Now that the season is over and we know all ten of our playoff teams and their respective seeding, we have one little problem to deal with: two thirds of all baseball fans, more or less anyway, do not have a primary rooting interest left.
This is a problem because, as we so often note, baseball is a local game first and foremost, with people following their own team far more than they follow the entire league like fans may do in other sports.
If you are a fan of one of the 20 teams who have played their last inning of 2017, you have two options: (1) tune out of baseball for October and concentrate on football, politics, reading books or spending time with your loved ones; or (2) jumping on some other team’s bandwagon and rooting for them for a month.
Pick option (2). It’s way better. Football is dumb, books are overrated and your family will be there in November, assuming we don’t lose a nuclear war to North Korea.
If you do choose that course, allow me to help you choose which team to root for this October:
Pro: Based on comments on this blog over the past eight years, a lot of you non-Boston fans don’t like David Ortiz very much. Well, he’s gone! I suppose a lot of you still have a lot of Dustin Pedroia issues to work through, but really, this is not the same Boston team of a few years back that a lot of you grew to loathe. Jackie Bradley Jr. is wonderful to watch play defense. Mookie Betts is eminently likable and he bowls too and bowling is great! Chris Sale may be an odd duck, but seeing a dude built as slightly as him strike out a dozen dudes a game is kind of fun. So too is watching Craig Kimbrel. You may not like the whole ~Red Sox Experience~ but there are a ton of likable and interesting players on the Red Sox. David Price happens to play for them too.
Con: History is hard to get over. Fans of most teams have had a reason to either dislike or roll their eyes at Boston over the years, whether because of their actual dominance or because they and their fan base still styled themselves as underdogs even when they won all the time. Generally speaking, Boston sports teams do not deserve bandwagons and those who do bandwagon for Boston sports teams tend to be the worst bandwagoners. If you don’t believe me, just go talk to your friend who has been a big Patriots fan since 2003.
Pro: They’re great evidence that you don’t have to do a massive, complete tear-down rebuild in order to get good again. Yes, they have financial advantages, but Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and the other kids who have driven them this year show that the “go out and buy all the talent they can” Yankees are history. Really, it’s the same deal with the Red Sox: you have years, maybe decades of pent-up dislike for them — and no, they do not deserve a bandwagon at all — but if you take the branding away from this team, it’s actually a super fun group of players. Plus: if they win the World Series, they may be the only team that doesn’t visit the White House.
Con: It’s the Yankees. Really, screw the Yankees, always. And to be honest: they and their fans would prefer that you hate them. They won’t admit it, but they like it that way.
Pro: It’s hard to root against a drought ending. It’s been 69 years since the Indians have won the World Series and that’s not nice at all. At the same time, the Indians have played some amazing baseball this season, so if you’re the sort of bandwagon fan who prefers to see dominance vindicated with a championship more than you like to see underdogs prevail, they got you covered that way too. Beyond that there’s the usual “root for the struggling city” dynamics which, while I personally find it condescending (see the Detroit coverage of recent years), will certainly appeal to some people. Mostly people who don’t give much of a care about places like Cleveland the rest of the year and who don’t understand much about what’s happening in the Rust Belt, but I suppose they mean well.
Con: As always, it’s gonna be nauseating to see that logo in prime time every night. Part of me really does want to see a championship elude the Indians until they get rid of Wahoo. Which may be sooner than we all think.
Pro: A 103-loss team making the playoffs the very next year is a great thing. Especially if you happen to root for a bad team that is trying to sell its fan base on the alleged inevitability of many years of losing before they can contend again (I’m looking at you, Atlanta). The fact that their front office sold off players in July but the team still rallied to make the playoffs is a nice eff-you to The Man as well, and it’s nice to root for those sorts of eff-yous. I mentioned above that it’s fun to watch Jackie Bradley Jr. play defense. Well, double that for Byron Buxton. He’s truly special. Also: if you’re a fan of chaos, the Twins — and the Rockies, which I’ll discuss below — give us the best chance to see a snowed-out World Series game. That might be bad for baseball but it’d be great for writing about baseball, arguing about the schedule and stadiums and climate change and a bunch of other things that serve as the engine for baseball blogs. OK, fine, this is maybe just my reason for rooting for the Twins, but we’ll all have fun with it. Promise.
Con: It’s hard to hate the Twins, really. They may not be super sexy, but there’s nothing about them I can see that inspires strong negative feelings. I suppose if you’re super anti-Wild Card or if you’re the sort who thinks baseball is hurt when 85-win teams win it all, their going far would bother you.
Pro: Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are two of the best, most watchable players in the game. They have a handful of great talent just below their level — George Springer, Alex Bregman, etc. — that you probably haven’t seen that much of, even if you’ve heard about them. A talent-laden team of mostly homegrown players is always cool. Beyond that: their winning it all this year would vindicate that old Sports Illustrated cover that — only half seriously — claimed they’d win the 2017 World Series. I don’t care about that prediction as such, but I love anything that could point to the existence of soothsayers and mystical baloney. I don’t personally believe in it, but the mere possibility of it gives life more flavor.
Con: The Astros did do one of those complete burn-down, lose 100+ games multiple times rebuilds that I lamented up in the Yankees and Twins blurbs. It has worked for them and, given how terrible their farm system was left by the previous regime, they probably had to do it in order to get where they are, but if they win it all it may encourage more teams to do that even if they don’t have quite the need. That’s just bad for fans.
