Mr. Bitterman’s Guide to Surviving the 2018 Season

Maybe this is the year the Nationals finally win a World Series. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Call me Bitterman. I hate baseball.

If you’re anything like me, you hate baseball, too.

Me? I hate baseball because, back in 2011, Nelson Cruz took the scenic route to an easy-open can of World Series corn and cost my team its first championship. I hate baseball because, back in 2012, Josh Hamilton took a quick nap en route to a routine catch that would have clinched the division while putting the Rangers on course for the sort of redemption that ESPN honors with a sentimental piano score.

Tom Rinaldi would have used those lilting rhythms of his, like, “In a state where football is king, the Rangers finally had their crown.” I was planning to record it.

Instead, we met Wild Card doom at the hands of Joe “Big Game” Saunders.

I hate baseball because baseball is cruel, and I’m bitter about it. I’m bitter because, in 2013, the aforementioned Mr. Cruz got popped for finding the Fountain Of Youth in Biogenesis form and took the team down with him. I’m bitter because, in 2014, somebody unleashed a swarm of bubonic locusts upon our roster and everyone limped away with festering wounds and broken femurs and head lice and gout.

I’m bitter because, in the 2015 ALDS, some guy in Canada turned a bat flip into an international celebration of our never-ending misery, and because, minutes earlier, the Rangers had obliged the bat flip by becoming the first team in postseason history to make three errors in one inning of a sudden-death postseason game. I’m bitter because, in the 2016 ALDS, the Rangers allowed the series-winning run to score on a throwing error by second baseman Rougned “Punchy” Odor, marking the first time in major league history that a postseason series ended on an error.

I’m bitter because the Astros, the team we once used as our snot rag, claimed the title we’ve never known because the raddest pitcher in Rangers history, Yu Darvish, was tipping World Series pitches and Houston had seen it all before. Lucky!

In summation, I’m bitter. And if you are anything like me … well, you need help. You need the kind of help that only a guy like me, a guy whose bitterness once registered a 3.2 million on the Scoville scale, a guy whose bitterness is visible from space, a guy whose bitterness is likely to establish a modern record for bitterness, can give you.

As it happens, I am here to give it to you.

My advice, O Bitter Comrade, is this: Forget baseball. Put it in your past, like a bad habit, like smoking. Leave it behind, like a bad idea, like line dancing.

Forget the game you once embraced. It will only hurt you.

If you insist, however, on maintaining your Fan Card despite the bitterness that consumes your days and makes sleepless your nights, I will provide additional advice. My therapist said it would help. I kicked him in the shin.

Spring Training

Headin’ to Florida, are ya? Road-trippin’ to Arizona, you say?

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Hey, I’ve been there. I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking a trip to training camp in Florida, despite the malarial mosquitoes and the underwear that sticks to your thighs, will ease your chronic pain by renewing the wide-eyed fascination you first discovered in a game of catch. Uh-huh. You’re thinking a trip to Port Charlotte will unburden your troubled soul by reminding you that your Rays — your maddening Rays! — are more than the instruments of your title-free existence, more than the agencies of your Dust Bowl-ish drought. Mmm-hmm. You’re thinking a trip to Arizona, despite the nostril-clogging dust and the hotel lobbies full of people with zinc oxide on their snouts, will awaken you to the fact that your Padres — your exasperating Padres! — are more than the source of your root-root-root-for-the-home-team blues, more than the instruments of your Sahara-like dry spell. Verily, they are the vessels of your redemption, the means by whose Spangenbergs and Jankowskis your devotion to baseball shall be restored!

Well, whatever. Wear sunscreen, I guess.

I will also tell you this: As you revel in the almighty majesty of the Pastime, celebrating its springtime revival with perfunctory hot dogs and overpriced beer, you will secretly wish that your terrible team was better. Whether you admit it to yourself or not, you’ll wish your team played more adroitly than the collection of stuffed jerseys they are. Trust me on this, O Secretly Resentful Comrade-In-Arms.

