The Nationals are above .500? Who cares?

Dear Sports Fan,
What does it mean that the Nationals hit .500? Everyone seems pretty excited about it. And, who cares anyway? They all play a bizillion games and then the Yankees win the World Series 8 times outta 10.
Thanks,
Kat

Dear Kat,
There are two things to understand about baseball in regard to your question. First, baseball is a long season and things can change for a team over the weeks and months that can give a fan hope where there wasn’t before. And the second is that it’s all relative. Qualitatively, baseball has teams that usually don’t have much of a chance to win the World Series and teams that usually do have a chance to win. For example (sticking to the past decade for reference), in the usually-a-chance category are teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies. In the usually-no-chance category are teams like the Kansas City Royals, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Washington Nationals. Going into the season, fans of these teams all want to believe their team will be good and might win, however, fans of the former can reasonably expect a winning record and to have a shot at making the playoffs while fans of the latter know that deep down they will eventually reach the point of “there is always next year.”
The Nationals have an interesting history, as they were the Montreal Expos before moving to Washington in 2005 and becoming the Nationals. For a timeline of important events check out the link below. Their history, in a nutshell, is that the  Montreal/Washington franchise, while having occasional success over the years, has not traditionally been a consistently winning team. Focusing on recent history, over the past five years the Nationals have finished below .500 every year and at times been considered the worst team in baseball. The significance of .500 is not really any different than any other sport – the team either has a winning record or a losing record and .500 is the marker in between. For struggling teams, the .500 mark is encouraging because it represents the point at which a losing team can, with one more win, cross over to become a winning team. Obviously, being one game over .500 does not mean great things for a team in itself, but for fans, the mentality shifts a bit as your team is showing signs of hope and a chance for a positive season. In the case of the Nationals, because the team has had so many seasons below .500 (and well below, I might add), fans are excited to watch a team with a winning record. It may also be the case that the Nationals are showing signs of improvement.

In summary, we have a traditionally low expectation team in the Nationals, playing well, relatively speaking, and giving their fans something to cheer about. They probably won’t win their division, make the playoffs, or win the World Series. But over the long summer, Nationals fans can enjoy being a winning team, at least for now, and hang on to the notion of “what if” for a little longer.

Thanks for the question,
John

Why are sports fans obsessed with injuries?

Dear Sports Fan,

The sports fan in my life disregards my injuries and illnesses as mere complaints until I am either completely incapacitated or bleeding prodigiously. Yet the mere mention of a potential injury to any appendage of one of his teams’ players sends him into Colonel Kurtz mode – The horror, the horror – before he spends an hour on WebMd trying to identify a miracle cure. Any chance any of that sympathy can be directed my way?

Hurt in Houston

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Dear Hurt in Houston,

Let me put it bluntly: no. When you get sick or injured, (knock wood) you get better and your life goes on. Your fan’s favorite athlete, or a key player on his team? Well…

Injuries are one of the most frustrating things in sports. Think about sitting at your computer doing work – not one of those mind-numbing, I’m half-working and half-googling to see if I can buy the dress Kate Middleton wore to her engagement announcement, but really jamming on a project, getting excited about it, rocking back and forth in your chair and laughing to yourself from time to time cause your brilliance surprises even you. Now, imagine the power goes out.  Your first thought is pure horror: all is lost.

There’s uncertainty – when’s the last time I saved? Does it even matter? Will it even remember that? There’s the period of irrational hope as you reboot when the power comes back on – I’m sure Bill Gates saw this power outage coming, there’s NO WAY Word wouldn’t save automatically. Then you login and pull up Word and, really, all you can do is hope.

That’s the best comparison I can come up with to an injury: no matter how well everything is going for your fan’s team, they are always one injury away from catastrophe, and there is NOTHING anyone can do about it. Absolutely nothing. That injury can happen in any number of ways – horrifically (Joe Theisman, a Redskins quarterback having his leg broken in two), hysterically (Bill Gramatica, an NFL placekicker, tearing an ACL celebrating a field goal) , frequently (Vince Carter[1]) and downright bizarrely (Shaq, the 7 foot, 300 pound beastly freak of an athlete who, for a chunk of his career, was felled by an injury to his big toe) –  but there’s no recourse for the team or your fan. All you can do is watch the athlete get carried off the field and try to convince yourself that it’s not nearly as bad as it looks and that yes, elbow joints are definitely meant to rotate 360 degrees.

One other note: an injury to your fan’s favorite athlete is a particularly crushing blow. One thing all sports fans are acutely aware of is that we have a limited amount of time with our athletes, and even less time to watch them while they’re in their prime (whereas, theoretically, they have their entire life to spend with you. But I digress). Age will slow them down even if injuries don’t. So when we see an injury to our favorite player we think two things. 1. I just lost some of my quality time with this guy; and, 2. Thanks to this injury, this guy may never be as incredible an athlete again. Think about that: in what other job can a single, freak occurrence ensure that someone will never perform at a high level again?

Hope this helps,
Dean Russell Bell

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Note on Vince Carter: Vince Carter was an enormously talented basketball player who never fulfilled his potential because of his complete lack of heart and desire. He’s like the guy in your office who takes so many sick days for so many absurd reasons that you can start to predict when it’ll happen – you even have an office pool to bet on which ailment he’ll claim on a given day. It’s 80 and sunny – I’ve got $20 says Bob’s calling out with a stomach flu! That was Vince Carter – the man made tens of millions of dollars, but the mere suggestion of physical contact was enough to send him sprawling with a look on his face making clear that what just happened was some kind of historical injustice.