An impartial observer

I’m a baseball fan.

Not exactly a surprise, considering you’re reading this at a baseball website to which I regularly contribute.

As you may know, the Royals are my team. I grew up in Kansas City and came of age when October baseball was the rule, not the exception. So the last 24 years have left me out in the cold once the postseason begins. Of course, since I’m a fan, I’ll watch the games. I find it’s always more fun when you have a rooting interest (or a wager) in the outcome. Usually, I’ll find a team that interests me for one reason or another and that will be the team I tepidly support for October. Sometimes, I’ll find a team to root against. Last year, I climbed aboard the Rays bandwagon early (like, in May) so I rode that one all the way to the bitter end.

In search of a team early this October, I decided I’d cast my lot with the Angels. No reason, really. They seemed like a nice team with some quality players who were fun to watch. I caught a lot of their games on television this summer when they’re were on late in the Central Time Zone thanks to Extra Innings, so I had followed them more closely than the other teams in the hunt. (I watched my share of Dodgers games as well—love listening to Vin Scully—but what can I say? I’m an American League kind of guy.)

It’s really more a process of elimination when your team isn’t playing in October and you need to find a temporary team to cheer. Here’s how my thought process broke down:

Boston – No. I liked the Sox more when they had that Curse.
Twins – No. They play in the Central, so I’m contractually obligated to hate them.
Los Angeles – The Angels are fine.
Yankees – No. We’ll get to them in a minute.

St. Louis – No. Never. There are simply too many reasons to list.
Colorado – No. Does anyone have an opinion on the Rockies?
Los Angeles – Maybe. Although I always took San Francisco in the whole Dodger/Giant debate.
Phillies – No. We’ll get to them in a minute.

By a straightforward process of elimination, I adopted the Angels as my October team.

Unfortunately, as will happen, my chosen team didn’t win the pennant. This left me without a team. Normally, I’d reassess and pick a new team (the benefits of temporary fandom) but this year posed a special risk.

You see, the Yankees are my least favorite team in the American League. And the Phillies are my least favorite team in the National League.

Oh, no.

This hatred for the Yankees and the Phillies isn’t something I manufactured. This is real. It’s part of being a fan.

Why I don’t like the Yankees

Forget all that Evil Empire stuff. It’s personal…

1976, 1977, 1978.

God, those years were painful. The Chris Chambliss home run to end the series in ’76… The Freddie Patek double play to end the series in ’77…. We’re talking some permanent psychological scars.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

In ’76. the Royals took an early lead in the decisive fifth game, but were trailing by the third after a Thurman Munson single and a Chambliss ground out. The Royals couldn’t do a thing against starter Ed Figueroa after the second inning and were down 6-3 entering the eighth. An Al Cowens single leading off the inning chased Figueroa. Reliever Grant Jackson gave up a single to Jim Wohlford, bringing up George Brett who promptly tied the game with a home run.

It was a cruel lifeline. Mark Littell, starting his third inning in relief in the bottom of the ninth, grooved a pitch to Chambliss, who set off a pandemonium bomb in the Bronx.

The next year was worse: The Royals were at home and led the fifth game from the beginning. They put two runs across in the first as Brett tripled to score Hal McRae, setting off a brawl in the process. Brett slid hard into third, angering Graig Nettles, who appeared to kick Brett. Brett jumped up and began swinging, landing a solid punch to Nettles’ jaw before the melee was halted. I loved every minute.

Tensions aside, the Royals held the lead until the ninth. Just three outs away from their first pennant, the Royals unraveled. A Paul Blair single, a walk to Roy White and a Mickey Rivers single tied the game at three. New reliever Littell (him again!) is brought in to face Willie Randolph, who drives in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly. A Brett error plates the third run of the inning and suddenly the Royals, who were on the brink of celebration, are on the edge of despair.

The collapse was complete when relief ace Sparky Lyle induced Patek into a series ending double play.