You’ll wander to Angels camp and wonder why they have Mike Trout and you don’t. You’ll trudge to Tampa and ask the unmerciful heavens why the Yankees get Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton while you get Joe Blow batting third and the second coming of Mario Mendoza batting fourth.

And no matter the ecumenical mode of your newfound fandom, no matter the universalist nature of your renewed approach, you will curse the caprice of the baseball gods for afflicting your team with such a grim and inexorable fate, one that promises a fourth-place finish, at best, and a midseason trade that will bring back a 19-year-old lefty whose rotator cuff resembles a bowl of over-boiled fusilli.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, it’s spring training! You never know!”

Don’t kid yourself. You do know.

So. What shall you do when the bitterness gets the better of you? 

One thing you can do, though I would strictly advise against it, is lean on that newfound universalist approach of yours, the one that has you celebrating the Pastime and all the Ruth-to-Trout continuity it has provided our game. Indeed, though I warn of its delusions of kumbaya grandeur, you can celebrate your unsectarian psychology by waving a pennant that reads merely BASEBALL!

“Teams are transient,” you can proclaim, “but baseball is timeless!”

Be advised: This is a trap, fellow traveler, a piece of crafty psychological subterfuge generated by the powerful consortium of big-market teams whose financial dominance and media-driven mystique demand the fodder of small-market teams and their convenient might-as-well-root-for-baseball fans.

In short, don’t play their sinister game.

Instead, try these tips:

Tip 1) If in Florida, find Judge and Stanton. Stand far away. Then, hold out both hands and pretend to squish them between your fingers. If in Arizona, do the same thing, one-handed, to Trout. You will feel much better.

Tip 2) Don’t go to the back fields in some misguided effort to restore your devotion by rediscovering the fundamentals of the grand old game. I know that’s a thing, like, “Ooh, hey, let’s grab some beers and go to the back fields to restore our devotion to the grand old game, you guys!” What you’ll actually restore, O Confederate, is the boredom in watching 72 guys in No. 99 jerseys work on rundowns. It’s like watching a golfer work on his short game. It’s fun for five seconds and terrible for the rest of eternity. Instead, head back to the hotel and take a nice shower. Then fly home.

Tip 3) For those of you in Greater Peoria, I suggest instead a day at the Pioneer Living History Museum, which features a “complete ranch complex.”

Writes one reviewer: “The telephone museum was very informative.”

For those in Port Charlotte, I point you to the Port Charlotte Cultural Center.

Writes one reviewer: “There is ample parking.”

Regular Season: Pre-All-Star Break

Here is the list of teams that have never won the World Series:

  1. Brewers
  2. Mariners
  3. Nationals
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies
  6. Rangers
  7. Rays
  8. Cleveland Spiders
  9. Bad News Bears
  10. your company softball team

Five of these teams have no chance of winning the World Series in 2018. Using our brains, let’s rank them in order from best chance to worst.

  1. Cleveland Spiders
  2. Bad News Bears
  3. your company softball team
  4. Rangers
  5. Padres

As a lifelong Rangers sufferer and onetime San Diego resident, I find this list especially vexing yet particularly par of the course. I mean, what else new? — what else but a continued bout with bitterness on behalf of the two teams whose inaugural crowns I’d most like to see? To enter a season with little or no hope of winning the World Series is to enter a season for no reason at all. It’s like entering the wrong theater and sticking around to watch the entire M. Night Shyamalan fiasco while everyone else howls in the theater next door.

Sure, as a Rangers fan or a Padres fan, or, for that matter, a Rays fan, you’d be well-advised to skip the season entirely and take up decoupage, which, as you know, is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it. Thus engaged in arts and/or crafts, you’d save yourself a whole lot of  grief. But I also know that grief avoidance, however logical the cause and sincere the attempt, is no match for the optimism that accompanies Opening Day. Yep, you’re gonna watch that first game.

