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May 12, 2016

Players Prefer Presentation

The Jerk's Guide to Being a Jerk

by Meg Rowley

The thing is, you’re a jerk. Let me back up. I’m a jerk, too. I’m a jerk, and you’re a jerk, and our folks are jerks. Probably not really bad jerks, or scary jerks, or even particularly vocal jerks, but jerks of a sort. You’re not a jerk because you weren’t raised right (although with the influences of those other jerks, who’s to say?). You’re a sort of jerk because being a fan of one team rather than all the other teams means you are quietly rooting for the failure of other human beings. Not exclusively, and not all the time, and maybe not in ways that are really bad, or scary, or particularly vocal, but sometimes, at least a little.

Some days, the rooting-for-or-against leans more one way than the other. Some days, you’re hoping your guy hits a big home run, or comes up with a big strike out. It’s more about the person doing the doing than about the person to whom the doing is being done. But other days, your jerkiness puts its thumb on the scales. Some days, you’re hoping that guy will embarrass himself, and drop an easy flyout in right. Or you hope a player who used to be on your team strikes out with such force that his helmet comes flying off. You want a bullpen collapse; you want to see an opposing manager ejected for arguing calls and strikes. What’s more, you want him to be right about the balls and strikes in question, be filled with righteous indignation, and get tossed anyway. You’re less focused on who is doing the doing, than the human form who is suffering through that doing.

Being a fan makes you a little bit of jerk. Only one team can win a baseball game, and even though we know there are good seasons that don’t result in World Series victories, we’d rather win than not. We buy into competitions of all sorts, rivalries of laundry and geography and perspective. We listen to our local sports talk radio hosts tell us we are the best fans in baseball, and then puff out our chests with pride. We will win this year because we are better, but also because our competition is a bunch of losers.

Of course, it is probably morally and spiritually always bad to delight in the suffering of others. We’re taught at a very early age that such delights are petty or mean-spirited; they are the impulses of serial killers and megalomaniacs and puppy-kickers. Maybe we don't mourn for the loss of an ant's life, but we do know something needs fixing when it comes to the kid who wants to peel its legs off one by one for giggles. No one wants to be that guy, because he is cruel and unfeeling. Except fandom invites those other impulses in. Fandom sits on some baseline level of jerkiness, and it gets dialed up or down depending on your team’s record and who they are playing and whether or not you were cut off in traffic when you were driving to work. We’d rather be nice, but sometimes we’re jerks.

Which brings us to the Angels. The Angels are a mess right now. Garrett Richards needs Tommy John. Andrew Heaney may soon follow. Andrelton Simmons just had thumb surgery for a full thickness tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, which has to be the worst injury working if we measure severity by how icky it sounds. Jered Weaver hasn’t thrown a pitch over 86 mph this season (not a one). There are no reinforcements coming from the minors. The Angels are a hot, sad mess. And as a fan of the first place Seattle Mariners, I have found myself wondering when I am morally obligated to stop enjoying the distress of a rival. At what point does baseline jerkiness spike, and become critical? When do I become something worse than a regular ol’ jerk?

The answer, sadly, is probably right now. It is probably already too late. It is probably already bad that I make jokes about Jered Weaver’s declining velocity, or the Angels’ lethargic offense, or Cliff Pennington being their starting shortstop. It is objectively funny that a team that has Mike Trout in his prime would have Cliff Pennington (or Brendan Ryan) starting at short. It’s wacky and amusing to watch Weaver pitch. It’s delightful to watch Mike Scioscia bubble over with frustration, and easy to mock Albert Pujols’ contract. It is all funny in a way, but only if you’re able to forget the way things are.

Because once you remember that, you feel like more than a jerk. You feel like a puppy-kicker. I’m awful. It probably wasn’t great before all this destruction, but now it is worse! Every team suffers injuries and setbacks. Many teams are just bad, but they are bad in a way that is fair game for our mild brand of jerkish-ness, provided we aren’t really bad, or scary, or particularly vocal about it, because it’s a baseball badness. Prospects don’t pan out; backup utility players become starters and show why they were backup utility players. Aces lose a tick or ten off their fastball. Lots of guys tweak elbows and tear thicknesses, and doom their seasons, but normally that doom is somewhat contained. Other guys fill their spot, and their absence does not normally determine the season on its own. We didn’t like injuries, but we can keep on being our normal, slightly jerkish, but not serial-killer selves, because the team is somewhat separated from that individual suffering.

The Braves are bad in a baseball way. The Twins are bad in a baseball way. The Angels are bad in a sad way. In a human way. We can’t separate the individual suffering from the team; the team is marked by it. It is the team. It’s worse than a floundering Astros team, or a poor NL West or the Yankees. It isn’t that the hits keep coming; it’s that, apart from an injury to Trout, there aren’t many others remaining. Guys are hurt! Seasons are over! Chairs might be wobbly! These guys have families! It’s all very bad in a sad, human way now, and I’m looking back and wondering when I started kicking puppies. So learn from my failing. Let’s aim not to delight in the downfall of rivals so much. Let’s be human. Let’s not crow for the error, but cheer for the hit. Let’s always and forever continue to avoid liking injuries. Let’s allow this sort of sadness go with dignity into the twilight of the season when the time comes, because they’ve suffered enough. Let’s not kick puppies.

We’re all jerks of a sort. Probably not really bad jerks, or scary jerks, or even particularly vocal jerks, but jerks of a sort. We should try to be the decent sort.

Meg Rowley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Meg's other articles. You can contact Meg by clicking here

Related Content:  Seattle Mariners,  Los Angeles Angels

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