TLDR: Celebrating Losing

The headline from The Associated Press reads: “No fan rally planned for Texas Rangers this year.” Last October, the Rangers were lovable losers. This October, they’re heartbreakers; failures. Now I’m no Texas supporter, but I can’t help but feel for the Rangers. What a way to lose. I’d prefer it if there was another fan rally.

I spend the majority of my precious little free time supporting God-awful sports teams. I’ve actually been to a fan rally before, a Toronto Maple Leafs one, in the spring of 1999, after the team’s long, surprising, and most-welcome postseason run to the NHL’s semifinals. The rally was good times: I skipped out on an afternoon of high school classes, the sun was shining bright and warm, and I got a few autographs. Life is short, celebrate small victories, all that jazz. So while the St. Louis Cardinals’ story is magnificent, practically magical, and while I’m ecstatic for colleague and Cards fan Dayn Perry, I can’t help but feel more sympathy for the Rangers and their fans than happiness for the Cardinals and theirs. A strike away. Twice. I’d need therapy. A fan rally would help.

The quotes bring much sadness:

I want to celebrate and was thinking about it, but that moment never came.
— Elvis Andrus

I tried the best that I could. What happened? It wasn’t what I envisioned, that was all. A bad outcome.
— Neftali Feliz

This will never be a good feeling. It hurts. It’s hard to go through a full season and play so well and get to Game 7 of a World Series and not get it done.
— David Murphy

I’m still kind of numb.
— Jon Daniels

Sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can’t let it get away because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back. If there’s one thing that happened in this World Series that I’ll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story.
— Ron Washington

Those poor bloody Rangers. I want to bro-hug all of them. They won six more games than St. Louis during the regular season, registering a run differential 108 runs better than that of the Cardinals. They’ll argue they were the better team, and that the better team lost. I feel for Washington the most. He was always so amped in the dugout. I wanted to see him celebrate a World Series title. I wanted to see Wash get down.

The Cardinals incredible run was fueled by so many different players and personalities — Freese, Pujols, Berkman, La Russa, Craig, Big Carp, Dotel, and the Rally Squirrel — but more so than the thrill of victory, it’s the agony of defeat that fascinates me. I can’t help but feel awful about what the Rangers and their fans are going through in the aftermath of their collapse. It’s going to be a long winter in Arlington. Reeves Wiedeman wrote a great piece about it at The New Yorker:

Texas has never won it all, and, having watched many of my own teams blow leads or lose close games, I always find more sympathy for the losing squad than excitement for the winners. By the end, I still wasn’t ready to be happy for the Cardinals even after a colleague pointed out that this victory meant that now, at least, that wonderful Game Six would be more meaningful than a footnote.

Game six definitely takes on a more significant historical context now that the Cardinals are champions, but St. Louis had had their turn. Many times over. Based on World Series titles, they’re the second-most successful team in Major League Baseball history. Texas deserved one. Just one. Especially after making it back to the dance a second year in a row.

Look, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan. I watched, when I was nine through 12, them lose four Super Bowls in a row. No young person should have to go through that kind of sport-watching trauma. And forget about me, I don’t think Buffalo, as a city, will ever get over it. I’m still not sure what that experience taught me. Probably that sports are cruel, make little sense, and hardly matter, in the grand scheme of things. But I remember watching Super Bowl XXVIII in late January 1994, Buffalo leading Dallas 13-6 at halftime, and being sure that the Bills were finally going to win one. I was absolutely positive. Jim Kelly was finally going to get his ring. And Thurman Thomas his. And Andre Reed his. Buffalo was going to make up for the embarrassment that was 1993’s 52-17 nightmare loss to Dallas. And I thought about that Super Bowl Sunday, about how I felt when the Cowboys scored 14 points in the third quarter, and another 10 in the fourth, and shut out the Bills in the second half, when the Rangers blew not one but two two-run leads in game six, when they were one goddamn strike away. Surely so many Texas Rangers thought the moment — victory — was at hand. If not in the bottom of the 9th inning, definitely in the bottom of the 10th. As far as sports goes, it was nothing short of devastating.

The Rangers returned home empty-handed, and there will be no fan rally, but 100 or so die-hards welcomed them back to Texas at 3:00 a.m Saturday morning, at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, with applause, and with appreciation. That’s some dedication. The fans wanted to “cheer up their favorite players.” And cheer themselves up, too, I’m sure.

I’ve even thought a lot about that Texas flight home. I doubt anybody slept. I doubt anybody even talked. Flying’s never much fun. Flying after losing game seven of the World Series? Forget about it.

Lose a World Series, or two in a row, and life goes on. The 2011 season is over, and it’s on to 2012. Already the rumors of Prince Fielder to the Rangers have begun to heat up. And even though I’m not a Texas supporter, the news is almost welcome. A part of me wants the Rangers go hard again, and make an already formidable lineup that much more potent. If the Blue Jays can’t make it, I want the Rangers to make the World Series three years in a row. I have this feeling Texas is either going to win the World Series or go bankrupt (again) in the process. And that’s fine by me. Because I never want to see Nolan Ryan so sad again.

Required Reading

Quickly: If you haven’t read Joe Posnanski’s latest over the weekend, take the time, and do so. It’s long, definitely worthy of a “TLDR” tag, but it’s worth it. Posnasnki’s always worth it. It might, dare I say, be his best piece yet; a reminder of how incredibly silly September and October of Major League Baseball were. We might never see a fall like this again.

Required Listening

On the issue of winning and losing, underdogs and favorites, a Radiolab podcast on rooting for the underdog:

… [there is] such a deeply ingrained, strong bias for the underdog…that only 1 in 5 people admit to pulling for the top dog.

It features Malcolm Gladwell, who says that he openly cheers for the favorite, because he can’t stand to see the favorite lose, and subsequently deal with the pain that losing — when winning was the only expectation — brings.

Image courtesy the Flickr account of Diana Gee, via New York Shitty.

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Navin Vaswani is a replacement-level writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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