Favorite players: What’s the point?

mattmcsports
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Growing up a baseball fan, I, like almost every kid, liked to root for my favorite players. I developed attachments to them–bought their shirseys, cheered their names specifically. Naturally, these attachments can quickly turn to heartbreak when that player gets traded.

A’s fans in particular understand this better than anyone. The moment that any players starts to play like a superstar, the team sells high and trades him for prospects. The emotions from Cespedes, Donaldson, Moss and Samardzija trades are not new to A’s fans.

However when fans develop bonds with players, they start to drift away from one of the biggest mantras in sports–you play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. This applies not only to players, but to the fans as well. Even if the names on the back of the jerseys change, the name on the front won’t, and that is what fans can keep with them.

This begs the question “Why bother attaching ourselves to specific players?” Well when Donaldson jumps into a tarp or Moss hits a walk-off home run, it’s fun to say “Wow! Moss is boss! These players are so amazing!” But what is even more exciting is asking the question “How did we find this guy?”

It can actually be more entertaining to analyze the assortment of castoffs that leads to success. Ultimately, success is more exciting than individual accomplishment.

Many A’s fans are probably sick of seeing their favorite players leave via trade, but, hypothetically speaking, what if the A’s had infinite money and could sign whoever they wanted? Every A’s player that emerged into superstardom would be wearing green and gold for life, and we could land all of the big-ticket free agents we wanted.

My Donaldson and Cespedes shirseys…may they rest in peace.

Well this situation happened in New York. In 2009 the Yankees had plenty of money to spend and they spent it. They landed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira in free agency, arguably the three best free agents of the offseason. Going into the 2009 season the team was expected to have incredible success.

And they did. The team rode its superstar players all the way to a world series victory. As someone who rooted for that team, I can honestly say that it wasn’t incredibly exciting. Watching a team meet expectations, even if those expectations are a world series victory, isn’t as exciting as watching a team exceed expectations.

That’s why the 2012 A’s were way more fun to root for than the 2009 Yankees. Even though the A’s had no star power coming into the season, we got to watch all of the cast offs and misfit toys that nobody else wanted come out of nowhere and win the division. While expected success is nice, surprising and shocking success is definitely more fun.

And the 2009 Yankees are one of the few examples where spending plenty of money to push for immediate success actually worked. For failed attempts just in the last few years, look at the Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins and Rangers. All of those teams dumped tons of money on big ticket players, yet none of them have met their incredibly high expectations yet. If both the Angels and A’s win 90 games next year, it would be way more fun to watch the A’s do it, just because for the Angels anything short of a World Series victory should be a disappointment. And the same goes for all of those other teams (except the Marlins, because they traded all of their big-contract players from their 2012 shopping spree).

So what does this mean for fans? Is it bad for us to attach ourselves to the players we love? No, not necessarily. If you’re rooting for the team you obviously need to root for the players to succeed, and that will inevitably lead to some emotional attachments. But it all goes back to the mantra I mentioned at the beginning–the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. Sometimes, we need to let go of those emotional ties for the benefit of the team as a whole.

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