Wednesday, June 2

Good teams, bad teams

As I start this piece, the Indians are working on blowing a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 9th to the Detroit Tigers; Alex Avila has fouled off about 37 pitches in a row after Russell Branyan's careless error extended the game and Kerry Woodwalked the tying run on base. Avila just got a hit, and now the Tigers have the tying run at third base with two outs. I've seen this movie more than a few times already in the Indians' 2010 season, and it usually ends really, really badly. Fortunately, the alternate director's cut ending tonight was a Ramon Santiago flyout that bailed out Kerry and Rusty and preserved a 3-2 Tribe win.

You know who didn't have a whole lot of games end badly for them this past season? The Cleveland Cavaliers. That club didn't blow a whole lot of saves on their way to 61-21, it's fair to say. By all reasonable measures, the past two seasons of Cavaliers basketball have been far more successful than the past two summers of Tribe baseball. That point, I believe, is unassailable.

But which one is more fun as a fan?

Bear with me here. I know that any good fan wants his or her team to win, and I'm certainly no exception. I enjoy each and every win, up to and including the Indians pulling to within 12 games of .500 with this evening's victory. But overall, is it more or less enjoyable overall for a sports fan's enjoyment and health to root for a bad team or a good team? I think I can make a case for the bad team, with one proviso: the good team isn't a championship team. Inasmuch as this is a Cleveland sports blog, that shouldn't take a whole lot of imagination on the reader's part.

First, we have the regular season. The more I think about it, the more I can enjoy a crummy season like the Tribe's having than a hugely successful one like the Cavs' '09-10 campaign, because of the expectations I have for the two clubs. The Indians lose a lot, and it's annoying, but their victories are that much more fun. How much did you enjoy that 13-11 slugfest over the Spanks last weekend, or the 9th-inning explosion against the Orioles a few weeks back? When bad teams win games, it's an absolute treasure; take a minute if you will to reflect on the Browns' triumphs this year, unexpected and rewarding as they were. Don't think about the Buffalo win, though, especially if you've eaten recently.

On the other hand, the Cavs' regular season wasn't nearly as thrilling. This can't be generalized to all winning clubs, but you just kind of expected the Caballeros to pull out victory after victory; when they did, you put it in your back pocket and moved on. There wasn't really much celebrating to be done because it wasn't any great surprise. When they lost, however, it really sucked because: how could they possibly lose? I do not wonder about that for the 2010 Indians. Again, I'm not saying that I'd rather support losing clubs than winning ones - I'm just saying that pulling for a bad team can be every bit as rewarding as a good one.

Then there is the postseason. Yes, Browns fans, there do exist playoffs. I had to look it up too. Part of being a bad team is that, of course, you don't get to participate in the tournament. On one hand, it's bad as a fan because you're not playing for a title, but on the other hand, postseasons are a sucker's bet. Fans of 15/16 NHL and NBA, 11/12 NFL, and 7/8 MLB clubs end their season on an all-encompassing down note. Cavs fans know this all too well. (A hidden benefit of College's Bowl system is that lots of good teams and their fans can end a successful campaign on a high note.) Non-playoff teams: not so much! It's much easier on the constitution to root for non-qualifiers; again, this presupposes that your team isn't the eventual winner, and Cleveland teams deliver on this year after year. Instead, we're free to enjoy the postseason simply as the highest level of competition for the games we love, rather than being devastated by the exit of our favorite club. I watched all the NFL Playoffs I could get my eyes on this year, but haven't seen more than a few minutes in passing of the NBA draw since the Cavs' elimination. In one sport, my team made the postseason, and in the others it did not; I know which ones had a more positive impact on my psyche.

Again, I'm not suggesting that I'd prefer to back losing teams every season. I want the Indians, Browns, Cavs, and Buckeyes to win every single game they play, every time I watch. My point is simply that, with respect to the joy derived from rarer victories, the lowered pressure of a non-contender, the freedom to enjoy championship competition free of rooting interest, and avoidance of the devastating feeling of loss that acompanies most postseason exits, it's possible to be a happy fan of a crappy team. Go Tribe!

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