Monday, October 29, 2007
There's No Crying In Baseball
So, the Red Sox have won the World Series. Good for them, and their fans. As I noted earlier, I had no real emotional stake in the outcome, although I tend to cheer for AL teams over NL teams (especially when the latter pimp their religion so heavily), and I can admire the excellence of the Sox. But mostly, I think the win is great because it might finally be a moment when Red Sox fans have to let go of their underdog complex.
The New York Times talked about this last week, but I think it goes beyond the fan base's inability to conceive of themselves as top dogs, and gets to the heart of what it means to identify as a fan more generally. Call it the "Lost Cause" mentality of a fan base, how tightly knit losing is to one's self-image, how pity can become a rhetorical weapon. Just last week, Sports Illustrated ran a letter from an irate Soxhead complaining that the magazine had put the team on the cover, thus invoking the famous "SI Jinx." "Haven't Red Sox fans suffered enough?," the letter wailed.
Suffered. Sure, with that whole World Series win in 2004. With eleven Series appearances in their history, 12 AL pennants, seven East Division titles, and five wild card berths. Suffering through having to watch hacks like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Johnny Damon, Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez all these years. Suffering through Ken Burns' hagiographic Sox tribute film, Baseball. Suffering with a $140 million payroll (but remember-- the Yankees are the 'evil empire'). In 2004, Salon asked numerous famous BoSox fans if they'd prefer a John Kerry presidential win or a BoSox World Series win that year, and it was a real struggle for most of them to decide. I suspect that's not just because of their political leanings, or love of team, but because winning would mean, in the words of Keith Olbermann, that Red Sox fans "had less to bitch about," and that loss would hurt far more than a ball through Bill Buckner's legs.
Look, I live just outside of Cleveland, so I know all about how sports identities can be defined through losing (I'm a Browns fan, for crying out loud). But isn't it time to let go of the myth of the underdog, that frankly condescending "cheer" that implies, "We never really thought you could win, and that's why we love you"? It's funny that the Red Sox sport so many prominent Democrats among their fans, even as the team and their partisans in the press work hard to spin the notion that the Red Sox are the team you'd want to have a beer with. It's a pose that's worked well for them through the years: When the Yankees spend money, they're being cutthroat, when the Red Sox spend, they're competitive; when the Oakland A's use sabermetrics, they're hurting the game, when the Red Sox do it, they're being shrewd; when other teams lose, they've choked, when the Red Sox do it, they've been poetic; when other teams didn't sign Jackie Robinson, it was a sign of prejudice, when the Red Sox didn't , it was...well, we won't talk about that.
Maybe it's time to let this woe-is-me, jus' folks, have-your-cake-and-whine-in-it-too mindset go. Spoon might have sung, "You got no use for the underdog/That's why you will not survive," but I'd argue that just the opposite is true-- it's our addiction to underdogs that's really hurting us. Enjoy your triumph, Red Sox fans, but more than anything, take pride in it. Revel in it, and in your new status as baseball godfathers. After all, learning to accept success is just as important as embracing your failures.