Ranking the last 25 World Series winners
Since Major League Baseball instituted the Wild Card in the 1995 season, there have been 25 World Series winners, from the '95 Braves to the 2019 Nationals. By definition, these are all wonderfully talented teams; they did, after all, win the World Series. But that doesn't mean that there's a 25-way tie here, either, so MLB.com's Will Leitch and Mike Petriello got together to draft them, top to bottom. You'll soon find out what Mike and Will did, which is that there's just so many Yankees, Red Sox and Giants teams to sort through. Which ones were the best? There's no right answer. There may be some wrong ones.
1. 1998 Yankees
Petriello: Are the ‘98 Yankees (114-48) actually The Best Team Ever? I don’t know. Probably not. But if you’re going to have a conversation about which team really is the greatest ever, this team is absolutely in the conversation, and that’s making them a pretty easy pick for me atop this list. This was the team that just pounded you into submission, scoring 965 runs, outscoring their opponents by a full 309 runs. This was Peak Jeter, Peak Rivera, great years from supporting players like Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius; this was even the “Shane Spencer explodes for a minute” year. I hadn’t remembered that Brian Cashman had only been elevated into the top job as general manager -- a gig he still enjoys more than two decades later -- on Feb. 3 of that year. Talk about a fine debut.
2. 2018 Red Sox
Leitch: Allotting for the fact that there’s still some stuff up in the air with this team … have we already forgotten how truly dominant they were? They won more games (108) than any other team in Red Sox history, and the most in baseball in 17 years, and then they blitzed everyone in the playoffs, going 11-3 over some pretty fantastic teams in their own right. They basically had everything: A lineup that mashed the ball one through nine, Chris Sale as a top-shelf ace and a fantastic defense that everyone underrated at the time in a way they might not now. To be fair, I’m assuming I get the postseason bullpen rather than the regular-season bullpen, but if I do, I don’t think anyone can beat these guys, including those hated ‘98 Yankees. The 2004 Red Sox were the breakthrough team; the 2013 Red Sox fought for a whole city. But of the 21st-century Red Sox title teams, this is the best one.
3. 2016 Cubs
Petriello: I just realized how difficult it’s going to be to separate out various Yankee and Red Sox teams, and I’m not quite ready to forgive the 2017 Astros yet. No such problem exists with those curse-breaking ‘16 Cubs, who had merely one of the greatest run prevention units of the entire live ball era. I mean, they won 103 regular-season games, had the NL MVP (Kris Bryant), the first and second runners-up in Cy Young voting (Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, respectively) and decided that, future be damned, we’re trading Gleyber Torres to go get Aroldis Chapman. And it worked! (Despite Rajai Davis' best efforts.) I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe in the “Kyle Schwarber is an all-time superhero for coming back from that knee injury to rake in October” story. This was a great team, and this was also a great team, if you get my meaning.
4. 2017 Astros
Leitch: Well, you definitely didn’t need to pick the Cubs that early, because this Cardinals fan knows, unlike most others, that the 2016 World Series never happened and didn’t count and was a collective illusion and therefore DOES NOT COUNT for this list. Thus: Forgive them or not, this Astros team was incredible, and if you’re looking for an argument as to why maybe its success was not entirely because of sign-stealing, how about the fact that Houston was probably even better in 2018 and '19. Nevermind how good they were everywhere else: How about the fact that they even had peak Carlos Correa, the one we haven’t really seen since? It’s OK to admit the Astros were sort of likable back then, yes? OK, maybe we can’t admit that. But it was true. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Back in 2017, this team was actually full of heroes. I’m going to pretend that’s the team we’re talking about.
5. 2009 Yankees
Petriello: So much recency bias in here, Will. Is it because we just saw those teams dominate? Or because we’re living in a world of superteams unlike anything baseball has ever seen before? Or because when you pull up a video from even, like, 2002, you see moderate velocity and wiggly ground-ball swings and realize those teams would get eaten up by today’s clubs?
Anyway, I will go with the 103-59 2009 Yankees, the team that added CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira and … well, won the World Series.
