Many of us snorted derisively when Jimmy Rollins took time from the Philadelphia Phillies' World Series celebration to take a shot at the New York Mets. It wasn't much of a shot — we heartily agree, Jimmy, that Johan Santana is a great pitcher — but the shortstop's sidebar struck a dissonant note. You won and you're worried about the team you beat three steps ago on your road to glory?
That, to use a clearly lower-case pejorative, was bush. Why would the Phillies or their fans to whom Rollins was pandering be obsessed with the Mets? our side asked. In turn, why were Mets fans obsessed with the Phillies being obsessed with the Mets? It was a silly loop of an argument, the kind of unanswerable goose chase that clogs blogs and bores boards.
But that's OK. It's partisanship. As sports fans, we may strive now and then for sportsmanship, but that's not why we root. We root for our guys to win and, by necessity or sometimes out of spite, their guys to lose. When confronted by the occasional uncomfortable reality that what we craved didn't occur, we bring ourselves to acknowledge unpleasant news as best we can and get back to being pro-us and anti-them. It's what we do.
It's been 22 going on 23 years since my side won the last baseball game played in a given year. At that moment, I was elated to be a Mets fan. I wasn't interested in sticking it to those we vanquished along the way, though I will confess to dropping by the Carvel where a Mets-hating Yankees fan friend of mine worked and talking a minute of trash before he grudgingly spit out his congratulations. I sought to abuse him as a stand-in for every jerk I put up with in junior high and high school, but on the night of October 28, 1986, fresh from a trip to the Canyon of Heroes, it felt superfluous.
Sports at the upper levels are simple: a championship is won, a parade is held, t-shirts are sold and the story is essentially over. However gratified or wounded we feel by the result, it — our wonderful collective mania notwithstanding — was just a game. We take our games very seriously and we absorb their outcomes with emotional intensity, but their implications lean to the personal rather than the universal. The Phillies won the World Series? It bums us out. The Giants won the Super Bowl? It gave many of us a rush. Outside of their immediate spheres of influence, however, there's not much at large a championship can impact.
The outcomes of other high-profile competitions that aren't sports yet tend to be treated as such are another matter. As in sports, sometimes your side wins, sometimes your side loses. Though the stakes dwarf those yielded by the final score of a ballgame — even a really big ballgame — there usually exists the impulse to cheer or boo, to raise a banner for your side and maybe stick a tongue out when the other guy's motorcade rolls by. You know: pro-us, anti-them.
Then there are those rare moments whose parameters would seem to encourage that familiar form of partisanship, but you don't feel partisan at all. Maybe you've won and you're filled with good cheer and satisfaction for the triumph of the side you consider your team, but you have no desire whatsoever to stick it to the side you've never cared for. You are not interested in dropping by the Carvel and pointing out to your friend/foe how Darryl Strawberry's combination of power and speed trumps whatever Don Mattingly brings to the table. You may have been waiting for this moment for years — say eight years, as in the time elapsed between the Yankees' last world championship in 1978 and the Mets taking it all in 1986 — but when it gets here, it's not where your head is. Your head realizes that the World Series and the Super Bowl and such can grip your imagination, but there's a difference between what you imagine and what you're living through.
And when you attempt to comprehend what you're living through, you decide that sometimes partisanship is a dissonant impulse and that what you really want is for everybody in the game to be on the winning side.