The ’78 ALCS was difficult as well, but since the Yankees won in four, it wasn’t as heartbreaking as the previous two. I mean, Ron Guidry pitched the fourth game of that series because the Yankees needed him in their one-game playoff with the Red Sox. Nobody was beating Guidry in ’78. The final game was a quality pitchers duel as both starters went eight innings, but the Yankees touched Dennis Leonard for two home runs. That was the difference. Doesn’t mean it didn’t sting.

Why I hate the Phillies

It’s simple…


Finally, the Royals got by the Yankees in ’80, sweeping the ALCS in three games. The iconic moment in that series was the towering Brett home run against Goose Gossage to vault the Royals ahead in the seventh. Dan Quisenberry salted the game away with the final nine outs and the Royals celebrated the first pennant in their relatively short history

All was right in the world.

Until they went to Philadelphia.

The Royals dropped the first two at the Vet, the second a heartbreaker when Quisenberry couldn’t hold a two-run lead in the eighth. They returned to Kansas City and won Game Three in the 10th, then evened the Series behind a pair of Willie Aikens home runs the next day. With the Series even at two games apiece, it perhaps was destined to go the full seven.

Then Quisenberry coughed up another lead. A Del Unser pinch-hit double drove home Mike Schmidt and Manny Trillo brought Unser home with the go-ahead run on a two-out single, forcing the Royals to return to Philly needing both games to win the Series.

Of course, that didn’t happen as Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw held the Royals to a single tally in Game Six to bring the Phillies their first title in club history.

So I have an unpleasant history with these two teams.

Is it silly to dislike these teams so long after they crushed my preadolescent hopes of glory? Perhaps. However, as my friend Minda told me last night, there is no statute of limitations on sports grudges. I figured I’d just settle into this year’s Series with a certain degree of apathy. Maybe sometimes that’s the best way to view a major sporting event. This way, I can appreciate the good plays, chuckle at the blunders and wonder what the hell the umpires were watching when they inevitably blow a call. Without an emotional investment, I’m free to be a fan of the game.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to impartiality and indifference…

I enjoy well-played, fundamentally sound baseball. (Which is strange considering I’m a Royals fan. Maybe there’s something there about wanting what you cannot have.) So in the first two innings of Wednesday’s game, I found myself locked in to the broadcast. An impartial observer. Sure, C.C. Sabathia wasn’t exactly sharp in the first inning, but his escape from a potentially disastrous start was compelling.

As we all know, Sabathia retired Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to start the third. Then Chase Utley stepped to the plate.

Really, this at-bat was just awesome baseball. A great pitcher against a great hitter. Sabathia threw fastballs, sliders and a sinker. Utley took three pitches out of the zone and swung at five, fouling off all of them. On pitch number nine, Utley skied one to deep right…

“Get up!” I said to my television.

Huh? I thought I was impartial. I thought I’d just watch these games without a rooting interest. I thought I just wanted to see some baseball.

“Get up!” I said again, only louder.

Home run.

I did a little fist pump.

From there, it became effortless. I clapped when Utley crushed his second home run and marveled at how Cliff Lee toyed with the most potent offense in the game. I was delighted when Joe Girardi tried to find a reliever capable of getting an out and thought Alex Rodriguez looked right at home with his three-strikeout night.

It turns out that over 30 years later, I’m still not over the devastation of those playoff losses to the Yankees. I’m probably not over the World Series loss of ’80 either, but when it comes down to it, the Phillies broke my heart only once. The Yankees stomped on it thrice.

Don’t get me wrong. If the Phillies win, I’m not going to climb up a light pole in celebration, or buy any of that overpriced, ugly championship gear that MLB will immediately begin hawking. I won’t do Google searches for the Phillie Phanatic or name my next child after Jayson Werth. I just know I would be happier with a Phillies championship than if the Yankees emerge as victors. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to be the team I pull for in the World Series. And since my Royals won’t be returning to the postseason any time soon, this will be a ritual I’ll continue to fine tune over the next several years.

Go Phillies. I guess.