Looking back at that lineup, it was relentless, because the only regular player who wasn’t at least a league-average hitter was Melky Cabrera, and even he had a 93 OPS+, which is to say, “only barely below average.” You still had elite versions of Jeter, Mo and Jorge Posada. You had Matsui, Canó, Swisher, and A-Rod in or near their primes. You had the ace they’d long desired in Sabathia, and you still had Andy Pettitte. This group always seems to get overshadowed by the four-titles-in-five-years late-’90s run. Maybe it shouldn’t be.
6. 2005 White Sox
Leitch: The most underappreciated World Series team of my lifetime. These White Sox ended an 88-year championship drought … and nobody noticed because it happened the year after the Red Sox ended their curse. But this team was fantastic, start to finish. They had the second-best record in baseball, with 99 wins, but the real joy of this team was what they did in the postseason: They went 11-1! They swept the ALDS, won the ALCS 4-1 and swept the World Series. That’s amazing! Honestly, we should be talking about the 2005 White Sox all the time, and we never do. So I’m going to do so now.
7. 2001 D-backs
Petriello: The 2005 White Sox! At No. 6! That is definitely ... a choice. I can tell how much of an impact they made upon you by the fact that your blurb above listed exactly zero members of the roster.
As you choose the team with one of the more celebrated rotations in recent history -- the 2005 White Sox famously had five pitchers make 152 of their 162 starts, with Brandon McCarthy making each of the remaining 10 -- I’m going to go entirely the opposite direction, and take the team that had only two starters. (No, really; the third-best Arizona starter that year was, I don’t know, Brian Anderson and his 5.20 ERA?) Of course, those two starters, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, finished 1-2 in Cy Young voting. Combined, they threw 506 1/3 innings of 2.74 ERA ball, with a hilarious 665/110 strikeout/walk ratio. (There’s a solid argument that this ‘01 season from Johnson is a top 5 pitching season ever.)
Oh, and this was also the year Luis Gonzalez blasted 57 dingers. I accept this was very much a stars-and-scrubs kind of bunch. But oh man, those stars.
8. 2004 Red Sox
Leitch: So I know they didn’t even win their division, which should probably be a prerequisite for being this high. (Though they did win 98 games.) And to be honest, this Cardinals fan is convinced that MV3 team of Pujols/Edmonds/Rolen (along with Larry Walker!) was better than the Red Sox and the Yankees. But history is history, and this gang of idiots did something that essentially everyone on the Eastern Seaboard had long assumed impossible. If you’re talking 1-2 punches, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez net you a couple of Hall of Fame-quality pitchers, and you’ve still got Manny and Ortiz and peak Johnny Damon and just the whole kismet of that roster at that time. There was a time when Boston sports teams were likable. This was that time. I’m not sure, in a win-or-go-home situation, there’s any team I’d take over this one.
9. 1999 Yankees
Petriello: So many Yankee teams! I’m already having trouble keeping them all apart, and we’re not even through them all yet. The ‘99 Yankees were obviously not as good as their ‘98 forefathers, but they still won 98 games, even if that’s somehow 16 fewer than the year before. (Lord, that ‘98 club was great.) Most of the same names remained, of course -- Jeter, Rivera, Bernie, etc. -- and this incarnation featured Jeter’s best hitting season, when he popped 24 homers with a .349/.438/.552 line. Their big move should have been a great one, swapping out David Wells for Roger Clemens, which ended up being an obvious long-term win, even if ‘98 Wells was a lot better than ‘99 Clemens.
Really, though, I remember the ‘99 Yankees for one thing: The year Orlando Hernández became El Duque, allowing four earned runs in 30 innings over four postseason starts.
10. 2013 Red Sox
Leitch: The 2004 team was the most historic, the 2018 team the most dominant, but for my money, the 2013 Red Sox team was the most joyous. After the Patriots Day Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox became Boston’s salvation, the team that everyone could rally around. Don’t ignore the fact that this team was more than just “inspiring"; it was really, really good, with the most wins in baseball, thanks to a sneaky-good offense, a terrific bullpen and … whoa, did you see what Clay Buchholz did this year (1.74 ERA in 108 1/3 innings!)? But let’s not overcomplicate this: What Big Papi did this postseason was truly shocking, like Barry Bonds crossed with Babe Ruth and that cartoon where Bugs Bunny just kept hitting home runs. You really can’t stare at that World Series slash line enough: .668/.760/1.188. In six games!
