Well that was ugly.
If you’re reading this, you don’t need to be reminded that the Pirates were 16 games above 500 this season. To achieve that level of success and to ultimately play out a season that only adds to the definition of failure is, to be blunt, really shitty. If you’re looking to assign blame or to point some fingers, there’s plenty to read these days. But if you’re looking for that here, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve already run through about a dozen what-ifs that would presumably lead to a playoff game . But I’ve also run through about two dozen what-ifs that would have had Pirates fans giving up hope in June. If you haven’t gone down that road yet, take a look… What if Pedro Alvarez repeated his 2011 season? What if AJ Burnett never came to Pittsburgh? What if Andrew McCutchen just had a ‘regular’ season – hitting .290 with 20 home runs and a few more stolen bases?
But I’m not going to waste my time writing about any more what-ifs. Fantasy is for dreamers, and I’m more of the periodic insomniac that doesn’t work with complete sleep cycles. Anyway… I’m more interested in considering why all of this winning and losing is so damn important. Obviously, we all follow sports for a reason. And if we’ve got a team we root for, we want them to win. That’s the point, right? But if they don’t win, why do we care so much (beyond the fact that we would’ve rather enjoyed a different outcome)? Why do people jam the Twitter with expletives and absurdity? Why do people embarrass themselves on talk radio (while they’re at work), screaming about the incompetence of the: front office/short stop/manager/bullpen/other (circle all that apply)? Why bother?
Emotion is revealing. The things that bring us to emotional extremes are very meaningful – meaningful in ways that transcend the actual event. That’s why we react so strongly. If these things didn’t move us in ways that extended beyond that exact moment, we wouldn’t shout/jump/hug strangers/wet ourselves/threaten family members/throw remotes/kiss hot dog vendors/etc., now would we? These things, whatever they are, are so important, they illicit such emotion, because they touch something deep in our core. These events nudge against our very identity – the parts of us that connect to our own sports victories/failures, to our relationships with our fathers/sisters/etc., to our toddling years, to our faith or lack thereof – to all of that. All of that… and more.
Seems like a stretch? I don’t think so. (But I’ll spare you the psychobabble…)
So how can sports actually do this to us? And why do we let 25 men in pajamas control our emotional and social well-being? It’s absurd, really. But maybe sports are perfectly designed for this. (And I would argue, baseball is more perfectly designed for this than any other sport we know.) Maybe sports allow us to understand ourselves in the simplified terms of ‘win’ and ‘loss’ that defy the complex ambiguity of our human existence? And maybe baseball, specifically, flaunts vulnerability and human failure like no other venue? It’s the only sport that allows a team to lose seventy (70!) times and still make a run at being the best. It’s the only sport in which the very best of the best fail over 60% of the time. It’s the only sport that so readily and thoroughly celebrates mediocrity – where losing 1 out every 3 games earns you a ring. And that’s why baseball is so riveting. Because tell me – who embodies mediocrity more than you and I?
But when day-to-day mediocrity slowly transforms into ‘loser’, we react. We react in the moment – the nausea of cheering on the wrong side of a walk-off; and we react when seasons slowly turn from hope, to hopeful wishing, to dismal reality. We don’t want to be affiliated with a ‘loser’. And when we’re big fans, the kind of fans that wear jerseys and caps and put stickers on our car, we create a public identity. This public identity isn’t as core as described above, but for the true sports fans of the world, it can be linked. Again it doesn’t have to be. We all know the fly-by-night fans that don’t know the score from last night and have no clue that an infield fly rule exists – let alone how you could cheat an out here and there it it didn’t. But we’re not those fans. We’re the fans that have an axe to grind. We’re the fans that use our team’s colors to impose the greatness of our mediocrity on the world. (Or at least the workplace and maybe the extended family…)
So when our team loses, we have choices to make. We don’t want to be seen wearing a ‘brand’ of loserdom – the colors of weakness, the logo of a subnormal. And when ‘our’ team takes a dive – especially when they take a dive like this – and especially (for all of you, not me) when it happens for 20 straight years, we’re left wearing the cap. Our mediocre hitters can no longer be brushed off as a funny projection of our limited human potential. We can no longer laugh at the #TOOTBLAN. The 82nd loss is the tipping point. It’s the day we realize we’re sunk. It’s the place where we must look in the collective fan mirror and acknowledge that there’s no vicarious redemption to be had. Not this year, at least.
But there is a better way! Remember we are baseball fans! And again, baseball is our National Pastime – a pastime with no clock to watch, the opportunity for infinite runs, and a place where 1 outta 3 ain’t bad! So fuck it, Buccos fans! Your Pirates play baseball for fuck’s sake. They play it far better than your or I. And hell, they play it better than about 12 other Major League teams. They do it with no money, very little Major League talent, a city full of football fans, and a strange looking owner. Besides, you’re a baseball fan – not a winning fan. If you were just a fan of just winning, you’d be watching old Globetrotters tapes right now! And that’s just stupid.
And here’s a secret. Really it’s no secret, but I feel I have something relatively unique to share. The Pittsburgh Pirates are about a billion times better than a team like the Boston Red Sox. Even if the Red Sox were winning. Even if the Red Sox were winning more than anyone else in the universe. Their owners are scheming capitalist whores that only use baseball to take lots (lots!) of money from working people. So much so that fans either have to ignore that they are being used to pad the accounts of billionaires through blind allegiance to nostalgic branding, or, or… they don’t ignore it, and pay up anyway. And that’s what’s happening this year in Boston. Pirates fans may have to bear the shame of wearing the t-shirt of a 20-year loser. But Red Sox fans must hand over their credit cards to an organization that hired Bobby Valentine, sells old building supplies at 1000% mark-up, and all that happy horseshit. And they’re doing it with their eyes wide open. The fraudulent sell-out streak has been outed. $250M of bad contracts have been traded to make room for the next $250M PR investment. Bobby Valentine was exposed for the side-show quote machine that he is.
So would you rather be a fan of that?! A fan of filthy rich John Henry just getting filthier on the backs of working people and families like you and your’s?! A fan of a mentality that would rather call an empty seat full than admit an empty seat is, uh, empty?! A fan of an organization that would metaphorically kick your puppy and (possibly) steal diapers from babies?! Are you the type of person that roots for the house at the blackjack table?! Of course not. You’re a fucking Pirates fan! And thank God you are…