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Ralph C.
12 years ago

I want the Yankees to lose to the Phillies.  I live in New York state and I think it’s much more fun when the Yankees lose.  This makes for better stories and phone calls to WFAN, the all-sports station in N.Y.  As Joe Queenan once discussed in his book “True Believers”, I am employing a bit of Schadenfreude in this case. 

I used to be a Yankee fan years ago, and my favorite player was Graig “Kicking George Brett” Nettles.  I don’t root for any team, anymore.  I am just a casual observer.


12 years ago

Thanks, Craig!  I too grew up in KC and have been a Royals fan since forever, given that I am (sad to admit) actually old enough to remember Game One in 1969.  I’ve been through all of this with you.  But there is absolutely no level of hatred I could have of the Phillies that would permit me to do anything less than root vigorously for them against the Yankees – I hate New York that much.  No amount of Phillie 1980 can possibily induce me to overlook the Yankee sins of 1976, 1977, and 1978.  The Phillies are forgiven.  It was a long time ago.  But that grudge against the Bronx is so deep it transcends time.

12 years ago

It’s not crazy to carry those scars for that long.  As a White Sox fan, I’ve been getting a little pleasure every time the Orioles lose since 1983.

Derek Ambrosino
12 years ago

Ralph – you seem literate and intelligent (you even know what Schadenfreude, a somewhat pretentious, polysyllabic term means), so I ask what would compel you to ever listen to WFAN?

Myself, I’m a Mets fan. But, I’m a baseball fan first. I always say that baseball is the genus and Mets in the species. Many rank and file Mets fans can’t understand why I love Chase Utley so much, or why I root for A-Rod to succeed. They say I’m not a real fan. To which I reply, “you may be a ‘real’ Mets fan, but if you don’t like watching Chase Utley play, you aren’t a *baseball* fan .”

But, bringing this back to the topic at hand, I really enjoy watching high quality, meaningful games when I have no dog in the hunt. As Craig mentions in his article, this allows me to appreciate the game with utmost purity. And, after a season’s worth of being a biased observer, there’s something liberating about approaching objectivity.

I figured I’d root for the Yanks in the Series. I believe the Mets/Yanks “rivalry” is a contrived gimmick by the media and marketing arms of the teams/MLB aimed at the bandwagoneers who don’t appreciate the sport enough on its own terms. The Mets/Phills rivalry is real; you never root for you divisional foes, even if their victory will prevent taunting by your Yankee fan friends and co-workers.

But, a funny thing happens as I watch the game. Inevitably, I find myself rooting for the underdogs, which means I virtually never root for the Yankees – while watching the game. This happens even though, in the abstract, I want the Yankees to win. So, I guess my heart winds up with the Phills, even though my head is with the Yankees. Rather strange, I’d say.

Mark said ...
12 years ago

Great article.  Sorry to hear your Royal pain.  In Philadelphia, we have a history of disappointment so we are relishing this time.  Question for you, Jeter comes up with runners on first and second, none out.  Is a bunt the percentage play?  In other words, is a runner more likely to score from 3rd with one out, than a runner on 2nd with no outs? Or better yet, is a team more likely to score one or more runs with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out than 1st and 2nd with none out?  I thank Jeter for his futility, but I thought it was the wrong play to begin with.  I would enjoy some statistical feedback from HTH on this topic.

Rob in CT
12 years ago

Mark, the big mistake was trying to bunt with 2 strikes.  The bunt in and of itself is defensible, given the situation (just one more run, with Mo on the mound already having a 2 run lead, is HUGE).

Derek Ambrosino
12 years ago


This should shed some light on what you are looking for.

According to this chart, the two respective situation lead to the following run scoring expectancies.

2,3 1 out – 1.467
1,2 0 out – 1.573

In terms of maximizing your run scoring possibilities, the bunt is the poor percentage play.

However, in the late stages of close games it is more viable to make the argument that a team should maximize their chances of scoring, period. That is ensuring you score one run can be argued to be more important than maximizing your chances of scoring multiple runs, and one may sensibly sacrifice the later to improve the likelihood of the former.