11. 2012 Giants
Petriello: The Giants won three titles. Somehow. It’s time to break the seal on one of these teams, but which one? The ‘10 version, featuring Cain/Lincecum and a baby-faced Madison Bumgarner? The ‘14 edition, with a Fully Functional Bumgarner, but Cain/Lincecum faltering? I’m going to split the difference with the ‘12 group, when Bumgarner, Cain, and -- believe it or not -- Ryan Vogelsong -- made up for a formidable top three, even with Lincecum beginning to collapse. Buster Posey won the MVP. This was also the year when Barry Zito, well into that disastrous seven-year contract, showed up to absolutely dominate in the postseason, allowing three earned runs in three postseason starts. This was the team that imported Hunter Pence midseason, and had the obligatory you’ve got to be kidding me guys: Marco Scutaro hitting .362/.385/.473, Melky Cabrera hitting .346/.390/.516.
It also had Sergio Romo making Miguel Cabrera look at 89 mph to end the World Series. Good times.
12. 2011 Cardinals
Leitch: There was no way I was going to let this team fall any further. Know that this particular Cardinals team was infuriating in August, featuring a group of underachieving veterans and a nightmare bullpen that drove manager Tony LaRussa and St. Louis fans to bang their heads against the wall repeatedly. And La Russa wasn’t helping, with his insistence on trading Colby Rasmus, the team’s one good young player, at the Deadline just to fix a team that was already 10 games out.
And yet ... then it all just clicked. The Cardinals’ incredible run to reach the playoffs on that great season’s last day was driven by Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, both of whom were terrific in dragging the team to the finish line. And then, in the playoffs, the team became the best self it should have been all along, with veterans like Pujols, Molina, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Matt Holliday teaming with a remade bullpen and young Cardinals Devil Magic contributors like Jon Jay, Allen Craig and Jason Motte. And all led to the heroics of the hometown kid David Freese. The Cardinals weren’t the team they were supposed to be for most of 2011. But at the right time, the only time that it mattered … they were their best selves. And they provided the most joyous month in the Cardinals’ storied history.
13. 2019 Nationals
Petriello: I guess we’ve let the defending champs languish long enough. You know the weakness here, which is the all-time atrocious bullpen that nearly single-handedly kept them out of the postseason in the first place. You know the strengths, too: If we’re just ranking “stars,” you could do a lot worse than Strasburg, Scherzer, Rendon and Soto, plus Corbin, Turner and Dootlittle. You want almost-certainly-unsustainable big performances from veterans? Hello, Howie Kendrick and Daniel Hudson. You want the unquestioned most important player in franchise history hitting a home run at age 35 in his first World Series at-bat? Hello, Ryan Zimmerman. It feels like a good champion really ought to have a great combination of great players, one-time performances and a franchise legend getting his due. The '19 Nationals qualify.
14. 1995 Braves
Leitch: Of all those Braves teams that won the NL East every year from 1991-2005 (in the world I live in, 1994 never happened), six of them won 100 or more games. None of them was the one that won the World Series. But that’s probably just because they only played 144 games that year: They were on a 101-win pace after all. That’s why this feels like a steal this low, to be honest, particularly because this was absolutely Peak Maddux. His ERA+ was 260 that year. 260! He nearly had a 10 WAR season. Here’s my favorite stat: In a season in which there were only 144 games, he threw 209 2/3 innings .. and gave up eight homers. Eight! (Oh, and those Glavine and Smoltz fellers were pretty good too. And also: Peak Mark Wohlers!) I know the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for baseball in 1995, and I understand why. But boy did they miss a fantastic Braves team … and the best Greg Maddux ever was.
15. 2015 Royals
Petriello: I know. I’m surprised too! The small-ball, never-possibly-could-have-lasted 2015 Royals. This team won just over four years ago, but the style of play seems like it could have been from 40 years ago. This is the team that had Omar Infante (.220/.234/.318) at second base and insisted on hitting Alcides Escobar (.257/.293/.320) leadoff. On purpose.
