Amidst a gooey gush from almost every baseball writer that the Red Sox are the Perfect Team and they’ve shown how the National League is sooooooo much inferior (re-writing the columns they saved from last year when somehow the Cardinals managed to beat the Tigers against all odds) I plug my ears. I always have, always will root against the rich, the privileged, the powerful, the popular. Far as I’m concerned, the Red Sox with their 200 mill payroll and simpering mainstream broadcasters are the 2007 Yankees with different unis.
A few years back, I don’t remember exactly where, most likely Baseball Think Factory, I remember reading a comment from a poster relating how his father immigrated to America in the early 50s and after learning about baseball, decided to root for the Yankees, perpetual winners, because he believed in supporting excellence. I don’t know the man, so I don’t know how he defined “excellence,” as winning baseball teams were directly correllated to their wealth, even more so in those days. Is “excellence” the same as wealth plus winning?
People, since time began, have tried to attach themselves to the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, the winners. Sometimes, the fame, riches and fortune rub off on the follower, but when it comes to baseball teams, it is mostly the being able to feel that you are part of the team’s success, that by rooting for them, you too have succeeded when, in truth, you, the fan really haven’t done anything whatsoever to contribute to the actual victory. How many times have you told someone “congratulations on winning the division/pennant/Series” as if that person had him/herself actually won? Over the years, one can see that roughly, a team’s popularity correllates fairly well with its winning, especially winning a pennant, or these days, postseason appearances. The core of die-hards is augmented by bandwagoners if/when the team has success. It is all about the winning.
The Yankees, especially, always seemed to me the team that was like the most popular kid in school – rich, perfect clothes, the best car, the perfect athlete, the perfect body, the kid who always had people eager to give him/her anything he/she could possibly desire. Who on earth could root for THAT? A person who had everything, who never lacked for anything, who didn’t know the meaning of lack? The Yankees were the richest team, with endless money and resources who could buy any good player they wanted (back in the 50s too.) Yankees have been supplanted by the hordes of Red Soxers – population hugely larger than it was back in 2002.
The world divides in two – those who want to identify with this and those who want to identify with the one who proves that having “everything” doesn’t guarantee winning.
I’ve always been part of The Underdog Rooters. You know the Underdog movies – ‘The Bad News Bears”, “Major League”, “The Mighty Ducks” and every copycat movie with the same theme. The Bad News Bears, the team that consisted of baseball no-goods and life rejects who somehow found something in themselves as well as the others and fashioned a team that was somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I guess I could call that Better Living Through Chemistry, or, more accurately, Better Winning Through Chemistry.
Most of us Americans ARE Underdogs our own selves, descended from the peasants and slaves of Europe, Africa and Asia, who came here willingly and unwillingly and had to make something from nothing. It is why those of us who are Underdog Rooters identify with the kids on the Bears. It is why we rooted for the 03 Marlins and 05 Astros, and will root for this year’s Rockies, none of whom were predicted by the “experts” at the beginning of the year to succeed, and who in fact, began the year with failure, only to manage to pull together and learn to win. Yes, it DOES sound corny, doesn’t it.
But it really touches those of us who started with nothing, failed and managed to make lemonade out of lemons. It is why we root for the Wandy Rodriguezes of the baseball world, the little guys, the “gritty” white boys who just aren’t very good but sure seem to tryyyyy just a little bit harder. It separates those of us who earn victory from those who are handed it.
Handed it? Well, yes, the 1997 Marlins who went out and bought up the expensive free agents, the 90s Yankees who went out and bought up a lot of free agents, the Red Sox who bought most of the players – expensive free agents on their 200 million dollar payroll (I’m counting the 50 mill they paid to purchase Matsuzaka. I don’t care what Buddy Boy calls that money) bought their Rings. Yes, of course I know they all had to perform well at the same time, the same year. Yes, of course I know it’s not like buying a sandwich. But yes, I know buying top notch free agents is more likely to purchase a Ring than hoping that your collection of kids and nobodies somehow comes through, as the Rockies hoped.
And before I forget – yes I know it’s coming – I know that all yall who know me too well are going to ask – how can Ms. Underdog Rooter POSSIBLY be such a stalwart fan of Barry Lamar Bonds, the modern epitome of excellence of a baseball player? I have no problem acknowledging and admiring any outstanding ballplayer (yes, even Alex Rodriguez, as much as it gags me) and have been in awe of his abilities since I was a child.
There is a difference to me between admiring a particular player and rooting for his team. Baseball is, after all, both an individual and a team sport. You could correctly point out that Barry Lamar could be considered baseball aristocracy, both by genetics and training, but I would happily point out that genetics and training certainly help, but the exit ramps on the road to the majors are strewn with numerous sons of Hall of Famers such as Mickey Mantle Jr, Pete Rose Jr, Bobby Bonds Jr and Reid Ryan, to name a few.
To misquote Yoda, Dude gotta DO, not try to Do. And how interesting it is that so many stars in high school simply fizzled out after graduation when it was in fact time to Do.
So why did I ever starting rooting for such a non-Underdog as Barry Lamar Himself? Because even when I was 7 years old, I knew how cute he was.
Besides, he was never a Red Sock.