I do not know for sure (have the data on hand), but intuitively it seems like last night’s situation would be an example of this phenomenon. That is, a successful bunt would likely have increased the likelihood of scoring one run, but decreased the chances of scoring multiple runs.

A quick sidebar, when most people, and especially commentators, do their matchbox calculations as to whether its the correct play to bunt, they totally take as a foregone conclusion the notion that the batter will be able to successfully execute a sacrifice bunt. That’s a problem, as we saw last night when totally competent sac bunter failed to execute.

12 years ago

Thanks, Rob & Derek for your insight.  I appreciate them.  Derek, a special thanks for the link to the stats!

12 years ago

Great article! Since I’m a Cubs fan, I usually have to go through a similar scientific process to choose the team I root for in the post-season. The Dodgers and Yankees are always automatically out, though: I hate the both of them, and really don’t believe that anyone likes them, even in their home towns. This year was easy: I have a lot of roots in Philly, and the happiest I ever remember seeing my mother was when she told me about the Whiz Kids in 1950.

12 years ago

craig, as a royals fan I agree with your article.  I do enjoy non-partial watching of the WS.

12 years ago

This is a great article. I enjoyed it a lot.

To see where a real baseball player comes from…

Derek Ambrosino
12 years ago

You’re funny too, Ralph.

And, you’re right, I should have made that exception. The weekend programming line-up, before 9 or 10AM is solid, often including the public affairs show on Sunday mornings. “The Sports Edge” with Rick Wolfe is good too. There’s generally not enough rational talk about youth sports from a macro perspective, so Wolfe’s program is appreciated.

12 years ago

I have a simple formula to determine who I root for.  You can call it Cubs Logic, or the Descending Factor of Cub.  I think I’m a Cubs fan because I root for the underdog, oppressed, always down and out.  Perhaps it’s my Marxism blending with my baseball.  Or maybe I root for the Cubs because of the power of WGN.  But whatever the case, if the Cubs aren’t in the hunt, I just take the team who hasn’t won the series the longest.  So, going into this years playoffs I rooted for the Dodgers.  Rockies don’t count because they have only been around for, what, 15 years.  And in this World Series, it would be the Yankees (kind of hard to swallow).  But, there are a lot of individual Yanks I’d like to see get a ring……Sabathia, Rodriguez.  I don’t think Matsui has a ring.  It’d be nice for him.  So, the formula makes it nice and easy and I manage to get through rooting for the hated White Sox, for example (‘05).  Really, was I going to root for the Astros?  Not close.

Ralph C.
12 years ago

Thanks for the compliment, Derek, though I don’t agree with your assessment of me.  I listen to WFAN because it’s entertaining, in its own way.  I do enjoy listening to some of the callers and their goofy and erroneous outlook on sports, and Mike Francessa does know a lot about the NFL.  There’s enough there for me to listen when I want to, not because I need to (I have plenty of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren, and a bunch of 70s songs to listen to when I grow weary of the sports talk). 

My favorite host on WFAN is Richard Neer, who is on regularly on Saturday mornings beginning at 6:00 a.m.  He is intelligent, thoughtful, respectful of his listeners and is calm enough so the show doesn’t get out of hand.

Face Front, True Believers!

Ralph C.
12 years ago

You’re not alone, Don Hamilton, but you’re probably out of luck since shortening the season means a decrease in the revenues unless an increase in ticket prices by every single team accompanies the shortened season to offset the lost games.

One would think they couldn’t make the season any longer but if there’s a will (or a chance to make even more money), there’s a way.

Don Hamilton
12 years ago

I’m a Texas Ranger fan who preferred to see the Dodgers and the Angels in the World Series. Why? Because I don’t think “snow” and “World Series” should ever occur in the same sentence. I think Mike Scioscia was right when he said cold, wet playing conditions impinge upon the integrity of the game (even though I suspect he meant cold, wet playing conditions hamper the Angels’ running game). Am I alone in wanting a shorter season?

Chris M.
12 years ago

“Colorado – No. Does anyone have an opinion on the Rockies?”

