Last place can be a complicated domain. Some teams end up there on purpose. Sometimes, being in last has strategic advantages. At least that’s what American sports fans have been conditioned to think by BIG COLOR COMMENTARY. Josh and Dennis explore the pros and cons of different types of last place in the latest edition of One Paragraph Arguments.
Let’s start with the facts. Players aren’t the ones trying to lose. And it’s not just that they’re competitors, intrinsically driven to win. It’s also because they want to make plays that win bigger, better contracts. And to do that, you’re going to win some games.
Tanking doesn’t occur on the field/court/rink/velodrome; it happens in boring offices of boring people. It’s the owners and General Managers who try to lose by putting bad players out there. Players don’t try to lose unless they are shaving points. But we have become a sports nation that allows for tanking to have a fruitful existence, because of the systems in place. As long as we keep giving benefits to losers, you might as well embrace tanking. It sure sucks to watch, but from a logical perspective, isn’t it better to bottom-out and rebuild than to stay mediocre forever? I assume this is what the U.S. Government is doing.
I’m honestly surprised that more stagnant franchises haven’t adopted The Process as camouflage for their lack of competency. It’s important to know that there is a difference between tanking and not going all-in every year.
The Astros, for example, have pulled off a concerted rebuild. Yes, they were horrible for a few years, but in baseball it makes more sense to accumulate young talent and draft picks to coordinate a solid core of players hitting their peaks at the same time. Being actively bad in baseball for draft picks is a fool’s errand since the MLB draft is a crapshoot.
But the NFL and NBA are set up to incentivize not just temporary mediocrity but active shittiness in pursuit of a generational, lottery pick talent. Everyone knows that the Dolphins are tanking (as opposed to the early 2000s when they were really going for it?), but no one trusts them to stick the landing. Get rid of performance-based draft positions and just rotate the picks.
Like I said, if tanking is an option, tanking will, and should happen. But if we want to really embrace the “winning is the only option” ideology, than we should absolutely embrace relegation in the major American sports leagues. (If nothing else it’ll make chuds like Albert Breer happy to exterminate each and every participation trophy.)
The problem with relegation is that in hockey, basketball, baseball, and soccer, our minor league teams are mostly owned by the major league teams above them. To create a system where teams would rise and fall between leagues would take a lot of reorganization, especially financially. That said, if we could create an incentive for every team—no matter how bad—to keep winning, American sports would be in a far better place.
MLB put forward a proposal to cut ties with quite a few minor league affiliates, so maybe they could become independent teams. However, I can’t see MLB agreeing to potentially have the Baltimore Orioles usurped by the Lehigh IronPigs.
Since the NCAA is glacially moving towards paying its players, it could become the lower league. Then we could finally see if Alabama could beat the Browns. But then Nick Saban would be an NFL coach, and we all know how that turns out.
Americans are not of a disposition to tolerate relegation, least of all billionaire owners. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you’re booted down to Triple A, and they pay good money to set up camp in the basement. Remember those cool posters that have every team’s helmet or logo? Worthless with relegation.
Is there even a counter to being an underdog? Ever since the Bible, which is a factual account of history exactly how it happened, nobody wants to be Goliath. Goliath was doomed. Being an underdog means surpassing expectations, taking down the big guy, and shoving it in the face of all the haters. Little known fact, but in David’s postgame interview, he read a list of everyone who picked Goliath. It feels better to win when no one expects that you can. That’s just science.
Goliath probably had some pituitary abnormality that went undiagnosed, because it was the Dark Ages, and obviously David—who was smaller, nimbler, and used a long range weapon—is going to win that battle.
But back in present times, do you know the biggest upset in the NCAA Men’s Tournament Final in the last 30 years? In 1997, 4-seed Arizona beat 1-seed Kentucky.
You aren’t going to believe this, but the seed with the most Final Four appearances is the 1-seed. The second most? The 2-seed. The third most? The 3-seed. Do you know why this is? It’s because teams who do well in the regular season tend to do well in the postseason. And if you do well in the regular season, you will get a better seed in postseason games.
Saying that you prefer to be an underdog is admitting that you want to perform unevenly during the regular season. Of course teams should want to be the overdog because that means they did better in the games leading up to the current one. If a team’s goal is winning, they should want to be the favorite. The more obvious, the better.
You want to win. Always. And then you do it enough and it’s not good enough anymore. Then you need to win with pizzazz, with higher stakes. It’s kind of like how once you start reading hardcore nonfiction books, you can never go back to reading softcore nonfiction books.
Anyways, the point is you need to start adding “hurdles,” but sometimes they don’t exist. You start seeing yourself as an underdog, the world against you. You take any slight as a massive insult, a grand statement about you. And maybe it’s imaginary or dramatized, until you start playing and then it’s real. It pushes you harder and gets you out of a rut, it drives you to your goals the way other motivations have fallen short. Maybe athletes like you, Dennis—who have always had everything given to them, who have always been embraced and celebrated in the media—wouldn’t understand… but the rest of us have had to fight for everything and we can’t wait to take you down.
I don’t know what sort of mental self-inflicted voodoo professional athletes must conjure up in order to get to the point where they want it more than their opponents. Nonetheless, I can never take the “No one believed in us” assertion seriously.
The Nationals pulled that stunt after their World Series win. Everyone counted us out. No one believed in us. Of course they counted you out. You spent the first month-and-a-half of the season shitting the bed. But come August, people were back on-board.
We now have enough advanced analytics to layer on top of eye tests to know when a team’s record doesn’t reflect its ability. No one on a 9-7 team that performed like a 12-4 team has ever said, “People really thought we could do it. Everyone believed in us, but we crumbled.” So why should a 9-7 team with a 9-7 soul feel slighted when they aren’t the sexy pick. Where’s Denny Green when you need him?
Is this where I drop this non-licensed New Ringland sponsored ad to shame you, Josh? Yes, winning too much is annoying. Fans do not possess the emotional intelligence to not become insufferable when their team has sustained success, nor do they have to ability to enjoy it objectively.
This is why people hate the Patriots, even though they HEALED A NATION after 9/11. This is why the Yankees are hated, even though they haven’t won a championship in 10 years and have a fun team now. Everyone is still annoyed at them for winning 27.
It poisons wannabe dynasties (like the St. Louis Cardinals). Fans turned on the Warriors in 1.75 seasons. We cannot have nice things. Red Sox fans went from being lovable losers to losers in the non-literal sense. Do you care about the Cubs anymore? No, because there is nothing interesting about a Chicago pro sports team that won a title a few years ago and is now pretty good. Luckily, the Royals went right back into the septic tank to stamp out any haughtiness brewing in their fan base. You need some losing peppered in to keep things in perspective. The next time the Patriots go 9-7, their fanbase will need to be collectively treated for some sort of dissociative disorder. Don’t win too much! But don’t tank!
Maybe this best exemplifies where and which teams we were brought up with (although I did find the Jayhawks mysteriously absent from your argument). I didn’t see a title for a team I rooted for until I was a senior in high school. You merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I was a pessimist, surrounded by pessimists.
The big secret of the annoyingness of repeated success is that it’s the champions and their fans that are insufferable, it’s the observer (AKA one of the many losers) who find them insufferable because they are suffering. You want the hot chick (please don’t cancel me) who doesn’t think she’s hot, but you deem the hot chick who knows she is hot to be cocky and unbearable.