Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dem Bums

Pessimism. It's a disease, an affliction of the soul. It rears it's ugly head for countless people, in countless places across the country, many of them in Boston between the months of April and October. Sports pessimism was large part of my later childhood. My stepfather is the ultimate sports pessimist. During tight games he would mime throwing heavy objects at the television, every once in a while he would launch a baby toy or a balled up sock. Though I will not discount his influence on me, by the time I was 18 I had surpassed him in both rabid fandom and sports knowledge on every aspect of the game save whether to take the Knicks and the over parlayed to Tampa Bay-Baltimore with teased to the final goals against average between Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, I did become a sports pessimist, primarily on my own. Ever since the Niners refused to resign Ricky Watters and Eric Davis, ever since Don Bebee jumped up and ran for a score on a muddy Candlestick Monday, ever since I saw Big Mac traded for Blake Stein and TJ Matthews, I have been a sports pessimist.

It used to kill my friend, the estimable DMJ, who was, at the time, the ultimate sports optimist. I tried to teach sports optimism in my brother, hoping that if I taught him well my own dogma would rub off on me. "Never leave before the final out. Especially in baseball, because you never know when you'll see something amazing." I told my brother this many times. Then, one night, we went to see the A's play the Giants in Oakland. Down two runs, with two on and one out, Tony Phillips was thrown out on the back end of a 6-5-3 double play. As Phillips got up to argue we started packing up. The scoreboard showed three outs in the ninth inning, game over. We paused and watched Phillips argue with the ump when the he got the thumb, PA announcer, "Tony Phillips has been ejected from the ballgame." "That's odd," I said, "why eject a guy when the game's over?" We were standing on the BART platform when we heard a cheer rise from the stadium. Then the station agent made the following announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, Olmedo Saenz has just hit a three run homer to win the ball game." And we missed it. All because I lost track of what inning it was (and the scoreboard operator changed the inning graphic before the outs graphic). The point being, I've never left a game early since. You never know when Cleveland will come back from 20 some runs down to win in the ninth, when Buckner will let one slip through, when Kirk Freaking Gibson will hobble off the trainers table with no knees and one elbow to hit a game winning jack off the Eck. You never give up, you never leave early, especially in baseball where there is no clock, but even in football, because Garcia to Streets became the second biggest comeback in playoff history and I've met people who left in the third quarter.

Things have changed somewhat in the past couple years. DMJ has now become a sports pessimist while I have renewed faith. It started with "The Redemption Reception" (ridiculous name), and was bolstered by the "Botched snap, pass interference that wasn't." It was rooted in "90-O," and sprang eternal when Olmedo Saenz sent a Clemens slider deep into the Bronx October night.

Still, I will say that in May of 2002 I called for the A's to "trade everyone." The shake up that came in June did turn the team around. Strangely enough, the most optimistic sports fan I know is from Boston. I get to hear all about it when his Bo-Sux beat my beloved A-mazing-'s. Boston's sux-sess in the recent series against Oakland has not been at all tempered by the fact that his team is 6 games out of first. Still, despite the sweep, despite the fact that the A's are behind Boston for the wild card, despite Barry Zito's 4-6 record and 4+ ERA, despite Chavey's injury, despite the low OBP being masked by a higher-than-recent-years team BA, despite all this, I believe the A's can make the playoffs. I do not believe Texas can do it for an whole year (see KC 2003), I do not believe the collection of mercenaries in Anaheim can come close to the magic of 2002. I believe the West is there for us to win. Sure, Hudson, Chavez, and Harden have to get healthy. Mulder has to stay healthy. Zito needs more scented candles or pink pillowcases or teddy bears or whatever it takes to get him going again. Scoot needs to stay in the nine-hole, Karros needs to figure out what's wrong, Rhodes needs to dominate as a set up man as he has in the past. But I still believe the A's can make the playoffs. I say this despite the fact that I predicted early on that this would be the A's team to finally not make the playoffs after four consecutive trips.

Sure, my new found optimism has taken some hits. Jeter's shovel pass to nail a (still, no matter how many times I watch the replay) not sliding Jeremy Giambi, the inability of a pinch hitter to swing the bat, bottom nine, down one, with the bases loaded, the 49ers constant cap woes, the hiring of Dennis Erickson, all of these have dampened my enthusiasm at times. But I still have Josh Beckett in 2003*, Ramon Hernandez's surprise bunt, Billy Beane's constant genius. I still have the knowledge that there's 80 some odd games left, that the Sux will eventually Buckner their way out of the hunt, and the knowledge that there's always, always, next year.

* See the archives, I predicted Beckett would be the MVP of that series and that the Marlins would win in seven. I was close, they won in six.

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