And yet: This team was good! Maybe despite themselves, in some ways, but they won 95 games. Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon were legitimate stars, and the front office went out and added Ben Zobrist to support them. Did you remember that when they won the World Series, it was without James Shields (had departed via free agency) or Greg Holland (injured in September)? I didn’t! But this was peak Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera and they’d added Johnny Cueto, and … well, look. Maybe it took a Carlos Correa fielding mistake. Maybe it made us elevate Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer to levels they probably didn’t deserve to be at. But for as hoary and overused a phrase "flags fly forever is," they do. This one does. The ‘14 Royals got there, and the ‘15 Royals got back -- and won it.
16. 2002 Angels
Leitch: Even at the time, this felt a little bit like “Barry Bonds and his otherworldly brilliance vs. ... another team.” And that was even truer after this:
[jaw remains dropped]
[I know Statcast didn’t exist yet but it still measured that as 4,000 feet]
But that’s such a disservice to a truly excellent Angels team, one that combined a bunch of stud hitters being their best selves -- Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, even Brad Fullmer -- with a heavy dollop of scrappiness (Eckstein! Spiezio! ERSTAD!!!!) and a wipeout bullpen. That bullpen had Troy Percival in October, but it also had a 20-year-old K-Rod who threw only 5 2/3 innings in the regular season but 18 2/3 brilliant ones in the postseason. Oh, and I’m sorry: I liked the Rally Monkey. I still like the Rally Monkey! Long live the Rally Monkey!
17. 2007 Red Sox
Petriello: As you said above, Will, the other three Red Sox championship teams all have obvious storylines. The '04 team broke the curse. The '18 team was the best. The '13 team had the post-Boston Marathon impact, and the "we just traded away Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to reset everything" impact.
So ... what were the '07 Sox about? A transition period, perhaps. They still had a big chunk of the '04 team, with Ortiz, Manny, Schilling, Varitek and others, but Dustin Pedroia was a rookie. Jacoby Ellsbury was a rookie. It was Daisuke Matsuzaka's first year in America. It was the second year after they dealt Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins in a deal that returned Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, Jonathan Papelbon's second year as the full-time closer and Jon Lester's second year in the rotation. It was, in a lot of ways, a perfect mix of the old and the new. When you've won four rings in 25 years, they can't all be the most memorable team in franchise history, can they?
Frankly, my memory of this team comes down to this: Weeks before the World Series, I moved from Boston to New York. I went to a Red Sox bar in the East Village to watch this series. They outscored the Rockies 29-10 in a four-game sweep. It didn't even feel that close.
18. 2003 Marlins
Leitch: The 2003 Marlins are mostly known for the history that was happening around them -- the Bartman fiasco (or, more accurately, the Alex Gonzalez fiasco) at Wrigley Field, the exhausted Yankees after their epic series against the Red Sox -- rather than the history they themselves made. That’s the curse of being the Marlins, one supposes, though with that curse also comes two World Series wins. I very much prefer this one, which had a bunch of fun characters (Pudge, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Derrek Lee, even late-career Jeff Conine) combined with some electrifying young talent like Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and, oh yeah, a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera. (He was so skinny!)
19. 2008 Phillies
Petriello: The best of those Phillies teams that had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and … wait, the ‘08 team had only Hamels? And those Big Four rotations never actually got to the World Series? And the No. 2 starter on this team was actually 45-year-old Jamie Moyer? Wow. No kidding.
Anyway, we joke, but this team did have 10 batters hit nine or more homers, leading the NL with 214 blasts. Ryan Howard hit 48, then blasted three more in the World Series. Three years after Albert Pujols sucked Brad Lidge’s entire soul out of his body, Lidge went all year without blowing a save and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. You probably only remember the World Series for the Game 5 weather suspension.
20. 1996 Yankees
Leitch: When in doubt, stick with the original recipe. The Yankees won four World Series in five years, and while they might have had better teams in that time, nothing ever feels as good as it feels the first time. When the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, their first title since 1978 (which is forever in Yankee Years, though it’s a timespan they’re creeping up on now), Bombers fans lost their minds with a passion I’m not sure they had in later years. Later, they expected it: This was when it still felt new. You know what my favorite part about this team was? This was back when Mariano Rivera wasn’t the closer yet and therefore could be used like Andrew Miller or Josh Hader: His 107 2/3 innings were the most of his career by far. (He actually started 10 games the year before this one!)
This was Derek Jeter’s rookie year, so he’ll always be associated most with it, but I love all the veterans who appeared on this team: Wade Boggs (riding that horse when they won!), Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, Cecil Fielder, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key, Mariano Duncan … even Mike Aldrete! This might be the most underrated Let’s Remember Some Guys World Series winning team of all time.