Pro: Dusty Baker. If you’re of a certain age and a certain analytical bent, you probably spent a lot of time complaining about Dusty Baker in the past. About him abusing pitchers in Chicago and blowing chances with San Francisco due to his lack of sabermetric bonafides or whatever. While there were good reasons to criticize the guy for that stuff, that was a very long time ago and Dusty Baker is a very different manager now than he was then. And, to the extent he has not changed, his temperament and approach are a nice corrective to what baseball has become in the past 15-20 years. For example, here’s how he approached Bryce Harper’s return from a bone bruise:
. . . Baker summoned up the spiritual, praying for Harper’s speedy recovery and getting an assist from a friend of his who is an elder in the Cheyenne tribe. “They burned sage for Bryce every day,’’ Baker said last weekend in reference to the elder, Dennis Limberhand, and his family. “There’s a lot of positive thoughts out there for Bryce to come back.’’
Dusty is just cooler than most managers. He has won everywhere he has gone — even in Cincinnati — and he took a team that engaged in a high-profile clubhouse mutiny just a couple of years ago and has them running like a well-oiled machine. We have gone back and forth over the years talking about how much difference a manager can make and whether or not you want an old salt like Dusty or some front office puppet to be at the helm. For now I want to see more old salts do well. As a Braves fan I can’t, as a matter of principle, root for the Nationals, but I can root for Dusty Baker. At least I think. Eh, it’s the playoffs. Screw logic.
Con: My divisional prejudices aside, there isn’t anything super unlikable about this team en masse. You’ll have to pick your personal fights with them I suppose. A lot of people don’t like Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper individually. If that motivates you, God bless. I suppose if you have an anti-Washington disposition these days you won’t want those B-roll shots of the Capitol and the White House when coming back from commercial breaks. The spiteful among us may like to go another year reminding Nats fans that, for all of their wins, they’ve never advanced past the NLDS, but that would be immature. Satisfying, but immature.
Con: There is no “Pro” here. It was great for the Cubs to break that 108-year drought. A wonderful story for a truly long-suffering fan base. That’s over now, though, and if you’re not already a Cubs fan and you’re rooting for the Cubs, you may as well be one of those people who live in Illinois and wear Gronk jerseys. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why you’d do something like that. In fact, I’m going to walk out of my house right now and go to that house down the street from me here in Ohio which started flying the W-flag after every Cubs win this year and check to see if they’ve been Cubs fans for life. Or if, rather, they’re just one of those people who spent three years living in Lincoln Park after graduating from Ohio State before moving back here to be closer to their parents because, hey, child care is expensive in big cities. Anyone in the Midwest knows about dozen people like this, BTW.
Pro: It’s almost as bad to be a Dodgers bandwagoner as it is to be a Yankees or Red Sox bandwagoner, really. Not quite as bad given that it’s been almost 30 years since they won a World Series, but it’s not like the Dodgers need your support. Still, there are some differences here. For one, there is some good homegrown talent on this squad in the form of Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw and something just seems wrong in the universe for him not to have a World Series trophy. Dave Roberts is hard to dislike. You all will throw tomatoes at me over this, but I’m probably gonna adopt the Dodgers as my bandwagon team for the playoffs. I have my reasons, though.
Con: Franchise history aside, they spend more money than anyone and that’s just the sort of thing that precludes you from gaining a lot of bandwagoners. Also, I shudder to think of how many celebrities will buy their way into Dodger Stadium for the World Series if it comes there. You know the Fox cameras will not resist finding a new one in between every single pitch. And that’s before you account for the “star from some Fox show that’s going to be cancelled after six weeks who just happens to have a seat behind the dugout and for which we just so happen to have a pre-made graphic and Joe Buck just so happens to have some brief copy promoting the show” factor. I’d rather see 500 closeups of players mothers with their hands clasped to their faces than see Katherine Heigl or whoever pretending to be there because they just love baseball.
Pro: Kudos for another quick turnaround for a team that was in a bad place only a year ago. They have a lot of players who don’t get a ton of national exposure who deserve more of it (Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, A.J. Pollock). The J.D. Martinez post-trade rampage — he hit 29 homers in only 62 games with the Dbacks — has been quite a thing and it’ll be fun to see if he can do it on through the playoffs (and right into free agency, where he should make a mint). Zack Greinke is one of baseball’s strangest dudes, but when he’s on he’s amazing and it’d be nice to see how he’d handle, say, that standard, awkward World Series MVP Award interview with the Chevy rep or whoever. He’d probably say “I actually prefer Fords” and leave everyone speechless. God, I want that to happen now.
Con: Call me snobby, but I don’t want to see a team with uniforms as ugly as theirs win the World Series. That really bothers me. Also: I’m friends with their radio host Mike Ferrin, and if they win it all in the first year he’s worked for the organization he’ll have the biggest head imaginable and I’ll have to deal with that over beers at the Winter Meetings and at spring training and I really don’t want to.
Pro: Baseball at altitude in the World Series and the off chance of a snowstorm would be all kinds of fun. A lot of the Rockies success this year, particularly early, was based on young pitching, and it’d be nice to see someone in Denver finally crack that nut in a lasting way. But even if they can’t keep up the good pitching at altitude, I’d like to see Charlie Blackmon break every single World Series hitting record simply to stick it to the sourpusses:
Con: Eh, I can see not loving the Rockies, but how do you hate the Rockies? It’s like hating bread. Maybe it doesn’t inspire rapture, but it can’t really inspire hatred either. They just . . . are. Except it’s purple bread. I dunno.
Alright, that’s all I got. Ultimately, do what you want. Root for who you can root for and hate who you can hate. Just don’t be indifferent. That’s just sad, man.