Tuesday, August 5, 2014
On Rooting For a Losing Baseball Team
I have a contrarian streak a mile wide, which helps explain why my two baseball teams are the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets, both the less popular teams in their respective cities. I've only adopted the Mets since moving to Jersey, so I wasn't around for their World Series win in 1986 and reappearance in 2000. The Sox winning the title in 2005 was great, but after years of good but not great teams they've suddenly hit the skids.
Rooting for a losing baseball team is different than rooting for a loser in other sports. On the plus side, even the worst teams in all of baseball will win sixty games in a season, giving the fan sixty reasons to celebrate. 60 out of 100 isn't so bad when compared to the NFL, where bad teams regularly go 1-15 and 2-14. On the negative side however, since baseball is a daily game, each day gives your crappy team a chance to frustrate you and let you down. For instance, the Mets blew a ninth inning lead yesterday after getting crushed in embarrassing fashion the day before. When you root for a bad baseball team, or even for a good one, you can't allow yourself to get too caught up in each game, since there are 162 of them, too many to live and die over. The key is to not let the constant losing and blown leads get to you, and to take heart in the wins, which will happen. Losing with the occasional sweet victory has pretty much been the story of my life, so rooting for a losing team comes naturally to me.
Fans of losing teams are much more invested in the future than fans of winning teams, who often have little clue about their squad's farm system, and never speculate about what the team will be like years in advance. Fans of losing teams do this all the time, "Hey, if we get a couple of bats in the off-season and the young pitchers keep developing, we might be able to contend for the playoffs in 2016." (This is basically the gist of a conversation I had with a Mets fan friend the other day.) This is not something that As and Tigers fans are thinking about right now, the only future on their minds is the upcoming October. All of this means that life is pretty miserable for young prospects on losing teams, since they are expected to somehow turn everything around, despite being green and untested. As with Jose Abreu with the White Sox this year, sometimes those players exceed expectations and the team still sucks.
Those unlucky enough to root for perennial losers usually have to make a decision over whether to take a glass half empty or half full attitude towards their hometown nine. The optimists latch onto every unexpected win and maintain hope that the kids coming up out of the minors will pan out. To think that it will all add up to another season of futility is such a depressing thought that the optimists would just prefer to ignore it and find the silver lining in everything. Although I am a pessimist when it comes to most things in life, I am usually a half-full kind of guy when it comes to baseball, something I can't quite explain. "Maybe next year will be better" is a mantra I can live with, since it's pretty applicable to life, too.
Of course, many fans take the half-empty approach, taking an attitude of loathing towards the team they ostensibly root for. I know Mets fans who treat their attachment to the team as some kind of curse as they gnash their teeth at the ownership and tear their hair out over the lack of good bats in the lineup. The hate of these fans is a fearsome thing, since they refuse to leave their abusive relationship with their team, no matter how much pain it brings them. Talk to these folks and you'd be hard-pressed to think of sports as a leisure activity intended to relieve stress.
As a more optimistic fan, I try to stay interested in the season long after my teams are out of contention by creating what I call "secret pennant races." If my teams can't make the playoffs, at least they can shoot for some more modest goals, like finishing in third place or with a .500 record. That's a rather humble goal, since winning as many games as you lose only amounts to mediocrity. If your team is bad enough, mediocrity looks pretty damn good, though. It looks like the White Sox are in a position to achieve that less than exalted position, which makes me happy. As far as the Mets go, I am hoping to see them finish with a better record than the Yankees this year, not as big a goal as in years past. Nevertheless, if they do it will be a victory for contrarians everywhere.