The best part about the Nationals sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS, aside from the Cardinals being swept, is it left us plenty of time to get around to extending congratulations to our division rival on advancing to its first World Series. Washington won its first National(s) League pennant on Tuesday night, a week ahead of their next game. It’s Friday afternoon. As self-appointed representative of senior circuit partisans who know first-hand what it means to have rooted our ballclubs clear into the final set of games of a given season, congratulations already yet!
I’m mostly sincere in expressing good tidings down toward the heretofore flag-deprived fans situated within the general environs of the Tidal Basin. Every National League team’s fans, whatever their typical level of engagement and sophistication, should experience being in a World Series once, provided we can’t be in it every year. Once is fine for the Nationals (since we can’t be in it this year). If they promise not to make a perennial habit out of this, we can continue to cobble together something approximating graciousness clear up to Game One of the upcoming Fall Classic. Because the ALCS is still in progress, we might actually need them to maintain their winning ways. May it not come to that.
As the 21st Century dips toward 80% on its remaining battery life, I suppose it’s gone out of fashion to figuratively tip caps and shake hands and all that when the hands belong to those you spend six months absolutely despising. Was it always like this? I don’t think so, at least not instinctively. There have been 21 National League champions to emerge from the National League East since the division was formed in 1969. Five of those champs have been us. It won’t surprise you to know I rooted for us in 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2015. The five easiest World Series decisions any of us ever made.
In the other sixteen — fifteen prior to 2019 — I can recall sometimes being very pro-NL East delegation, sometimes being virulently opposed. As with most things in life, it’s depended.
NL EAST TEAMS BESIDES THE METS I ROOTED FOR WHOLEHEARTEDLY IN THE WORLD SERIES
The 1971 Pirates. Roberto Clemente sparkling in twilight. Willie Stargell at the height of his powers. Steve Blass before Steve Blass became a synonym for suddenly losing the ability to find the strike zone. An extraordinarily appealing supporting cast fronted by Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver. Their charisma transcended any sense of rivalry. I was eight. It didn’t bother me that they finished way ahead of the Mets. The 1971 Mets had already been finished way ahead of by the time the 1971 World Series commenced. I wanted the Bucs to finish ahead of the Orioles, an entity I was still mad at from two years before. When they did, I was quite gratified as a baseball fan who keeps watching baseball despite the absence of his team oughta be.
The 1993 Phillies. This was a one-season infatuation, facilitated by the presence of Lenny Dykstra and the general Krukky demeanor of a team that won in a year when the Mets opted to not compete whatsoever in the National League East. Joe Carter’s home run that won it all for Toronto actually kind of broke my October heart. By 1994, I was over the Phillies and have stayed there ever since.
The 1995 Braves. It’s true. I used to really like the Braves. A couple of times. The early ’80s. The early ’90s. What did those eras have in common? At the time, it was the underdog element attached to an outfit that had been nowhere previously — and the fact that Atlanta’s startling 1982 and 1991 rises from ashes took place in the National League West. In 1995, the second year of three-division alignment (and the first with a postseason), I was still afflicted by residual goodwill for a perfectly amenable arrangement that had been only recently legislated out of existence. Finally, I thought when they beat the Tribe in six, the Braves got what they deserved. We certainly didn’t get what we deserved once it sunk in that they were in the NL East to stay.
The 1997 Marlins. God help me, I don’t know why I latched onto these store-bought Fish for their initial October run, but I did. They had the underdog/interloper aura, which I’m often prone to fall for, but the Marlins mostly purchased it at Neiman Marcus (or, given their South Florida locale, maybe Burdines). The owner, as all owners of the Marlins reliably are, was despicable. The fans materialized overnight. Their lineup featured Bobby Bonilla, for crissake. Yet I fell for them, or at least their quest. Expansion team simpatico. National League East solidarity. Jim Leyland getting to light up a victory cigarette. Who knows why one follows a postseason muse? When they took down the again unfortunate Indians in seven, I applauded. Perhaps the sound of my two hands clapping shook loose Al Leiter and Dennis Cook.
The 2003 Marlins. Different vibe six years later. The Marlins were a true out-of-nowhere team. Dontrelle Willis was a lovable kid. So was Miguel Cabrera. Juan Pierre was a frisky throwback. Josh Beckett had the liveliest of arms. Ivan Rodriguez was in the right place at last. Future 2007 Collapse participants Jeff Conine and Luis Castillo were solid contributors. They outwitted the Giants. They shocked the Cubs. And their World Series opponent made them all the more rootable. It’s been a while since anybody could apply such an adjective to any Marlin unit.
NL EAST TEAMS I ROOTED AGAINST IN THE WORLD SERIES BUT IN RETROSPECT SEEM LIKE WORTHY WINNERS
The 1979 Pirates. At age 16, I was fed up with the Mets finishing behind everybody in the National League East, so I took it out on the Pirates. Also, I had pulled from afar for the upstart Expos that season, and Pittsburgh short-sheeted that vicarious thrill. They went on to beat the Reds in the NLCS, which most years would have been fine with me, but this was when the Reds had Tom Seaver, and I was obligated to root for Tom Seaver’s team (he’d never again see the postseason). Hence, I was immune to the charms of “We Are Family,” et al. In the World Series, the AL banner was clutched by the Baltimore Orioles, who by this point I had come to appreciate as an avatar of ongoing excellence — especially after three consecutive years of the AL flag having flown in the Bronx. So I went with Earl Weaver’s O’s over Chuck Tanner’s Bucs. The Bucs, led by Pops Stargell, had other ideas and won in seven. Seeing as how it’s the most recent World Series celebrated by the denizens of where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the mighty Ohio, that’s cool.