You’re gonna watch that first half.

Grudgingly, so am I.

Like you, I’m gonna think, “Hey, we could surprise people!

I’m gonna think, “Joey Gallo might go all Aaron Judge! Rougned Odor might stop swinging at traffic on Randol Mill Road! And what if Martin Perez isn’t Martin Perez?”

Like you, however, I will know the truth.

Bitterness comes most acutely when great expectations are most dramatically dashed. Witness that Game Six detour of Nelson Cruz, a dumb diversion that removed the ring from each Ranger’s finger and every fan’s soul. Witness that Hamilton nap in Game 162 of the 2012 season, when, in the bottom of the fourth inning, the center fielder whiffed on a two-out bases-loaded pop-up on which the A’s won the West.

Witness the win streak of 2013, when the Rangers, without Cruz, won their final seven games only to see the Indians win 10 straight to claim the first Wild Card and the Rays win seven straight to tie for the second Wild Card. In yet another gut punch, the Rangers lost the play-in game, 5-2, to Tampa.

Witness the injury plague of 2014, when the Rangers established major league records for most players to appear on the 25-man roster (63) and most pitchers to see game action (40), and the 2015 and 2016 fiascos in Toronto, when an entire nation reveled twice in the singular heartbreak of one snake-bitten region.

While you’re at it, witness the Prince Fielder trade, when Texas exchanged a potential Hall of Famer in Ian Kinsler for the host of a cooking show on Hulu. Witness the Jurickson Profar injury, which cost the former No. 1 prospect two years of development and possibly a great career. Heck, witness the final fortnight of 2014’s injury apocalypse, when the Rangers somehow won 14 of their final 17 games to drop from the No. 1 position in the 2015 Draft to the No. 4 position. In the process, they lost a shot Dansby Swanson or Alex Bregman and drafted Dillon Tate, who has since been traded for the now-retired Carlos Beltran

It stands to reason that in the face of low expectations, the fans most keenly accustomed to recurrent gut punches might as well watch those early-season games. After all, what’s a sub-.500 start to an already darkened soul? That’s the beauty of bitterness when matched to a sorry outlook for the new season.

With that in mind, Mr. Bitterman has some advice:

Tip 1) Make margaritas.

Tip 2) Drink.

Tip 3) Repeat.

All-Star Break

Don’t worry. Your team will feature one dude in the All-Star Game.

So what if he’s got a 4.84 ERA.

So what if he’s got seven home runs.

It’s a rule.

Beyond that, don’t expect much — aside from the Aaron Judge-fest.

To better survive the All-Star Game and all the lunatic ravings about players you suddenly despise on teams you chronically loathe, try these handy tips:

Tip 1) Enjoy the Home Run Derby by picking a kid in the outfield and making wagers on whether he takes a header. Also, bet $200 on how many times the announcer will say, “Whoa, he hit that one all the way to Annapolis!”  

Tip 2) Guess how many stars of “No. 1 sitcoms on Fox” the Fox network will show on your screen. Then guess how many of those stars you’ll have heard of. Sample guesses: 17 and zero.

Tip 3) Take comfort in the fact that a team you hate will not get home-field advantage in the World Series on the basis of a seventh-inning run-scoring blooper by a reserve infielder.

Regular Season: Post-All-Star Break

Here is the list of teams that haven’t won the World Series in at least 29 years.

  1. A’s (1989)
  2. Dodgers (1988)
  3. Mets (1986)
  4. Tigers (1984)
  5. Orioles (1983)
  6. Pirates (1979)
  7. Indians (1948)
  8. Springfield Isotopes (N/A)
  9. Santa Barbara Seabirds (N/A)
  10. Hackensack Bulls (N/A)

If you root for the Athletics, Dodgers, Mets, Tigers, Orioles, Pirates or Indians, hear this: At least you’ve won a ring, bub.

