any structure that looks like it could house a family of three or more.
Take these identifying tips with you, because you're going to need them in the future. Signs of spring training on cards are disappearing and have been particularly scarce in the last four years. There is more emphasis on in-season photos now. And with Topps cropping photos so close and obscuring backgrounds, detecting cards with photos taken during the spring could become a lost art. The stories behind the photos are disappearing from cards. But, gee, at least that app is awesome.
Where was I? ... oh, yes, ranking things! OK, let's get to subjective categorizing.
One more time, this is the authoritative list. If you want to rank teams yourself, go nuts, but this is the original copy.
1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS (highest ranking: 1st, lowest ranking: 1st): The Dodgers, my wonderful, wonderful team for which I live for every season, are probably not going to win the World Series this year ... again. Just being realistic here, even though that's not the thing to do at this time of year. But at least they're so much more enjoyable to follow than the other 29 teams. In fact, if MLB was to rename every team except the Dodgers as That Other Team, that would make sense to me.
2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 5th): I will be forever grateful to the Royals for winning the World Series and proving once again that a team that I like and could root for could actually win the World Series. 2015 was the least painful October since the 1980s.
3. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (highest ranking: 3rd, lowest ranking: 4th): It's good to know that once long-suffering teams become good again -- like the Royals and Pirates -- that they continue to be enjoyable. I don't want to be one of those jerk-offs who hates anyone who is successful.
4. BOSTON RED SOX (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 4th): The background on this card is full of grapefruit goodness. Palm trees, a batting cage featuring a giant wheel, and some batter playing golf. Quick! Someone hide this card before Topps shows up and covers it with smoke!
5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 17th): This is your annual reminder that the new baseball season also means another year of Harold Reynolds saying goofy things.
6. HOUSTON ASTROS (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 16th): The Astros rocket up the rankings again this year. This despite having both Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez in their outfield. See? I can look past things. I need the Astros to get to the World Series, just so it can be an all-National League World Series (unless, of course, the Brewers make it, too).
7. TEXAS RANGERS (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 17th): Sorry, Rangers, you've lost the battle for Texas. It's all because I'm sad that I haven't seen the Rangers-loving Target girl lately.
8. OAKLAND A'S (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 8th): Another year of Oakland churning out terrific baseball cards and unmemorable players. I promise to learn 10 A's names by the end of September.
9. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 9th): I know even fewer Phillies than I know A's. I think that's the first time that's ever happened.
10. CHICAGO WHITE SOX (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 11th): Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest spring training card ever made. Why did any other company attempt to make a baseball card set in 1993?
11. DETROIT TIGERS (highest ranking: 7th, lowest ranking: 11th): In going through my collection, I determined that the Tigers have the best spring training photos ever. So much spring greatness over the years. Other top spring training card teams: the White Sox, Mets and Dodgers. Also, the Expos once were kings of spring training pictures. RIP.
12. CINCINNATI REDS (highest ranking: 9th, lowest ranking: 13th): The sign in the background seems to be advertising for some sort of school service called Teacher's Pet. The phrase below the apple refers to "school districts." And I am stumbling through this so someone less lazy than I will search out exactly what this sign is and put it in the comments.
13. TORONTO BLUE JAYS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): I love cards that look like they were photographed down at the community park where I grew up.
14. MINNESOTA TWINS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 14th): It's that time of year when I look up a Minnesota Twin that I've never heard of before; there are so many. I'll be right back ...
OK, Michael Tonkin -- you are now a known baseball player.
15. CLEVELAND INDIANS (highest ranking: 11th, lowest ranking: 17th): Remember when there were 5 or 6 different Indians card bloggers? Now there's maybe half a blogger. How does that happen?
16. NEW YORK METS (highest ranking: 16th, lowest ranking: 21st): The Mets would have moved up higher, but there's something irritating about a team attempting to beat the team you're rooting for to win the World Series. So they stay at 16.
17. MIAMI MARLINS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): Don Mattingly instituting a "no facial hair" policy is weird. If I was one of those photoshop devotees, I'd go through all my Mattingly cards from his playing days and remove his mustache. Then I'd mail them to him.
18. TAMPA BAY RAYS (highest ranking: 17th, lowest ranking: 23rd): Look, you can see half a phone number behind Adam Kennedy! Isn't that the best? No? You're right, let's blur it out and add some fog.
19. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (highest ranking: 19th, lowest ranking: 24th): This is the highest the Nationals have ever been on this countdown. That doesn't mean I haven't gotten over the Expos no longer existing, it just means Bryce Harper is growing up.
20. SEATTLE MARINERS (highest ranking: 18th, lowest ranking: 20th): Dig that southwestern scenery.
21. ATLANTA BRAVES (highest ranking: 20th, lowest ranking: 24th): Classic shot. There needs to be more trailers on baseball cards.
22. MILWAUKEE BREWERS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 23rd): The Brewers are still suffering from all of that annoying from a few years ago. Most of those players are gone, but, oh, yeah, Ryan Braun.
23. COLORADO ROCKIES (highest ranking: 23rd, lowest ranking: 26th): I think this photo is from spring training. I had the most difficulty finding a spring training card with the Rockies. That's the Rockies for you, being difficult just to be difficult.
24. CHICAGO CUBS (highest ranking: 20th, lowest ranking: 25th): The Cubs move up a place this year. That does not mean I am rooting (gee golly) for (please oh please oh please) the Cubs (we've waited sooooooo long) to win a World Series. ... Oooh, yuck, now I can't get that image out of my brain. Stupid Cubs and their dramatic plaintiveness.
25. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 25th): Yup, Cardinals, you're now below the Cubs. Happy with yourself?
26. LOS ANGELES ANGELS (highest ranking: 25th, lowest ranking: 26th): You didn't know a photo of a baseball player on one knee could be so cool, did you?
27. SAN DIEGO PADRES (highest ranking: 27th, lowest ranking: 27th): I found the Padres' season last year endlessly amusing. Please let there always be Padres.
28. NEW YORK YANKEES (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): The Yankees don't deserve palm trees. Their spring training field should be covered in asphalt, with exhaust fumes pumped into the ballpark, and the ballpark music just the sound of people yelling obscenities over and over.
29. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): I've always considered the Diamondbacks a poor excuse for a major league team. I will have no trouble rooting against Greinke and all of their paper-doll dress-up uniform combinations.
30. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (highest ranking: 30th, lowest ranking: 30th): The stands are empty. As they should be for every Giants game.
As usual, keep this list by your TV/viewing device so you know who you should root for.
Also, I don't want to imply that baseball card backgrounds are gone forever. We still do have Heritage and Topps does a fine job of sticking to the script for whatever year it is featuring. This year they're focusing on 1967, so there should be lots of backgrounds.
I'm just glad that I probably won't be around for Heritage in 2065.