(Say, whatever became of the Montreal Expos?)
The 1982 Cardinals. I don’t think I’d ever had anything substantial against St. Louis until 1985. I just liked the Brewers more. Milwaukee used to be in the American League, you know. Anyway, I rooted for Yount, Molitor and the Crew. They lost in seven. If I had known in October of ’82 that the Cardinal first baseman would become the Met first baseman in June of ’83 and thrive as a Met icon forever after, I might have been happier for Keith Hernandez at his first moment of triumph.
NL EAST TEAM I DIDN’T LIKE BUT ROOTED FOR IN THE WORLD SERIES BECAUSE I DECIDED I SHOULD
The 1983 Phillies. Given their long track record of intradivisional success, I really hated the Phillies by 1983, but there they were, the NL East’s standard-bearer, and I got it in my head that if I was a fan of an NL East team, I should get behind my division’s champion. I think that came from reading something while I was in college to the effect of as much as you may hate your conference rivals, you have to root for them in their bowl game. My alma mater was in the Sun Belt Conference then and didn’t have a football team, so this was all very theoretical. I gave Rose, Morgan and Perez a shot of temporary loyalty. It didn’t go anywhere, as they fell in five to the Orioles (who I was back to resenting for having taken the ALCS from the White Sox, who I was about to have very mixed feelings about given their imminent plucking of Seaver). The Phillies would soon make the whole thing moot by generally sucking for the next decade.
NL EAST TEAM I ROOTED FOR IN THE WORLD SERIES AND NEVER FORGAVE FOR NOT HOLDING UP THEIR END OF THE BARGAIN
The 1996 Braves. You were up two-zip on the Yankees. You could have nipped that whole fucking dynasty thing in the bud. But you lost the third game, the fourth game, the fifth game and the sixth game. Fuck you, Braves.
NL EAST TEAMS I DIDN’T EXACTLY ROOT FOR IN THE WORLD SERIES BUT HOPED THE TEAM PLAYING THEM WOULD LOSE
The 1999 Braves. The enemy of my enemy couldn’t be my enemy because the 1999 World Series was Enemypalooza. Still, I’d have preferred the fucking Braves over the fucking Yankees, though I have to admit that after the searing nature of the 1999 NLCS, I watched maybe a half-hour total of the action to confirm whether New York would be spared another goddamn parade. We weren’t. Thanks again, jerks.
(Delightful unintended consequence of the Nationals’ brand new pennant: No NL East franchise has gone longer without a World Series appearance now than the Atlanta Braves.)
The 2009 Phillies. Basically the same paradigm as 1999, except the Phillie-inflicted wounds weren’t so fresh, since the 2009 Mets had nothing to do with anything connected to anybody’s championship aspirations. Those Phillies did briefly harbor Pedro Martinez, thus I did have a Dykstraesque pang of nostalgia on his behalf, but otherwise, this was a fleeting allegiance of convenience. I was sorry the Yankees beat the Phillies; I wasn’t sorry the Phillies were beaten.
(It took ten years for another NL East rival of the Mets to ascend to the World Series. That’s what a division gets for getting on our bad side.)
NL EAST TEAMS I ROOTED AGAINST WHOLEHEARTEDLY ON THEIR OWN MERITS
The 1980 Phillies. Funny, as much as I loved Tug McGraw, I rarely drew any contemporary naches from his having been on the mound for the final out of Philadelphia’s first World Series championship. Years later, I was glad he got to have that distinction, but at the time, he was just a Phillie, and I despised the Phillies. That hasn’t changed. At the time, I really liked the Royals, who the Phillies defeated. That has changed a lot.
The 1985 Cardinals. This was really the first time the National League was represented by a team that had swiped its postseason ticket directly from the Mets. All the preceding NL East franchises to make it to the Fall Classic did so in years when the Mets weren’t close to first place. In 1985, we had first place in our grip in the middle of September. Then our grip loosened and the Cardinals pried first place away from us. Our attempt to wrest it back in the final week of the season fell short. By early October, my hostility for Whitey Herzog was unmatched by my hostility for any opposing manager before or since. By late October, when the good ol’ Royals took the World Series away from their fellow Missourians, I felt properly avenged.
The 1987 Cardinals. Not exactly the same trajectory or details or circumstances as 1985 (1986 had happened), but close enough. I still hated Herzog. I still hated the Cardinals. I still salute Minnesota.
The 2008 Phillies. There was a genuine pro-Rays streak running through my rooting interest eleven Octobers ago, but mostly I wanted the Phillies to crumble like Shea was going to: without another world championship. Nope, couldn’t even get that.
NL EAST TEAM FOR WHOM I’LL KNOW FOR SURE WHERE I STAND WHEN THE ASTROS AND YANKEES CONCLUDE THEIR PRELIMINARY ROUND
The 2019 Nationals. Should Houston do the right thing and build on their current three-one advantage in the American League Championship Series, I seriously doubt I’m going to get out of the habit of feeling Astronomically positive about their achievements. Shed of the sense that we automatically have to hate anybody we play nineteen times per annum, I get the feeling I might gin up a little enthusiasm for certain of the graybeards Washington has ridden this far, but the Mets do play the Nats a lot, and contemptuous familiarity takes a toll on objectivity. The Astros have beaten the Yankees in a recent ALCS and are trying hard to do so again; what have the Nationals ever done for me? Should Houston have a problem (sorry), and somehow the Yankees worm out of their playoff hole and land in the World Series versus Washington…
Like I’ve been saying for a while now, go Astros.