As everyone that cares already knows, the St. Louis Cardinals took the 2006 World Series, four games to one.
It was a good series to watch. Only the first game came close to being a blow-out. In the others, a come-back by the eventual loser was eminently possible all the way through the ninth inning. That’s good baseball.
It was marred, on the other hand, by some ridiculous errors on both sides, which were inexcusable for world-championship contenders. Let me not even mention them in detail: a man’s shame should be covered.
In game 5, I was almost hoping for a Detroit comeback, if only to prolong the season just a little bit longer.
On the other hand, it seems better in a way if the winner wins decisively. It seems to me that when a series comes down to game 7 (thus: each contender has won three), it means they are equal, and mere statistical chance is basically going to decide it.
Fan excitement increases a great deal if, when the end of the season is in sight, the home team has a shot at “making the playoffs.” Stadiums sell out that otherwise would have lots of empty seats. The last couple weeks, while the Phils were contending, the fan base picked up considerably. People were driving down to away games. Listening to one of the late games against Washington on the radio, it sounded like there were more Phillie fans than Nationals fans.
Exploiting this phenomenon is the whole reason the MLB added the odious “wild card” category.
But is this fan behavior rational, and proper?
To a certain extent, yes. That is because there is an economic aspect to being a fan. I might love baseball and opera. On a given day that I would normally prefer opera, the closeness of taking the division might sway the ranking of preferences over to baseball, in addition to all the other days that I chose it anyway. So, statistically, one should expect greater turnout if making the playoffs is in the offing.
On the other hand, there is a fan base that has no interest once the home team is eliminated. No interest at the beginning of the season if there was not a realistic prospect of going all the way. This attitude I find evil.
Not that I am suggesting that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s just having the fun of the game.” Not at all. I completely agree with (I believe it was) C. S. Lewis, who said “if you don’t play to win you aren’t playing but playing at playing.”
On the other hand, each game should have some integrity of its own, as if it weren’t even part of a “season” that is tallied up with just one champion.
If your team is in the basement, it should be particularly delightful to defeat the division leader, even if they have already eliminated your guys.
There should be pleasure in every victory.
Moreover, I think one should translate one’s loyalty to rooting for the representative of the division, then the League to which your team belongs as the playoffs progress.
There is a selfish reason for taking this stance: if the team that beat my team loses, it is even more humiliating. But this is not what I am talking about.
In an earlier post, my reflections on what it means to root for the home team pointed to a primal tribal instinct. And there is nothing wrong with that.
What I add to this is an additional reflection coming from the playoffs: Just as the clan moves out in continuity to the tribe, then the nation, then nation-group; so the home-team loyalty should merge outward to the League.
There are exceptions to this rule of course. Maybe you have good reasons for a secondary loyalty to the team that makes it to play against your “league.”
That too is part of the richness of life.