Saturday, October 22, 2011

Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me

When I watch the playoffs in any sport, they generally don’t feature any of my favourite teams. Yet I also feel awkward not cheering for someone, so after a short time, I usually pick one playoff team and halfheartedly root them on to victory. So, you know, GO RANGERS or something.

Besides, my thinking is that having complete and utter detachment from the post-season can put your mind in a very isolated place, and if you suffer from latent madness to begin with, it can lead you to do unthinkable things as a result. It’s the exact phenomenon we saw at play in The Shining.At least that’s my informed opinion as a certified psychoanalyst. (Note: I am NOT a certified psychoanalyst. But I did once run a roadside stand dispensing psychiatric advice for five cents a visit.)

Trying to generate one's own false attachment to the World Series has its drawbacks, however. For instance, it can lead to columns like this one from Damien Cox. He certainly heard the wrath of plenty of Blue Jays fans about his attempt to link the Cardinals' success to the Jays' perceived failures, and I don’t disagree with pretty much all of the criticism that was thrown his way. I thought the piece was uninformed by real facts, and delved into amateur psychoanalysis of clubhouse dynamics about which he couldn’t possibly have first-hand knowledge. (Note: As we’ve already clearly established, the amateur psychoanalysis should be left to me.)

But I’m also prepared to cut Cox a bit of slack. The fact of the matter is he’s hardly alone in trying to tie the sport's biggest event to the part of the sport with which he's most familiar (in his case, it's the Blue Jays, though you can quibble with how extensive that familiarity is).

Let's face it: the World Series is the culmination of an entire baseball season boiled down into seven games or less. Baseball is built around this, and MLB spares no expense or effort in trying to generate excitement about it – to try to make you, whether you’re a fan or a casual viewer or even a reporter or columnist, want to be a part of it. Major League Baseball wants you to feel like you’re involved, that you have a stake in the outcome, even though the chances are extraordinarily high that the team you support, or the team you cover, isn’t playing.

It’s only natural to want to be a part of the excitement. I get it. We wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t want to be part of it. Frankly, sports reporters would have never become sports reporters if they didn’t want to be part of it either.

The stakes are highly inflated around the post-season too. The language associated with it is rife with hyperbole: “The Fall Classic”, “Baseball’s Biggest Stage”, etc., etc. Even calling the championship “The World Series” has a certain false bravado to it, since it’s not like the winning team is going to have to face off against other international competition. If you’re not a part of it, if your team is out of it, it’s easy to develop a bit of an inferiority complex. And if there’s one thing Canadians, and Jays fans, know something about, it’s inferiority complexes.

In addition to this, one must consider the fact that all eyes in sport are on the exact same players, games, plays, pitches, and even post-game news conferences for the first time all season. Basically, it means everyone has to find a way to talk about the same stuff and make it sound relevant and interesting. Moreover, we generally try to do it in a way that we ourselves can relate to – as fans of other teams, as media from other cities, even as supposedly neutral observers.

Think about some of the things Jays fans have likely had rolling around in their heads the past three weeks watching postseason baseball. Cox was among many to question, based on remarks from Tony LaRussa, whether the Jays lost the Colby Rasmus trade with the Cardinals, who are now in the World Series. Maybe the Jays also blew it by dealing Mike Napoli to the Rangers after miraculously plucking him from the Angels. Or how about all those ex-Blue Jays who played for the Diamondbacks in the playoffs, while the Jays themselves sit another postseason out? The recurring theme is that we innately feel the need to somehow make the post-season about us.

The media want to make it about themselves too. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote a piece following World Series Game 2 that was similarly panned in the Twittersphere, blogosphere, and whatever other sphere you might care to name. His contention was that Albert Pujols, by not sticking around after the game to answer questions from the media in the wake of his costly 9th-inning error, showed a lack of leadership, but the prevailing reaction to the piece was that Passan was whining about his own plight as a member of the media. (To his credit, Passan responded to some of that criticism on Twitter today, reiterating that he didn’t intend to make it about himself.)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel like you have your own personal stake in a major occurrence. It happens with more than just sports. How many people who never met Steve Jobs felt at least some personal sorrow when he died, however irrational that feeling might have been? Furthermore, those who dared to point out the absurdity of getting sad about the death of the guy who paid a Chinese manufacturer to build your cellphone were called insensitive pricks.

When it comes to baseball, I’m all in favour of absurdity and irrationality, even if it results in ridiculous sports columns or other awkward scenarios. Case in point: tonight, in Game Three, I’m probably going to cheer for the Texas Rangers again. I’ll get more excited than I should about Nelson Cruz at-bats, or Elvis Andrus defensive gems.

What fun would the playoffs be if I didn’t?


Steve02 said...

Fantastic article!

dave_church said...

Very true, Org Guy. It's always the question: "Who are you cheering for?" Even if I start watching a game without a stake, I'll often find myself leaning one way or the other, cheering without knowing I've started cheering. This phenomenon did lead me to cheering for Boston against the Yankees in '04 (an occurence which has not repeated itself since).

I think we'll all be happy once the Jays are in, and we can throw our fandom united there. But there's still sport in picking a team and cheering, too, so we have some stake in what's happening.

chewbacca said...

you know what? I agree with Cox on this one. Rasmus is talented. So, apparently, was Corey Patterson when was a prospect. Talent alone is not enough. Rasmus needs to pan out, hit for average and get on base, much better than he did this past season. Otherwise, STL won this trade. Still shake my head about the Napoli trade. I panned it when it happened, and still do.

Anonymous said...

agree with chewbacca.

Anonymous said...

Rasmus had a bad season, this is true. He's also had one highly successful season as a major league hitter. I think that's what separates him as an acquisition -- he's a talented prospect who already has a track record of being able to excel at the highest level. Most prospects a team acquires through trades don't have that.

As for the Napoli trade, we can get into whatever hindsight we want, I suppose. None of it was really the point of the post.

I was really just trying to point out how it's natural, as a fan of a team that isn't playing in the World Series, to draw your own links to guys who ARE playing, based on your own experience with them. Everyone does it -- it's one of the reasons so many Jays fans and observers are still debating these trades so hotly.

Allen said...

rasmus sucks. He's more over rated than Jason Heyward.

Tao of Stieb said...

You know what's totally overrated? The word "overrated".

As for the Rasmus-Patterson argument, the distinction I think is that Patterson had raw talent, whereas Rasmus has some fairly refined skills.

Which is another way of saying that Rasmus has much better strikezone judgment, which is a much more important skill than raw speed or bat speed.