When in the year do you begin to despair?
As it relates to baseball, there’s actually a structure, a lineage, to that question. The answer is never fixed, of course; it’s a moving target, shifting forward or back a couple months depending on the season and the conditions and the way the wind smells in the air that spring. Which way the wind blows is always important, but what does it smell like? Sometimes it smells like the third week of fall. Sometimes it smells like desperation and the trade deadline. But it can be hard to tell; there’s not much wind at the end of July.
When in the year do you know your team won’t make it to the World Series?
Maybe that sounds like too dramatic a question; maybe it sounds too ideological. Every February, though, and every March, one thousand and whatever baseball writers across this gasping land pump out piece after piece to sell you on the obverse of this. Why can’t your team win the World Series, they ask? It’s still spring training, after all. They haven’t lost a game yet. And that’s technically correct, which is the most deceptive kind of correct: they’re selling you on nothing more than the idea that you cannot lose if you have not played. You’re buying it, because what else are you supposed to do with your time in February? It’s right there in the middle of the year’s greatest sports desert. Speaking for the sportswriters, we know when we’ve got you cornered. We’ll sell you hopes for April and dreams for October, because we know you’re desperate enough to buy. Hope springs eternal, we’ve been told, but we’re painfully aware that ad dollars don’t — and hope doesn’t pay bills.
In 2017, we live in something of a post-hope society. Not completely, of course; you’d have to kill us all to extinguish that last, most human instinct, and while there are people in this world working steadily toward that goal we should at least get one or two more Fall Classics in under the deadline. The most interesting thing about the World Series, then, isn’t who wins it — because frankly now that the whole Cubs thing has been dealt with, we’re clean out of ready-made Disney movie endings — it’s who loses it first, last, and most painfully. Anyone can win the World Series, or so we’re meant to believe, but just about everyone is going to lose it.
At least half of the teams in any given Major League Baseball season are going to be bad teams. That’s undeniable, regardless of how defensive you want to get about it. Every team that didn’t make the playoffs? Bad teams. I’ve spent over two decades of my life as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, a club that was in contention this year up until the third-to-last week of the season, and I can tell you without reservation that was a bad team. The Los Angeles Angels? Bad team. The Milwaukee Brewers? Bad team. Everyone beneath them? You know what they are.