Losing games but finding friends in the basement


With the All-Star Break in session I’m stuck with a few free days on my hands so I decided to kill some time by looking at the Major League standings. A quick glance at the AL West shows the A’s running away with last place in dominant fashion, rapidly putting more and more distance between themselves and the rest of the division as they continue to lose at a putrid pace.

I don’t know what it’ll take for the A’s to officially clinch last place but I’m morbidly curious for someone to do the math and come up with a Tragic Number to follow.

Reaching .500 seems nearly impossible with the impotent offense Oakland is running out there every day which leaves escaping the cellar as one of the few team goals the A’s can shoot for as they play out the string. Manager Bob Melvin’s crew is a whopping 14 games under .500 but they’re only 4.5 games behind the Mariners which speaks volumes about how weak the division has been this year.

“Third place or bust!” isn’t exactly the rallying cry I was hoping for in 2011 but it looks like that’s about as good as it’s going to get. This season, like the past several, has been rather miserable but as I checked out the standings it left me wondering if I’d rather spend the rest of the year being a fan of another last place team.

With a .424 winning percentage and a 12 game deficit in the AL West things are bad in Oakland right now but is the grass much greener for some of the other pathetic losers around the league? Here’s a rundown of the other clubs mired in last place and whether I’d like to switch places with their faithful, frustrated fans:

Baltimore Orioles (.409 winning percentage, 18 games out of first place in the AL East): Would I want to spend the rest of the season following the Orioles? There’s no argument that spending summer afternoons watching meaningless ballgames at Camden Yards would probably beat dragging my family to the Coliseum to witness the A’s struggle to put a crooked number on the board. But I can’t stand manager Buck Showalter so that’s a big ding against Baltimore. For some reason the guy just annoys me. He kind of looks like an angry chipmunk and I think his cranky intensity would wear thin during a losing campaign.

Baltimore’s young pitching isn’t doing much and for the most part the position players are nothing to write home about. Even if the Orioles improve over the next few years they’re trapped in the AL East where getting close to 90 wins still might not be enough to get into the playoffs thanks to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees being perennial powerhouses.

When you get right down to it I’m glad I’m not a fan of this team.

Kansas City Royals (.407, 11.5 out in the AL Central): It seems like these guys were a hot, surprise team for about 15 minutes in April and then they realized that they’re just the Royals and started playing like it, settling back into the comfy confines of last place.
I think it’d be fun to hang out at Kauffman Stadium and chow down on some delicious KC BBQ but Missouri in the dead of summer would probably be too hot for my tastes.

As a fan I’d love to watch stud prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas establish themselves over the next few months. But the main reason the Royals have one of the best farm systems in baseball is because they haven’t made the playoffs since 1985.

The A’s has been to the playoffs 9 times, the World Series 3 times and won a championship in the same timeframe so I’ll pass on hopping on board the Royals’ bandwagon.

Florida Marlins (.473, 14 out in the NL East): The Fish have the best record of any team currently in last place but they’re further out of first place than the A’s. The Marlins are moving into a new ballpark soon which is cool for fans and I think it’d be great to watch Mike Stanton regularly hit bombs but their ancient manager Jack McKeon probably played in the Deadball Era and owner Jeffrey Loria seems like a jerk.

On top of all that Miami seems a little too humid for me and I think I’d look horrible in teal so this is not a last place club I’d like to trade places with.

Houston Astros (.326, 19 out in the NL Central): Uh … no. Nothing to see here. But I will say that I really wish someone on the A’s had a batting average vaguely resembling the Astros’ winning percentage.

San Diego Padres (.435, 12 out in the AL West): I guess if I had to trade places with the fans of another last place club this would be my pick. But it doesn’t have much to do with baseball. Sure, Mat Latos has nasty stuff and Anthony Rizzo is an intriguing power hitting first base prospect but the main reason I’d be willing to consider making a switch for the rest of the year with Friars fans would be to chill out in San Diego. Location is everything and sunny Petco Park is near warm beaches and the Gaslamp Quarter which easily beats the Coliseum’s desolate setting.

As the A’s continue to slowly sink into near-total irrelevance I guess I should be furious about the whole thing but I’m merely strongly annoyed and wildly frustrated. Maybe it’s an age thing. If I was in my 20s this situation would really have my blood boiling but now that I’m older with children things I’m a little more mellow.

Or maybe it’s a little bit of a generational thing. I’m certainly not an old man but I am lucky enough to be able to say that the A’s have won the World Series twice in my lifetime and I’ve seen them field contenders, fall on hard times and then come back into contention more than once. I firmly believe that sort of thing goes in cycles which makes me quietly confident that the A’s will be one of the best teams in baseball again.

Of course, in a perfect world the downward part of the cycle for a sports team doesn’t last very long and the winning can somehow be sustained for an extended period of time. But it goes without saying that we don’t live in a perfect world and we certainly don’t live in a particularly patient world either. Sports fans everywhere want a winner and they want it right now. Ideally the faith and passion of every fan could be rewarded with an exciting contender but that’s not how that bitter little cookie crumbles.

Just ask Royals, Pirates and Blue Jays fans. They’ve gone 26, 19 and 18 years without a playoff appearance. Or how about the Cubs or Indians? They’ve gone 103 and 63 years without winning a World Series. Eight Major League teams have never even won a World Series.

You want pain? That’s pain.

The Oakland A’s, with four World Series trophies to their name, have gone 5 years without a playoff appearance and 22 without a world championship. Compared to a lot of other sad-sack clubs, the A’s playoff and World Series droughts are nothing. If you groused about it with a Royals or Cubs fan it’d be like complaining about a wicked case of hay fever to someone with terminal cancer.

But losing, no matter how many games or for how many years, tortures the soul of every passionate fan. When you get right down to it, being a baseball fan can often be one of the most unsatisfying, agonizing experiences around.

You pour your heart and soul into a team year after year and more often than not there’s no victory parade in the end. Just more heartbreak and misery. Yet we keep coming back for more, like moths drawn to a flame. Sometimes love doesn’t make any sense whatsoever and die-hard baseball fans know that about as well as anyone.

So after sizing up all the other cellar dwellers I’ll stick with the A’s. I’ll stick with them even though they often drive me up the wall because I’m crazy enough to believe that just because I’ve seen them be great a few times before that I’ll see them be great again. Hopefully they’ll reward my faith before I move on to the next life, but if they don’t I can look at the other teams buried in the standings and know that as I suffer I’ll have plenty of fans in the same predicament to keep me company.

Misery loves company and life in baseball’s basement is anything but lonely.