21. 2010 Giants
Petriello: I almost picked them over the 2012 Giants 10 picks ago, so I feel like I’m getting a pretty good deal here. It’s true that Madison Bumgarner was a mere 20-year-old rookie, but the more I think about this, the more I think maybe I should have gone ‘10 over ‘12. This edition had peak Matt Cain, near-peak Tim Lincecum and Bumgarner did throw eight shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series, after all. It had the Big Three relievers of Brian Wilson, Romo and Santiago Casilla, who combined for a 1.97 ERA in 192 innings. Like any good Giants team, it had a great year from Buster Posey, and, again, like any good Giants team, it had the you’ve got to be kidding me guys: Pat Burrell had a 136 OPS+, Andres Torres' was 122 and Cody Ross hit five postseason homers.
I’m not convinced I’m doing these teams in the right order. I am convinced I’m getting a steal at 21 here.
22. 2000 Yankees
Leitch: I know this team only won 87 games, and their run differential suggested a record that was actually worse than that: It’s without question the worst of the Yankees title teams. But I have to say, watching this team in New York City at the time … I was pretty convinced they were going to win the World Series all season anyway. And they did! This was another great weird veteran-heavy team -- Jose Canseco! Felix Jose! Lance Johnson! -- but it was anchored by Jeter, Mo, Rivera, Bernie Wiliams and Andy Pettitte. This would end up being that group's last title, which wasn’t expected at the time but maybe should have been. This was the time when the Yankees dynasty was understood and unquestioned. Looking back, we should have maybe appreciated just how remarkable it truly was.
23. 2014 Giants
Petriello: I have no particular opinion on these three final teams. I just want to see if I can force you to pick the 2006 Cardinals club you very clearly do not want to take.
(This is disrespectful to the ‘14 Giants, who had probably Peak Postseason Bumgarner, and a deeper lineup than you remember, with nine hitters posting a 100 OPS+ or better, minimum 200 plate appearances. This is my third Giants pick, somehow. I’m done.)
24. 2006 Cardinals
Leitch: I can’t let this team be picked last: I just can’t. But I get it. When this team won the World Series by watching the Padres and the Tigers fall on their faces in rapid succession -- and letting the best Mets team since those prime ‘80s teams get blasted apart in the most painful possible way for the whole world to see -- Cardinals fans were very defensive about people calling them the worst team (83 wins!) to win the worst World Series in memory. It had been 24 years since the last Cardinals title, a lifetime for that proud fanbase. So they held it tight and made heroes of so many of the odd ducks of that team, your Jeff Weavers, your Jeff Suppans, your Anthony Reyes, your Chris Duncans. Flags fly forever. This title can never be taken away. You’re jealous. All that.
Then 2011 happened, the most glorious way to win a World Series imaginable, and now we can all admit it: This team wasn’t very good, this championship was a fluke, it sort of was pretty ugly to watch. Cardinals fans don’t really care; they’re not giving this title back or anything. But let’s just say you see a lot more FREESE 23 shirseys than WEAVER 36 ones.
25. 1997 Marlins
Petriello: The ‘97 Marlins are … definitely one of the teams who have won the World Series over the last quarter-century. OK, that's a little unfair. They'll always be remembered for being the first Wild Card team to win a ring, that they did so in just their fifth season of existence, and that they did so in one of the most thrilling Game 7 wins in history, when Edgar Renteria drove home a floating-on-air Craig Counsell.
You can never take that away from them. They'd win again six years later. But they, like their '93 expansion brothers in Colorado, have still yet to win a division title. That '97 team went 92-70, yet still finished nine games behind the Braves. They only scored the 20th-most runs in baseball, though the pitching staff was strong enough to allow the fourth fewest. I'm going to take this opportunity to renew my objection that Kevin Brown (who had a 2.30 ERA in 470 1/3 innings in two seasons with the Marlins) was perpetually underrated, earning just 2.1% of the Hall of Fame vote in his lone year on the ballot.
Wait, I really need to repeat part of that: Over the last 25 years, the Marlins have zero division titles. They have two rings. Only the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants have more. The Marlins! Literally the Marlins.