Monday, April 04, 2005

Opening Day Thoughts

Opening Day holds great significance for me: it's the day I stop wearing winter coats (my wife thinks I'm a little nuts especially since the introduction of the wild card has moved opening day back to the beginning of April) and it's the day I start reading the Sports section first when the morning paper arrives.

So here are my thoughts for the day:

I am a once and future Orioles fan (the Senators left DC the year I was born and my father was a Baltimorean anyway). I used to take great pride in the Orioles as one of the elite teams of the American League and used to rattle off the statistic that the Orioles had the best record of any team since 1954.(This was true as of the mid-80s. I wonder if it's still true today. Probably not.) I didn't pay much attention to the Yankees until the late 90s when they got good for the first time since the early 80s. Then, of course, I started hating them. And I rooted for the Red Sox to beat them--I'm married to a Bostonian after all, they had my sympathy of course, and as the fan of one of the other non-Yankee AL East teams I felt a sense of solidarity.

But lately all the Yankees-Red Sox hype has me feeling like a Princeton football fan. (If you're not a fan of Ivy League football, you should know that Yale and Harvard have a football rivalry; Princetonians think it's a 3 way rivalry, but it's not. Yale fans and Harvard fans just don't care that much about Princeton.)

But here's the rub: baseball is not college football! It's not about the "big game"; it's about playing day in and day out, the slow (some would say boring) pace of each game, of each week, the cumulative won-loss record and the cumulative individual statistics. Baseball teams play each other three or four times in a row and in five and seven game series because it's the cumulative effect that matters. Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other every year. But guess what? The Yankees and the Red Sox also play every other American League team every year. In other words, baseball shouldn't have "rivalries"--let's leave that to football (I would make an exception for teams sharing a hometown: Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Giants/A's, and even Nationals/Orioles. Whoops: I forgot the Dodgers and Angels--how curious.)

But I can't swim against the tide of history (in baseball matters, I am a conservative): the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is here and it's real and I think the reason it exists is because of the amazing run of the last eight years in which the Red Sox have finished second to the Yankees every time. I'm hoping this is cyclical and one of these days the Orioles will push past third place, but I'm worried the imbalance is going to stay until there's a salary cap or a massive collapse of the economy in New York and New England.

Meanwhile I had decided when I moved to Pittsburgh that I would root for the Pirates in the National League and in the World Series (unless they play the Orioles again. I'm dreaming of a 1971-1979 rematch and yes, I know I will keep dreaming). When I lived in Philadelphia I rooted for the Phillies (who, along with the 76ers, got a lot better when I left town, but that's another issue).

The Orioles mediocrity since 1997 is partly due to economics but mostly due to the combination of bad luck and bad decision-making; the Pirates' recent run of losing seasons (since 93) has much more to do with economics. The usual plaintive cry among Pittsburgh baseball fans is that people here care so much about the Steelers that they ignore the Pirates. But it's hard to muster enthusiasm for a team that's destined to lose. (The Steelers are apparently destined to lose but not until the AFC championship game.)

In case you haven't figured it out, I am a proponent of a salary cap. (I didn't say I was a free-market conservative in baseball matters.)

Finally, a word about the Nationals. I saw a fellow DC-bred Orioles fan of my generation in New York yesterday, a soon-to-be resident of Wisconsin. We compared notes and had similar mixed feelings: nice to see baseball back in DC but we have both been in the process of developing interest in our local NL teams.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are already 1/2 a game out of first because of the outcome of the Yale-Harvard game last night.

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