It’s very late September. There are a handful of games left for my particular boys of summer, the Boston Red Sox. Thank God. If you haven’t been following their plight, I mean season, there’s nothing left at stake. Although the line-up is talented, the playoffs are out of reach; and they have been for quite a while. That begs the question: what do you play for when there’s nothing left to play for? The answer is quite simple: spite.
Now, I don’t know how you were raised, but I was raised a sports fan. I couldn’t have avoided it if I tried. My family is littered with athletes and for a long time we only had one TV. Growing up in a city with four major league sports teams meant there was usually a game on. Being a sports fan was my birthright as well as my civic duty.
If I learned nothing else from the years of having my heart repeatedly broken by the Red Sox, I learned the importance of being a good sports fan. The main tenet is that there’s a lot more to sports than winning. Granted, winning is great, but not everyone can do it all the time. Yeah, now I’m going to need you to pretend for a minute that you’ve never heard of Tom Brady.
Learning an appreciation for the game, its rules, and its strategies are essential to being a good fan and learning to be a good loser is equally important. Again, I’ll need you to suspend your knowledge of Tom Brady.
Anyway, when your team isn’t winning, a devoted fan has to look for other things to root for. It’s hard to imagine anything better than rooting for the downfall of your archrival. There is no better vehicle for spite than actively spoiling their success.
The role of spoiler, however, ain’t pretty. There’s no banner, pennant, or gleaming trophy for the team who throws a monkey wrench into a more successful team’s plan. There’s only the self-satisfaction that comes with having stymied them. This past weekend, the Red Sox had just that opportunity during a four-game series with the New York Yankees. These teams enjoy a rivalry that each fanbase has nurtured with great care for more than a century. It involved a curse for 86 of those years. Not too many rivalries can claim that. And once the curse of the Bambino was broken, it persisted out of habit and a great deal of spite.
Meanwhile, back in the present-day Bronx, the Sox were no match for the Yankees. They coughed up all four games and yet they were, in a fashion, victorious. You see, the Yankee’s Aaron Judge is on the verge of breaking Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 homeruns. He stepped to the plate last Thursday evening with 60 in his pocket. Surely the hapless Red Sox would help him break, and even surpass, the record on his home diamond. You’d think so. Except that no one accounted for the power of spite.
When the Red Sox dragged their below-five-hundred selves down to New York last week, their mission was clear: do not be the team that gives Judge the record. They used every minute of a century-old rivalry and the jeers and cheers of the hometown crowd to pull together and deny New York what it most desperately wanted to see, and, by God, they did it!
Judge had 11 at bats over the course of the 4 games. To the delight of Red Sox fans everywhere, he got nothing, nada, bupkis.
Four games of at bats is a big hill to defend. By Sunday night, players and fans alike were feeling the thrill and trepidation involved in denying Judge his record and Yankees fans the pleasure of seeing it happen against the Red Sox in their own ballpark. Let’s be honest, they paid a fortune for the opportunity to witness it. But on Sunday night, the boys from Boston had an unlikely ally: Mother Nature. In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Yankees leading the Sox 2-0, it started to rain. As the rain delay is called, Aaron Judge was the next batter up. The skies opened. The fans in the stands groaned. Major League Baseball was willing to wait until the wee hours of the morning to resume just so Judge could get out of the on-deck circle. But it was not to be. The game was called. Enough innings had been played to rule it a complete game. New York had both won and lost. Up in Boston, there was much rejoicing.
Admittedly, playing the spoiler isn’t quite the same as a walk off homer that takes you to the playoffs, but it’s the small victories that keep us moving forward and looking for bigger and better things. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, with a little spite, you get what you need.