Friday, September 30, 2011

O, how the mighty have fallen. (Or, the Red Sox get back to normal.)

Somehow, it all feels normal to me.

As I suppose it does to all longstanding (and, through much of our history, longsuffering) Red Sox fans.

What has no doubt come as a shock to the younger citoyens of Red Sox Nation – say, those under the age of 18 or so – has a true sense of inevitability about of, of familiarity. It’s like finding, bunched up in the untouched ironing basket in the back of your closet, an old favorite sweater you haven’t worn in years, or even thought about. For a sec, you wonder why you tossed a sweater in the ironing basket to begin with, but then you put it on and, sure enough, it still suits you. You’re your old self again. Back in business.

So it is with this year’s most epic of epic fails.

The best team in baseball between May and August fell into an unprecedented swoon in September and at the true 11th hour – the last out of the last game of the season – lost to the lowly Baltimore Orioles while, at nearly the exact moment, down in Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays, rather than gracefully losing to the Yankees to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox, survived their 11th hour and won their game.

Well, good for them.

While right this moment, I am a Detroit Tigers fan, I will have a hard decision to make in choosing between the Tigers and the Rays if they both make it to the American League Championship Series.

Right now, I’m leaning Rays, for the sole reason that they have the second lowest payroll in major league baseball – a paltry $41M. Which is about one-quarter what the Red Sox doled out this year for a passel of decidedly unlovable, dispirited, soulless losers (with a few exceptions and they know who they are; so do you, if you follow the Sox: there can be no arguments about Little-D and Jacoby “Be Still My Heart” Ellsbury). It’s also about one-fifth of what the NY Yankees shelled out. Having won their division, they have a fighting chance to go on to the World Series, even if they are considered an underdog. $203M just doesn’t get you quite what it should. No wonder the rich feel so put upon, so beleaguered. 

While from a broadcast/advertising revenue point of view, it would probably be a disaster, the best possible World Series matchup would pit Tampa Bay (29th out of 30 teams in terms of payroll) against the Diamondbacks (25th, at $54M).

Good for baseball to see the scrappy little guys thumb their noses at the rich folks. Call it class warfare, if you will, but bring it on.

From a pay-for-play standpoint, a World Series with the Yankees (We’re Number 1 in payroll) against the Phillies (at number 2, We Try Harder) would be moneyball, indeed.

The Red Sox, both third in payroll and an ignominious third in their division, are this year’s Biggest Losers.

Anyway, 162 and done! (Wait until next year? Of course. And maybe the swoon will make it easier to buy those $28 bleacher seats when they come available in December.)

I was interested to read Nate Silver’s statistical take on the Sox nosedive.

On September 3rd, they had a 99.6% chance of making it to the playoffs. Ah, those were the days!

As for Wednesday’s season-ending debacle, when the O’s had two out and no one on in the bottom of the ninth, the probability that the Red Sox would win was 95.3%. (This was according to FanGraphs, which Nate Silver cited.)

Silver then did some shucking and jiving with the Red Sox numbers, and the probability that the Rays would win, given how far down they’d been, and he came up with:

…a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

Say it ain’t so!

Maybe there was something to the Curse of the Bambino, and maybe “we” haven’t fully shaken it.

So, welcome, young Red Sox fans – so trusting, so wounded, so (until Wednesday night) so na├»ve – to the real world of Red Sox fandom.

As for myself, when the O’s tied it up in the ninth, I took to my bed.

Forget the probabilities, forget the stats.

I have been a Red Sox fan for far too long not to know how this one was going to end up. Hoping for a different outcome than the one we got may not be out of my emotional repertoire. Come on, I still get that ‘hey, Romeo, she’s not really dead’ wish whenever I see Romeo and Juliet.  But hoping against hope for something good to happen, while knowing what was going to happen in my brain of brains, precluded me from watching the bitter end.

Still, baseball being baseball, and fandom being fandom, all will be forgiven come Truck Day.

Meanwhile, best wishes to seven of the eight teams that’ve made the playoffs, with especially warm wishes to the Rays and the Tigers.

Seven out of eight chances that “my” team – i.e., anyone other than Voldemort – will win the World Series.

Looks pretty good at this point.

But you know how it is with probabilities, especially when it comes to baseball: anything can happen.

Source for team payrolls: USA Today.

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