Friday, September 25, 2015


After a rough patch, it looks like the New York Mets will soon be clinching their division, perhaps this weekend.  My Mets fandom is new, but it is intense.  I could not count the number of games I have at least partially watched or listened to on the radio this year, but the end appears to be in sight.  This is reminding me of one unique thing about about baseball that I love, the clinching moment.  With 162 games, the baseball season is twice as long as that of the NBA and NHL, and has ten times more games as the NFL.  It stretches from when the frost is first thawing to when the leaves fall, with games almost every day.  And unlike in those sports, truly making the playoffs requires winning one's division.  The wild card teams have to survive a play-in game.

While some franchises can expect to win their divisions, for others clinching is a truly special moment.  For instance, the Kansas City Royals clinched their division yesterday for the first time in thirty years.  When the Mets clinch it will be their first division title since 2006, and only their fifth in franchise history.  The release after such a grueling slog to greatness is always fun to watch as players douse each other in champagne and beer.  After months of soreness, fatigue, and sleeping in hotel rooms, a wild party is more than warranted after the cherished prize is won.

As I look back on my life from middle age I can see some clinching moments, which also come about as often as Mets division titles.   Leaving home for college, getting my PhD, getting married, and the birth of my children were all euphoric, clinching moments.  When the Mets clinch I want to see it happen live, because the clinching moments are few and far between, for both the Mets and for me.  In baseball as in life, as a wise man once said, even the losers get lucky sometimes.  It's always heartening to be reminded of that.

Great Moments in Clinching

1989: "Cubs Win The Division!"

I was never an actual Cubs fan, but because I could see all their games on WGN growing up, I became a Cubs sympathizer.  I did and still do fervently hope that they can finally break their streak of bad luck.  In any case, I remember watching their clinching game against Montreal in 1989, putting the Cubs in the postseason for only the second time since 1945.  The great Harry Caray seemed to channel the fervent, delirious hopes of Cubs fandom with his almost hysterical, repeated bellowing of "Cubs win the division!"

1973: You Gotta Believe!

The 1973 Mets have got to be one of the more improbable World Series teams of all time. They were spurred forward by the slogan of oddball reliever Tug McGraw: "you gotta believe!"  One of my favorite baseball photos of all time is an older than dirt Willie Mays getting joyously doused with champagne.

1987: Will Clark Acting Nuts

For some reason I always liked Will the Thrill as a kid, and for some reason I can still remember him acting completely off his nut when the Giants won the division in 1987.

1959: The Air Raid Sirens Blow in Chicago

After forty years in the wilderness after the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal, the White Sox finally won the American League again. Chicago mayor Richard J Daley was so elated that he ordered the air raid sirens to be blown when the team clinched, which caused quite a lot of confusion in that Cold War environment.

1976: Chris Chambliss' Homer

This is cheating because it clinched the ALCS rather than the division, but the moment's too good.  Chris Chambliss' homer against the Royals sent the Yankees to the World Series for the first time in a dozen years, and was accompanied by the kind of massive invasion of the field that you just don't see anymore.  It was emblematic of New York in the 70s, a roiling, lawless place.

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