Even if you have never known the pain of ringlessness, however, you do suffer the fact that your team hasn’t won a title since the (fill in the name of the President) administration. In fact, many of you weren’t even born when your (fill in the name of team) last hoisted the trophy above their bubbly heads. It is one thing to know your Indians won it all in ’48, for example, but another to have been born in a Cleveland-area hospital at any point after Oct. 11 of that year. 

The title is yours, but it isn’t yours.

The good news for you, as an Indians fan, is that this could be your year. So, too, could it be for the Dodgers, Orioles and Mets. Granted, it’s not bloody likely for the Orioles or Mets. Fate would have to smile on all the right shoulders and all the left arms, but, as they say, stranger things have happened. Hope is what you have. And hope is what you’ll keep until “mathematically eliminated” makes its noxious presence known.

For the rest of you, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Actually, I do. The A’s, Pirates and Tigers have as good a shot as the Isotopes, Seabirds and Bulls. Truth be told, Vegas has the Isotopes at slightly better odds than the Tigers. How, then, should fans of the A’s, Pirates and Tigers approach the second half? How should they handle its inevitable miseries?

Tip 1) If you’re an A’s fan, watch Khris Davis. He’s strong.

Tip 2) If you’re a Pirates fan, watch Josh Bell. He’s got a shot.

Tip 3) If you’re a Tigers fan, watch Stranger Things. It’s awesome.

Playoffs

Here is the list of teams that have never reached the playoffs:

{Cue sound of crickets chirping.}

That’s right, perceptive reader: In a nod to parity and baseball’s phony endeavor thereto, every team in the big leagues has reached the playoffs at least once. That’s not to say, of course, that all teams enjoy an equal chance.

If that’s what Baseball is selling you — that every team is on equal footing, from sea to shining sea — then I’ve got some Florida swampland in sunny Arizona to sell you.

Let’s be frank: If you’ve made it this far in Mr. Bitterman’s reasonably measured rant, you’re bitter, too, not only because your team has never won a title, or hasn’t won a title in 29-plus years, or has zero chance of winning the title soon, but also because Baseball, with headquarters at 245 Park Ave., doesn’t want you to win a title.

What it wants is for the Yankees to win the title.

Cite Mr. Bitterman’s tinfoil hat if you wish, but he’s telling you: The system is rigged.

From season to season and decade to decade, the Yanks enjoy a better shot at titledom than any team that aspires to their advantages, and that is every other team. Think about it: The Pinstripes have more money than the Middle East. They could buy Canada. Each 2019 free agent is being fitted for pinstripes as we speak.

It’s ridiculous.

And Baseball does nothing to stop it. In fact, Baseball — along with its mouthpiece, MLB Network — aids and abets it. Together, they celebrate it.

Look again at the nonfictional teams that have never won a title.

  1. Brewers
  2. Mariners
  3. Nationals
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies
  6. Rangers
  7. Rays

You’ve probably noticed that not one of those teams plays its home games in Yankee Stadium. Each, therefore, is working from a position of severe disadvantage vis-a-vis the Bombers. Not only do the Yankees print money, they also enjoy the advantage of sharing a time zone with each of their divisional foes. They’re but a train ride away from three of them. And the fourth, Tampa, is basically a home-away-from-home game for the Yanks. Have you ever seen a Yankees-Rays game at the Trop? The whole place has a Bronx accent, I’m telling you. The Yanks have this thing on lock.

For comparison, please note that 75 percent of the Rangers’ divisional foes are not one but two time zones away. Does this sound fair to you? It sure doesn’t sound fair to the Rangers, who are still catching up on their sleep.

Were the Yankees to suffer a similar disadvantage, they’d have to play 75 percent of their divisional road games in the Mountain Time Zone. Think about that — the Yankees playing three quarters of their most important games to the left of the 105th meridian west. Baseball wouldn’t stand for it.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are collecting frequent-flyer miles like nobody’s business. Did you know “Mariners” is Latin for “jet lag”? Reader, there’s a reason that AL West teams have won just two World Series in the past three decades.

