Another Blue Jays season has drawn to a close. Did you get what you wanted?
When it first seemed like the Blue Jays might actually make the postseason -- and break a drought nearly as old as me -- I was cautiously exhilarated. I tweeted this:
The most dangerous thing Toronto fans can do is to already act like they've won something. October will hurt you. I promise. #BlueJays— Michael W Bradburn (@MWBII) August 30, 2015
A bit hyperbolic I suppose. A more dangerous thing Toronto fans could do is allow hockey players to carry guns.
The point remains though: stay away from narrative. Narrative will only hurt you. Even Buster Olney can't help himself.
Elias Sports Bureau: TOR's run differential is +136 over any team in its league. Of history's 15 teams at +130/better vs. league, 12 won WS.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 1, 2015
On Friday night, Toronto beat the odds and became the fourth team; instead of becoming the 13th team. Narrative will only hurt you.
Or that's what they say. That's what I believed. I've spent the majority of 2015 writing for Beyond the Box Score -- it's a site the focuses on sabermetrics and objective analysis. This is all to say that I had trained myself to reflexively dismiss the narrative. Even if it seemed to be true, it at least needed testing. I watched games with friends and family, they would make comments about the game and occasionally look for my feedback. Most times I couldn't answer; I didn't know. And I was so cautious about guessing that I instead would either look it up or just shrug it off altogether. I had trained myself to dislike narrative so much that even basic conversation about baseball became problematic.
Every time a broadcaster would say something about clutch I would cringe. Or any time a friend brought up how bad David Price's 7th inning in game two of the ALCS was, I would think of the clustering illusion. But I'll let you in on a secret now; the point of all this preamble: that didn't help ease the pain of Friday.
The fact is, although I pride myself on using objective analysis, I don't know the answers either. That's what hurts the most. Not that you think you know the answer; it's the fact that you didn't have the answer all along. And you never will.
Way back in 2011 -- when I still considered myself a hockey fan -- the Vancouver Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. They were my team. My parents had got me a lamp at a very young age with all the Canadian team logos on it. I had liked the Canucks skates logo so much that I decided to cheer for that team. Then I started actually watching them and liked Markus Naslund. That's who I grew up watching; who I emulated on the pond. You know, kid stuff.
When the Canucks were in the Finals, articles like this ran on NHL.com:
"Prior to 2010, the Olympics had come to Canada twice – and each time, the NHL team in the host city won the Stanley Cup in the following year.
The pattern began with the Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976. A year later, the Canadiens won the second of their four consecutive Stanley Cups. Calgary hosted the Winter Games in February 1988. A year later, the Flames defeated Montreal for the only Stanley Cup in franchise history."
This was all meant to say the Canucks -- whose home city had just hosted the Olympics -- were going to uphold a Canadian tradition. To many, this meant victory was already assured. In hindsight, of course it's ridiculous that I believed that who hosted the Olympics had any bearing on who won the Stanley Cup.
I digress, I haven't watched much hockey since -- the only sport I watch now is baseball. So, when the Blue Jays made the postseason I had either already trained myself to act differently or I subconsciously told myself to treat this differently. It wasn't any easier.
You can learn the importance of run creation. You can learn that the team who scores the most runs typically wins their division (unless you play in Coors Field -- sorry Rockies). You can even know that a seven-game series doesn't always necessarily yield the best team. Nothing you do or think will have any impact on the way the game is played or its outcome. But no matter how you choose to digest the game, you woke up with some hurt Saturday morning. I'm here to tell you that's okay.
Originally, this first draft was an essay about whether you -- the fan -- got what you wanted. I opened with that question still. Were you entertained? That question seems moot now -- if you weren't entertained then baseball isn't your sport. On merit of how late the Blue Jays played into the season, we rooted for the third-place team. And now is the winter of our discontent. Should it be though?
Sure #robotumpsnow may trend on Twitter. And sure, we probably have enough Statcast data to track that Mike Moustakas home run (why isn't that a video yet?). But the Blue Jays loss to the defending American League champions is a badge of honour I will wear my entire life. The fact that Jose Bautista ended his own personal 1400 game playoff drought with such an exclamation point is amazing. Nobody could have expected him to rise to the occasion so prominently. The fact that Paul Beeston ended his tenure as President with a similar exclamation point -- of class and grace -- is likewise amazing. I defy any employee anywhere to take the shelling he has received over the last 18 months with the same amount of class. I think he's the only person we can expect to say that he didn't get what he wanted, and yet there's no way he would.
Cheering for sports is a collective. You feel more than invested in the team that you cheer for -- you feel a part of them. You'll show up to work in the days following and say "we almost had them" or "we'll get them next time." Anecdotally, I went for a drive Saturday morning. I heard an ad that suggested the Blue Jays were still in the Championship Series. I then drove by a retailer with 'GO JAYS GO' in big block letters on a programmable sign. Perhaps that hurt the most. However, it's important to maintain that, no matter what -- if you believe in wOBA instead of OPS or ERA instead of FIP -- you wave the same banner.
John Steinbeck wrote a novel that used Richard III as an intertext entitled The Winter of Our Discontent. Forgive this analogy, despite my wont to come off as an analytical person I am first and foremost an English major and a lover of baseball second. Steinbeck frames the narrative around a do-gooder -- the protagonist Ethan -- who lives in a corrupt world. The corrupt people get their way, Ethan continues to live by his morals but really gets no respect for doing so. His family doesn't even really respect him for this so he tries to kill himself, realizes he doesn't want to kill himself, but -- spoiler alert -- dies anyways. I think if my English professor read this they would retroactively fail me.
I like to think of that novel at the conclusion of every baseball season. And maybe this year it became clearer to me why. October is a sad month for me -- and many people I'm sure -- but it's always been made better by baseball. The days between baseball games this October stung worse than any November day will this time around. No, this will be the winter of our content. We will celebrate it by applauding the Beestons and Bautistas. By appreciating the randomness of the game we love. By loving the fans around us (especially for not trashing the city, thank you). But most of all, by appreciating the parity in baseball analysis. I've learned something and it was a hard lesson. Analytics doesn't always have the answer and sometimes sports is just to be consumed and spat back out. At one point, in the ninth inning of Friday night's game 6, the Blue Jays had a run expectancy of 1.798 in a situation where they only needed one run to tie the game. Wade Davis shut them down and that's okay. Appreciate the fact that Davis beat the probabilities and how amazing that is. Probabilities can be just another narrative at times.
. . .