Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Rooting Interest - A Calculation"

Given the option, I root for my home teams, those being Toronto, my ancestral home, and Los Angeles, where I currently reside.  This baseball season, unfortunately, the Blue Jays finished last in their division, and, after periods of stratospheric success, the team at one point going 42-10 (forty-two wins, ten losses), the multi-talented Dodgers flamed out in the second round of the National Baseball League playoffs, losing to the (St. Louis) Cardinals, who themselves advanced to the World Series.

The carnage left me nobody to root for. 

I have to root for somebody.  Without rooting, baseball is a tedious procession of balls and strikes.  For me, rooting is essential to my enjoyment of the game.  If I don’t root, I can’t watch.

And if you don’t watch…?

Lemme get back to you on that one, Italics Man.  You know I can’t fake an answer, and at the moment, I do not currently have one.  Let us just stipulate that I need to watch, and move on; otherwise it’s an abbreviated post and I’ll see you tomorrow.

I need to watch, and I need to root.

We’ll let it pass.

Thank you. 

So I look at the teams participating in the World Series.  My choices are:  The aforementioned St. Louis Cardinals, and the Boston Red Sox, who, having last won the World Series in 1918, have recently prevailed twice (in ’04, and ‘07), and at this writing – leading three games to two and playing at home – are on the verge of winning a third time.

(GLOAT NOTE:  At the start of the playoffs, these are the two teams I predicted would survive to compete in the Series.  I may even have said it out loud.  Why did I pick them?  Of all the playoff contenders, the Cards and the Red Sox were the two most fundamentally sound baseball teams – pitching, fielding, hitting, and managing.  But leave us keep our eye on the ball here.  We are not talking about picking a winner.  We are talking about selecting a team for me to root for.  I just threw this in to bolster my credentials… okay, just to brag.)

Returning to the premise:  Rooting is fun.  It makes things matter.  Or at least, in the grand, overall scheme of things, pretend to matter. 

I needed somebody to pull for.

But who?

What do I care about St. Louis or Boston?  I have never visited either place, nor did I have any connections to them whatsoever.  Neither venue meant anything to me.  They were simply two cities whose teams had made it to the World Series. 

It did not appear that I’d be rooting for anybody.  I would effectively be a passive observer (a notch down in the “Couch Potato” classification from active rooter.)

I would watch. 

But I would not care.

So here comes Game One, and a Boston hitter slams a double.

And I spontaneously crack an enormous smile.

Only then did I realize I was rooting for the Red Sox.

The question was…


What was my internal calculation that impelled me choose the Sox over the Red Birds?

Let’s see…

In their “Glory Years” during the ‘00’s, the Red Sox had been managed by Terry Francona, whom I had met when he managed the South Bend White Sox, a minor league baseball team of which I was once a one-forty-second owner.  (There were forty-two “Limited Partners.”)  I liked Terry a lot, so it was possibly that that made me lean in the Red Sox’s direction.

On the other hand, Francona was unceremoniously dumped after two World Series victories (their first since 1918!), and since the ownership had not fired themselves and were consequently still in place, I should despise the Red Sox and therefore never root for them.

Yet I was rooting for the Red Sox.

Moving on…

Tom Werner, once a television production impresario and now one of the three owners of the Red Sox, had hired me to work on The Cosby Show.  So I perhaps was rooting for Tom’s team.   On the other hand, Tom had ignominiously participated in engineering Francona’s departure as manager. 

So it was a wash.

Back in the sixties, the Cardinals were the Major League team I had listened to on the radio, their broadcast station, KMOX, so powerful, it’s signal carried all the way to Toronto.  (If I maneuvered my radio to the appropriate position.)  I had rooted for the Cardinals then.  Why not today?

Prior to this season, the Red Sox’s current manager had managed the Toronto Blue Jays.  You gotta get a couple of points for that. 

Don’t you?

The Red Sox players had decided to grow beards, some of them extremely long ones, vowing not to shave till they won the World Series.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, (with the exception of Adam Wainwright) were clean-shaven and comparatively colorless.

The reality was, there was no reason to root for either of these teams.  My calculations favored the Red Sox, but not by a lot.

Still, when that Red Sox batter smacked that double…

I lit up!

I wondered what exactly was going on.

And then it hit me.

Rooting, even for teams you don’t care about, isn’t about calculation.

It’s about emotion.  The decision who to get behind appears essentially arbitrary.  And in no case entirely rational. 

Why do I root for Toronto?  Because my grandparents emigrated there in 1908?  Why do I root for Los Angeles?  Because Lorne Michaels brought me down to work on a Lily Tomlin special?

As important as it becomes, rooting is explanatorily accidental.  It is not a decision we make.  It is a state of partisan selection we unconsciously arrive at.

Win or lose, I had somehow chosen the Red Sox.

And later, when their best hitter and inspirational leader David “Big Papi” Ortiz gathered his teammates together in the dugout during Game Four and, in an unprecedented – for baseball – moment delivered an in-game “settle down and play like you know you can” pep talk…

I was certain I had chosen correctly. 
Postscript:  The Red Sox won.  I was happy.  But I didn't dance.  I'll save dancing for the Blue Jays and the Dodgers.


cjdahl60 said...

I also was left without a dog in the hunt. I grew up an A's fan in the Bay Area and have since moved to Seattle, where I am doomed to root for the Mariners.

Canda said...

My problem with the Red Sox is that everything they do, they make so self-important. This whole idea that it had been 95 years since they won the World Series at home seemed like such a fake milestone. They have won 3 world series in the last 9 years. That's a lot of wins. Just because the first 2 were won on the road is no big deal. They had a big parade afterwards.

The White Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1917, when they won in 2006. People didn't sit around bemoaning that their grandfathers hadn't seen the White Sox ever win a World Series (as the Red Sox fans did). They had their parade, enjoyed the heck out of it, and moved on.

Frank said...

I bet there was a huge celebration in Cheers!