In the wake of the Yankees’ elimination from the playoffs, Emma Span wrote the following at Bronx Banter:

… I think the tendency of fans — and certainly not just Yankee fans, but perhaps especially Yankee fans — to instinctively blame their own team after a loss, rather than crediting the opponent, is pretty interesting. Obviously not everyone does this, but as an overall fanbase mood I think it rings true, unless maybe some undisputed whiz like Cliff Lee is directly involved.

Setting aside for the moment whether or not it’s accurate or fair in a specific instance, what’s the psychological gain here? The outcome of any game depends on the combination of one team’s strength and another’s weakness, of course, and it’s often hard to disentangle a hitter’s success from a pitcher’s failure, or vice versa. How much of Colby Lewis’s kickass performance on Friday night was due to variables he controlled directly, and how much was due to the Yankees’ inadequate approach or execution at the plate? It’s not possible to tell precisely, although a lot of the newer baseball stats our SABR-inclined friends come up with are designed to help sort this out. And my first instinct, like many people in the bar where I was watching, was to yell “C’mon you useless #$&*s, it’s Colby Lewis” at the little pinstriped men on the TV.

I think in the end, it’s mostly about control: the idea that your team mostly controls its fate (like the idea that you yourself mostly control your fate) is generally preferable to the alternative. No one likes feeling helpless to change their situation. Everyone wants to believe that we’re in charge of how our lives turn out, not larger forces we can’t affect. And hey, if the Yankees lost because they failed, well then, they’re still better. They just didn’t show it. There must be something they could have done differently. …

Though it becomes even more New York-centric as it goes on, Span’s entire post is worth reading. I agree that fans have a tendency to turn on their team when things go wrong, out of a belief that the team should be better. No one likes to admit to limitations. To me, the 2009 Dodgers were a vintage illustration of this – even when that team was winning, the slightest, most momentary setback would send many fans into a tizzy. In my mind, that was a mistake. Yes, we all want to win, but losing shouldn’t mean the elimination of all joy.

It’s not necessarily a sign of weakness to tip your hat to your opponent. On some occasions, it could mean that you’re failing to look at your own inadequacies. But I don’t think that’s something Dodger fans are generally at risk of – quite the opposite. Every foible gets a thorough examination.

One thing that the McCourt controversy and the struggles of certain players did to the Dodgers this year, however, was make those limitations that Span talks about feel more real. Against our will, expectations have been lowered. It portends a sour 2011, though at least there’s this: There’s a lot more room to be pleasantly surprised.

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  • I could bring more nuance to this, but this talk of expanding baseball’s playoffs – I’m dead set against it.
  • Life Magazine has released some previously unpublished photos from the 1955 World Series – check ’em out.