Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Only One Team Can Win, but Both Can and Will Be Patronized

The World Series offers me a personal dilemma. I can't take sides between the Cubs and the Indians. I'm too close to both of them.

No personal ties, mind you. I did cover Terry Francona for a season and half in Boston, but I'm sure he doesn't remember me and he shouldn't. What's pulling at me in two directions is opposing parts of my own experience as a lifelong fan of a perennial loser that wound up winning for once. As a Phillies fan, memory helps me identify with the Cubs. Attitude makes me identify with the Indians.

I was 31 when Philadelphia won the World Series in 1980. I'd never seen them in a Series. My father had never seen them win one. Neither had anybody else, since the Phils had managed to win just two National League pennants and one Series game since the franchise was founded in 1883. Grover Cleveland wasn't even President yet.

So I can understand the delirious yet trance like state many Cubs fans have been in since last Saturday night. It's how I felt when the Phillies got past the Astros in five excruciating games in the NLCS. Hey, victory is possible! Doom is not a given. The cosmos doesn't hate us for rooting for this team. That 10-game losing streak to blow a seven-game lead with 12 to play in 1964 was the result of a team playing over its head reverting to its own level in a miserable way, not the result of original sin. My fan self became a different person before that Series started. If Cubs fans begin tonight feeling they're playing with house money, hey, I've been there, too.

Feeling like you can't win is bad for people in general, and it has an especially strong effect on fans. Neurosis, quitterdom, endless whining, all the qualities that made so many Red Sox fans so insufferable for so long before 2004. Sox fans are still manic-depressive, but at least they now temper their manic reaction to success with more genuine pleasure.

Also, jinxes are dumb. Teams win and lose because of what they do, not something that happened before their grandfathers were born. A Cubs win would mean their "lovable loser" persona would be tossed on the scrapheap of baseball history. Good riddance.

So it'd be nice if the Cubs win. But I won't join in the national "aww, isn't that sweet" chorus if they do because half, and maybe more than half of my Phillies soul feels the Indians side of the spiritual matchup. They haven't won a goddamn Series in my lifetime either, and they're stuck with the role of unsentimental underdog.

There are two kinds of teams in every sport -- the Brand Names and the Plain Old Teams. It's not always associated with winning and losing, since the Raiders and Knicks are still Brand Name outfits, but can easily be identified by scrutinizing a team's fan base.

Does a team have aggressive celebrity fans who haven't lived in its home town in eons? Do fans get op-ed pieces in the Times when it wins? Do the fans of Plain Old Teams hate the team just because of its fans? That's Brand Name, baby.

The Cubs are about as Brand Name as it gets and have been for decades. We need only cite Bill Murray crashing the White House press briefing in Cubs gear, but special mention goes to Michael Wilbon of ESPN wearing a Cubs shirt on the air last Saturday night. Wilbon was once a fine columnist. Now, he's a professional Cute Fan. Yuck.

The Indians are Plain Old. Not quite to the max, because the "Major League" movies were about a fictional Tribe, but aside from that, they have much more in common with baseball's Plain Olds. They are the brothers of the Rangers, Mariners, Diamondbacks, etc. They have no celebrity fans, unless one counts Drew Carey, which I don't. They have no poets and big-time political reporters singing their praises on Twitter. Indians fans are Indians fans because Cleveland is where they live or lived as a kid, period. The Indians can win the Series and their bandwagon will still remain smaller than a Prius. Their joy or sorrow will be theirs alone.

The Phillies are a Plain Old team if ever there was one. We got no celebrities, no Op-Ed pieces, no glamor. Nobody turned our 97-year losing skid into bathetic reflections on the transitory nature of life. People just thought our team sucked, which it did. There was no Phils' bandwagon after 1980 or 2008. We didn't want one. The famously negative, nasty behavior of Philadelphia sports fans is a defense mechanism, a way of shutting off the world. Who'd choose to act that way if it wasn't bred into you from toddlerdom. Nobody, and Philly fans like it that way.

So I can't pick a side tonight. If the Cubs win, baseball will be minus a stupid storyline and a great many nice fans will be happier than ever before. If I have to wade through a sewer of saccharine prose to see that, well, I can take it.

If the Indians win, a great many equally nice fans will be happier than ever before and almost nobody else will be. I can take that, too.


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