It’s been 21 years since the state of Ohio celebrated a championship in one of the four major professional sports (to clarify: football, baseball, basketball and hockey).
During that time Ohio has suffered like few other states have. In addition to almost total futility on the field, the state has had to endure more than its share of off the field problems as well.
One of its football teams left town (only to win a Super Bowl within 5 years in their new city) and then returned and has been mostly terrible since. The other football team became notorious for poor draft picks and criminal activity as well as being the worst team of the 1990s in the standings.
Of Ohio’s two baseball teams, one has choked away two chances at a World Series crown in the past 15 years, while the other has only two playoff appearances since 1990. Even the Kid, Ken Griffey Jr. suffered a string of debilitating injuries once he returned to play in his home state, potentially costing him a run at the most hallowed of individual achievements, the career home run record.
The only NBA team in the state was largely irrelevant from 1990-2003, with only a couple of heartbreaking losses to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls to show for their troubles. Then, perhaps even more gut wrenching, Ohio watched the franchise’s homegrown meal ticket flee the state and head to Miami to chase championships and parties, leaving them nothing more than a lottery-bound mess.
Finally, Ohio’s pro hockey team, established in 2000, has had the worst points record in the NHL during the span of their existence. They have settled into a state of relative failure, in a league that has struggled to maintain its status as one of the premier associations in sports.
Given this bleak (but somewhat recent) history, it’s difficult to imagine one of these star-crossed teams bringing a professional championship home to the Buckeye state. In considering all 6 teams, we can see that there are varying levels of likeliness that each of them will win a title. Let’s rank them, from least likely to most likely to reach the promised land of their respective sports. Keep in mind that this is not a declaration that one of these teams will win a title, just my take on the likelihood that one will, relative to the others.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been a complete disaster for almost all of the last 20 years. Currently, they are pinning their hopes on rookies Andy Dalton (QB) and A.J. Green (WR). It’s hard to say how good Dalton can be, but the consensus is that Green is a star in the making. Of course, just a few years ago the Bengals had a star receiver at the peak of his ability (Chad Johnson), and they still couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Queen City, Mike Brown’s reluctance to spend the necessary money on scouting and facilities will prohibit the team from getting to the elite level in the NFL. When your star quarterback decides to retire healthy at 31, you know your team is a long way from winning it all.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
As I mentioned earlier, the Blue Jackets have been pretty dreadful since their inception. They do have star center Rick Nash locked up for the next 8 years under a very rich contract, but barring some extraordinary upgrades on the rest of the roster they will not find themselves competing for a Stanley Cup any time soon.
It’s simply too tough to contend in the superior Western Conference, especially with Detroit, Chicago and Nashville, all formidable powerhouses, residing in their own division. I’m afraid Columbus had better stick with the Buckeyes and their impending NCAA punishments.
4. Cleveland Browns
The poor Browns.
As an Ohio resident I can tell you that there are drastic differences between Bengals fans and Browns fans. Bengals fans are convinced every year that this will be their year. They ceaselessly envision their beloved purveyors of Who-Deyism beating out Pittsburgh and Baltimore on their way to the playoffs. And they are almost always wrong.
Browns fans, however, are almost always pessimistic. They expect the worst, and who can blame them? They’ve been force-fed the equivalent of a turd sandwich for the better part of 50 years.
I’m convinced that Mike Holmgren will at least make the moves necessary to return the Browns to respectability, but that’s their ceiling as far as I’m concerned. It seems doubtful that Colt McCoy will be the savior they need at quarterback, and the NFL has taught us that until that position falls in line, everything else is baseless.
Baseball is a game in which, despite the gaps in spending between the haves and the have-nots, all teams seem to have a decent chance at success. The Indians have made themselves a (surprising) contender by building around pitching and defense.
For many small market teams, winning is cyclical. I expect the Indians to stockpile prospects and keep building a smart, sabermetric-friendly club until they are ready to make a big splash for the pieces they need to go for it all. Then they will blow it all up and start over again while sandbagging money. Such is life for the have-nots.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
Given the total debacle that the last 12 months have been for Dan Gilbert’s Cavaliers, it may be surprising to see them this high on the list. But if we have learned anything in the NBA (coincidentally from this team and that famed 2003 top draft pick) it’s that one player can make the difference in a team winning a title and failing to even make the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were the two players the Cavs chose to build their future on in this year’s draft. Looking at their roster, they still appear to be a lottery team, so we could be looking at a team that is able to mature together much like Oklahoma City has in the last couple of years. Maybe the NBA landscape will become one in which stars all join up to party and win together, but it seems that any team with three or four elite young players should have a chance to contend no matter what the new NBA looks like.
1. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds made the playoffs last year behind a potent offense and quality pitching from the top three starters in their rotation. Their management team, led by Walt Jocketty, has made it clear that they are willing to spend more than previous regimes, and they have done a good job of developing talent (see Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto among others).
As I mentioned above, baseball allows teams to compete as long as they make sound decisions and are able to spend a little (although it certainly helps if they can spend a lot, right AL East?). The Reds must address issues in their pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. If they can upgrade a few arms they have an excellent chance to bring a World Series back to the state of Ohio.
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