Since I was a kid, my priorities for a baseball season have been rather simple: I wanted the Dodgers to win the World Series. But I knew such an event was rare, thereby defining it’s value. And so, if it could not be, I wanted the Dodgers to at least win the NCLS, and if they couldn’t do that, to at least win the NL West.
When they failed to achieve even this last of achievements, all hope was not lost. I would still consider it an overall “win” if they would just beat the Giants.
Well, the 2010 Major League Baseball season has come to a close. Not only didn’t the Dodgers achieve any of the titular milestones I covet for them year after year, and not only did they lose 10 of 18 games to the Giants, but the San Francisco Giants have won the 2010 World Series.
And here’s a little secret: I was rooting for them.
Some of my friends might be mystified by such a decision on my part. After all, the rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants is one of the more legendary in sports history, surviving more than 100 years and a move to the West Coast. Any real Dodgers fan is obligated to hate them with every fiber of their being, and I am among the “blue at heart.”
Where did I go wrong?
Well, first of all, I have a history in the Bay Area. I lived there for 8 years of my life, and I have many friends there—many of whom are Giants fans. The San Francisco Bay Area is celebrating tonight, as are many of the people I know and love, and having been there before, I know part of what they are feeling. I can only imagine what it feels like to be part of your city’s “first time” and so I am happy for them, for that, and as a lover of the region, I am happy for the city.
But that’s only part of the story.
When it comes down to it, I am also a National League man. Even though I would have been okay with Texas winning, more of me wants an American League team to lose to a National League team, no matter who the teams are. I even have a connection to Ranger’s infielder Mike Young. He went to my high school. One of my very good friends is very good friends with his wife. I was at the first two games of his professional career, saw his first at bat, and his first hit. Even with all this, I still wanted his Rangers to lose more than I wanted them to win.
One of the other things that excited me was that the San Francisco Giants weren’t the best team in baseball this year. I don’t mean that as a dig, I really don’t. I don’t think the Dodgers were the best team in 1981 or in 1988. But you see, I don’t think the team with the most talent or the most talented players wins every year–or even should.
For me, the beauty of baseball is the intangible spirit of a team. There is a momentum that can build when a group of individuals play bigger than the sum of their parts, when they become a single whole. Not everyone agrees with my view; and certainly, this isn’t always the case. But I always find it enjoyable to watch it when it happens. It’s like proving gravity doesn’t always exist and then taking comfort in the security of knowing the world is as it should be.
All these reasons, though, are still only part of the story. Tonight I am also happy because the rivalry I love so much just got a big boost.
While I am severe in my allegiance to “the rivalry” (I don’t even go to Dodgers vs. Giants games because SF splits the gate with my boys and I will be damned if I’m going to give an of my money to that organization), my sports has never gotten in the way of my friendships. In a way, sports isn’t as much fun without those friends of yours who love the “other guys” as much as you hate them.
And that puts a lot of my feeling tonight into perspective. You see, for most of my life, Dodgers fans have taken a great deal of satisfaction from “the rivalry.” And why not? It’s something we’ve been rather good at. But satisfaction isn’t passion.
When it comes down to it, most of LA doesn’t care as much about the Giants as the folks of the Bay Area care about us. We’ve gotten sloppy in our investment in the rivalry, I think, because it no longer seems like much of a fight.
Partly, this is about numbers. This season’s losses do little to the already robust lead the Dodgers enjoy in the historic totals. The Giants have beaten the Dodgers more times when all of their contests (since 1884 and under various team names) are counted, but in the modern era of the rivalry (since the move West in 1958), the Dodgers come out on top with 478 wins and 449 losses against SF.
The Dodgers also dominate the rivalry on a season-by-season basis. From the 1958 season to the present, the Dodgers have won 25 seasons worth of match-ups with the Giants (SF took 17 and 11 have been tied).
Most importantly, the Dodgers have always had the greatest of advantages over the Giants: we’ve won World Series titles. While we have won 5 World Championships, until tonight, the Giants had won none. As a matter of fact, with 9 NL Championships since moving to LA, the Dodgers had lost more World Series than the Giants had even been in (again, before this year).
This might seem like a sore loser searching for a silver lining, but it’s not. I really view this as a historian first, and I describe the numbers we know so well as fans to mark the context within which tonight’s events unfold for me. A real rivalry can only exist when the two parties are around equal. Otherwise, at some point it becomes a condition where one team really, really cares and the other doesn’t give a shit because they’ve been excelling against their opponent for so long they can hardly remember feeling the other way. (Think Dodgers and Yankees.)
I don’t think the Dodgers and Giants rivalry was at that particular point, but it has been heading that way for a long time. It’s not anymore.
So, I am genuinely happy for the Giants. Their World Championship this year means a lot for them. It means a lot for their fans and for their city. Tonight I am happy for Steven, Jason, Ernie, Charlie, Michael, and all the rest of you.
But, as a Dodgers fan, your victory means something to me, too. It means an infusion of new energy and passion into something that helps define my love of sports, something I love deeply.
So congratulations to the SF Giants–the 2010 World Series Champions! I look forward to next year…and many more after that.