People love winners. Or to be more precise, people loves sports champions, famous people and high earners because they embody what – to some – life is all about: winning stuff, getting your face on TV and being rich.
The other side of life is that dark hole of unpopularity and irrelevance known as ‘last place’. Not so much last place at the end of the season, because from there you can always say: “Next season we have every reason to hope that we will [insert delusional aspiration here]”. No, the true suffocating blackness of anti-cultural non-achievement belongs to those baseball teams who LIVE in last place. The players and fan-bases who know beyond all doubt that, even with more than 100 games left to play, they have as much hope of getting to the playoffs as I do of beating Barry Bonds’ home run record.
So in reverse order, here are my five most lovable losers of the 2012 season so far – teams in last or next-to-last place in their division staring up at the cumulonimbus clouds of a .500 record:
5. Seattle Mariners (last place, AL West)
I feel sorry for Ichiro Suzuki: the greatest leadoff hitter of his generation who has not – or at least not through his interpreter – complained even once about playing for a team that has been the epitome of loserdom for nearly a decade. But this team is rich – not because everyone pays to watch them (like fellow last-placers the Cubs), but because the owners are swimming in cash.
4. Colorado Rockies (next-to-last place, NL West)
Jamie Moyer, famous for throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, became the oldest pitcher in MLB history to win a game when he beat the Padres last month. That’s great. His 5.70 ERA however – not so much, but what’s worse is he has the second-lowest ERA on the Rockies staff. These guys hand out too many fat contracts to maximize their potential for sympathy, but spare a thought for them as they watch expectations plummet faster than the Dow Jones after a Chapter 11 announcement.
3. San Diego Padres (last place, NL West)
When your ballpark has the dimensions of Yellowstone National Park no free agent hitters want to play for your team. But that’s their fault. Also, too many people want to live in San Diego to really sympathize too much. However, adding to the sympathy is the fact that this team is truly awful. They’re so bad that ESPN just ran a feature on how they feel sorry for up-and-coming hitter Yonder Alonso who, as an above average player, stands out like a superstar on his own team.
2. Oakland Athletics (next-to-last place, AL West)
No fans, no stadium, no payroll, no hope for the last 10 years and no cutting edge General Manager’s differentiator that’s likely to spawn ‘Moneyball 2: the Athletics Strike Back’. Bearing in mind the apex of their achievement in the last generation involved NOT making it to the World Series in 2002, and their endless struggles to move to a part of California where people may actual watch baseball, you have a team worthy of at least an avuncular pat on the back.
1. Minnesota Twins (last place, AL Central)
Giving Minneapolis a baseball franchise is not insulting in the way that giving Phoenix a hockey franchise is insulting, but let’s just say it’s not exactly tapping into the latent cultural attachments. And yet they’re plucky. Smart drafting, sensible contracts (until Mauer’s) and just good solid baseball won them 6 of the last 10 American League Central titles, whilst maintain a payroll at or near the bottom of the list of all major league teams.
But they’ve fallen hard times of late, and currently sit a distant 15 games under .500, trying to facilitate the return to the country of a key pitcher who lied about his name and age to get a baseball contract.
So let’s all give a piece of chocolate and pat on the head to the Twins: they never win stuff, they don’t get their faces on TV very much and (comparatively speaking) they have very little money. Plus it snows there almost all year. Bless.