Great article, but my hackles are up on this one. As a Denver native and one of the only Rockies fans in Texas, I can tell you that the passion is there, and building. Colorado is going through a period right now that’s very similar to what KC experienced in the late ‘70s (and I hope the Rockies get to go on the same journey the Royals did in the early ‘80s), and after the once-in-a-lifetime miracle comeback in 2007 and the solid, inspiring play this year, yes, I most certainly have an opinion on the Rockies. Last year, I granted the Phillies their phun since the Rockies so thoroughly crushed their dreams in that miracle pennant run, but this year, with a playoff elimination still tasting bitter, I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic about the maroon.

PS – Before MLB finally granted Denver a franchise, I rooted for the Royals. I still have a poster of George Brett on my wall. Look carefully next season, Craig. Even though it’s NL ball, you might see a ghost of those old Royals teams in the Rockies.

Angel fan
12 years ago

Go Yanks, kind of. If you’re writing a story, you want your bad guys to be really super bad, then have *your* heroes knock them off. If the Yanks lose to the likes of AZ or FL, it diminishes their evilness. Who really cares now when Dallas loses? So sorry Phils, but I want the Yanks to win big, then have my Angels knock ‘em out next year.

Randy Foote
12 years ago

I think old grudges are the best remembered. The pain you feel when you are young is not forgotten. As a forever yankee fan, I can never forgive the Pirates for Bill Mazeroski’s home run, and that is almost 50 years ago 9and the Pirates arent much worth rooting against these days anyway)

During the 2001 World Series, when Mariano gave up that squib hit to Gonzo, my son was 11 years old (same age I was when the Pirates beat the Yankees). He will never forgive Arizona, the team and the state. After that game, we talked long into the night about having your heart broken by a baseball game—there is nothing like baseball to bond fathers and sons.

He has since come to hate the Angels and Red Sox for what they did to our team this decade, and he wonders how I can possible root for the Angels (whom I really do like).  It is those games of our youth that forge the irredemable grudges, the ones that we savor for decades. 

(I did, however, finally get over my hatred of the Dodgers for 1955—probably because the Yankees beat them in 1956, with a little help from Don Larsen…..)

12 years ago

Weird, as a Padres fan, I root for my NL West teams in the Play-offs. I figure:

If an NL West team wins the Championship, that means we lost to the top team. Less shame in that…

Paul Moehringer
12 years ago

I’m not really a big fan of watching the World Series, not because of any interst level I might have of the teams in it, even if they’re not my favorite, but simply because these games take way too long to complete.

I didn’t turn on the game tonight until almost 11 o’clock, and they were still in the 7th inning.

I mean 3 hours to go through seven innings?  Unless the score is something like 9-8, that’s insane.

I understand MLB wants their advertising dollars, but do you really need three timeouts on the same play, even if it is game seven?  Imgaine if every game was like that during the regular season.  I think I’d go crazy.

It doesen’t add to the tension of the game either.  It just slows it down, and makes it more boring.

I don’t mind the stop and go pace of baseball, but when that stop starts getting into the minutes rather then the seconds, I do start minding.

And this isn’t something that’s always been the case either.  This really only goes back to the mid-90’s.

As for the longer schedulue I’m kind of impartial to it.  I would like to give it at least two more years before coming up with a conclusion as to whether I like it or not.  I think a flex schedulue like they have in the NBA would be better, (meaning the next series round starts as soon as the previous one ends, rather then having the next round start on such and such a date regardless of how long the preveious series took) but I do like the fact that I can now see every game without having to decide between games.

The big thing I would like to see that is highly unlikely is day games during the World Series.

Obviously the majority of the games will be played at night, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a World Series game on a Saturday with a 4 o’clock start.  I would have much rather done that, then debating between watching the World Series, or going to a Halloween party.

The only argument I could see against it would be that it goes up against college football, but I don’t think your going to find many big time college football fans, who are also baseball fans, so I don’t think either would lose many viewers, but I could be wrong.  I don’t work in TV, so I really don’t know, it’s merely a guess.

Out of all the major four sports right now, it just seems that MLB has without question the worst playoff structure.