Original Sports ClichÃƒÂ©s
In case you didn't notice, another long and eventful season of America's Pastime concluded this past Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2, taking the World Series in five games. Honestly, I'm not sure that you should have noticed.
Almost ninety percent of Americans did not watch the World Series, a record high; noticing would have put you in some strange offshoot of American sport, like people who play jai-alai or like soccer. Even the people covering the games weren't really covering the games; I saw more articles talking about whether or not bringing the World Series to Detroit would revitalize that city's economy, or whether Jim Leyland taking such a down-trodden team as Detroit to the World Series was the best story in baseball (author's note -- I guess getting crushed by a pathetic team like the Cardinals might have taken a little bit of the sheen off that one).
It's interesting that so few people cared about this World Series, because I feel as though it was actually pretty significant -- not because the level of play was particularly high (it wasn't) but because this Series really affirmed one of our most basic principles about sport: that any team can win a title, because hard work, teamwork and "fate" have as much to do with sport as skill.
Think about it; the two best teams in baseball over the second half of the season, the Twins and Yankees, didn't even make it out of the first round of the playoffs, while two of the worst, the Cardinals and Tigers, went to the championship. In fact, a team that by any objective measure was not the best in baseball is now the world champion.
The Cardinals' victory turned a lot of things upside-down: We knew that the AL was the superior league and its representative would win the series (I made some joke comparing the levels of play in the two leagues to NASCAR and old people driving Volvos ... whoops!); we knew that the Yankees had the best lineup ever; we knew that the Mets had dominated the NL all year and were clearly the best team in that league (though that was a hollow distinction, like being the best midget basketball player); and finally, we definitely knew that a team that lost 12 of its last 15 games was destined for playoff futility.
I remember reading a sports column in late September in which the author begged St. Louis to lose a couple more games and lose their spot in the playoffs to the Phillies, because the only way they would have a spot in the history books would be if they completed the most spectacular choke of all time. Turns out the guy was wrong. At 83-78, the Cards are the worst World Series champions of all time. That's definitely going in the books.
Moving on from discussing just how bad the Cardinals happen to be, let's look at the larger implications of their victory. Most people either hated or didn't care about a Cardinals victory, but tell me how this is any different than, say, "Hoosiers," "Rudy," "Invincible" or any other story where a less-talented but hard-working team or individual overcame daunting odds to eventually win glory and recognition? And everybody loves "Hoosiers" and "Rudy." ("Invincible"? Not so much.)
I read an article that tried to explain it by saying that baseball is unique. With its long season and reliance on sabermetrics, baseball is more deterministic than a sport like football, where people do believe in mystique and are consequently more receptive to underdog stories.
Really though, I think that's crap. Some people refer to the current era of football with disdain: I've heard "era of perpetual putridity" from at least one national columnist. I don't think it's the sport that has anything to do with it; it's us instead. We don't believe in underdog sports stories anymore. The most obvious exceptions, those of the Boston Red Sox and the New Orleans Saints, are so extreme that they prove my point -- that's what it takes for us to believe in sports underdogs? There's a reason that we like sports movies: because that's where underdog stories take place.
Now, I could be wrong; I'm still 95 percent sure that the Cardinals suck. But maybe we need to take a step back and appreciate sports for what they are, and recognize just how interesting each sports story can be.