In short, it’s a racket. Aside from the fact that the players actually get paid, it’s not unlike the unholy racket of college football, where the same eight teams get all the best players, or the unholier racket of college basketball, where the same four teams get all the studs while leaving the University of Utahs of the world to recruit a 6-foot-3 power forward from Country Day.

Of course, none of this rant-a-rific stuff is prohibitive of a small-market or AL West team reaching the playoffs. As a matter of fact, an AL West team will reach the playoffs. It’s pretty much a rule. And there will always be seasonal exceptions to Yankee dominance. Witness the Royals of 2015 and the Astros of 2017. Granted, I am bitter about both squads. They remind me of what I don’t and might never have.

But as we enter the postseason, you might use either team as a salve against bitterness. You might use either as a reminder that, against all odds, the Yankees can’t win it every year. Right?

As for the 2018 playoffs, Mr. Bitterman provides these tips:

Tip 1) Take a hike. No, seriously. A trek through nature’s bounty can relieve you of another postseason that’s free of your team.

Tip 2) Take only pictures.

Tip 3) Leave only footprints.

World Series

Here is the list of teams that have never reached the World Series:

  1. Mariners
  2. Nationals née Expos

Fun fact: Two teams will reach the Fall Classic this year.

It’s pretty much guaranteed.

Your team, in all likelihood, will not be one of them.

So, what shall you do?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be rooting for the meteor. You’ll be rooting for the 80 gazillion-ton chunk of space rock to blaze across the sky and obliterate the stadium and everyone inside it — but only during a commercial break. I mean, you don’t want to see it, right? That would be gauche.

Listen, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, Mr. Bitterman, what if the Mariners and Nationals née Expos reach the World Series — against each other?”

Comrade, if that happens, I’ll be rooting for two meteors, one for each team. That’s how relentlessly bitter I’ve become. Not only do I root against teams that have, oh, I dunno, 27 rings, but also against the teams that have zero. I root against the former for the obvious reason: Sheesh, they’ve got enough jewelry, and their wall-to-wall fans wear obnoxious T-shirts that suggest an acute awareness of exactly that swag.  

I root against the latter for another obvious reason: Misery loves company.

It loves company that has to excuse itself to cry in the bathroom even if misery is knocking on the door and saying, “Oh, c’mon, it’s not that bad.”

But misery knows: It is that bad.

You want World Series tips? Mr. Bitterman has just one:

Tip) Watch college football instead and put all your money on Alabama.

You’ll hate yourself but, hey, you’ll be fabulously rich  — not unlike the Yanks.

Spring Training 2019

Repeat.

 


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
newest oldest most voted
Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

WOW! Aren’t we in a splendid mood this fine Monday morning.

87 Cards
Member
87 Cards

I sit in TV markets of the Rangers and Astros and have for twenty-plus years. I have sat through many summers of maddeningly-bad and works-in-progress baseball in HD. When the Rangers had their two World Series appearance earlier this decade and when the Astros played cut-your-throat baseball last year, I felt the satisfactions of a successful long-term project. Every drama needs a machine-villain “more machine than man really”; the Dodgers and Yankees are useful as antagonistsin the 112-seasons of serialized baseball drama American culture has chosen to actively witness. Full disclosure: If the Astros and Rangers had not have the… Read more »

sphenreckson
Member
sphenreckson

You sound pretty bitter, man.

Eric Robinson
Member
Member

Given your problem with the Falcons of Country Day, it makes me wonder if you were either a Trinity Valley or All Saints guy

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

So no bitterness over the 2010 World Series?

By the way, that Freese triple may have been catchable with the right route (may), but it was hardly an easy can of corn.

martyvan90
Member
martyvan90

Wow. Pre 2004 Red Sox fans are crying with nostalgia.