|No, seriously, get off my lawn.
I hated it when I was a kid, but I’ve grown to love The McLaughlin Group. Led by curmudgeonly debating dictator John McLaughlin, this talking-head free-for-all might carry the blame for the parade of political punditry running through television around the clock, but that’s only because they do it right. They step on each other’s sentences and stumble their way through a bipartisan spectrum (composed of drastically slanted extremes). It’s entertaining, informative, and everything a political talk show should be.
Be that as it may, Johnny has drawn lighthearted criticism for his less-than-subtle manner of implying his cynical opinions are superior to all others, a caricature made famous by Dana Carvey and imitated by Cub fans everywhere.
I’m probably just as guilty as anyone of dismissing dissenting opinions, so don’t read this as a personal attack just because you know I know you’re wrong. But there’s something I find so irritating about the cynicism that follows a Cubs loss, bad inning, John Grabow run given up, Aramis Ramirez strikeout, Lou Piniella managerial decision/quote/shaving holiday . . . you name it. And, yes, I even get irritated at myself for succumbing to it. It’s the attitude that I can draw sound conclusions about this team or this player based on the last game, at bat, series, or even two weeks of play.
We all know that’s not true, but when a small sample agrees with our general conclusions, it’s oh so tempting to set our opinions in stone. And then laminate them.
The first week of the season, everyone jokes about it. Samardzija’s ERA is infinity. Marlon Byrd is on pace to hit 456 homers. The Cubs will go 0-162. But after the first month of the season, and especially after the first two, fans tend to forget how unreliable small samples are, especially the fans who don’t know what constitutes a significant sample.
The Cubs are 1-7 against the Pirates. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Cubs have a woeful record against the Pirates this year. Are the Pirates better than the Cubs? Let’s entertain the thought. Here are some other imaginary conclusions we can draw from the Cubs/Pirates season series:
- The Cubs are 23-22 against the rest of baseball, so the Pirates must be the best team the Cubs have played this year.
- The Pirates are 15-30 against non-Cubs teams, so the Cubs must be the worst team the Pirates have played, including the Astros who have yet to lose to the Bucs and have lost just one to the Cubs.
- Somehow the Cubs are an otherwise above-.500 team that is also the worst opponent the Pirates have faced, so the Pirates must have the toughest schedule in all of baseball. Ever.
- Xavier Nady is an unstoppable force, he and his 1.065 OPS against the untouchable Pirate pitching staff.
- Marlon Byrd doesn’t hustle nearly as hard as Alfonso Soriano.
I won’t go on. No one believes those conclusions, but for some reason, “The Cubs suck” is the most obvious fact ever presented before the public eye because of the Cubs’ 8 games against the Pirates, even though it doesn’t really agree with what the other games have told us. The Pirates have the second worst pitching staff in the National League (Milwaukee is the worst). Although the Cubs have absolutely pounded on Brewer pitching, the Pirate hurlers have been tougher on the Cubs than have all but three opposing staffs. It doesn’t make sense. And, in small samples, neither does baseball.
To be fair, the optimists who get overly excited when the Cubs are on a hot streak (read: me) are just as deceived by recency and selective sampling as the cynics who proclaim doom every time the L flag flies over Wrigley. But cynicism especially irritates me because it’s the cop-out attitude. It’s safe. It’s the defense mechanism of every fan.
Anyone quick to judge the Cubs as uber-sucky, other than opposing fans who frame their identities around criticizing the very team they hate (and really, this has to be the most pathetic segment of sporting society), is happy to be proved wrong. Generally, Cubs fans aren’t happy to see their team fail, so the doubters take solace in the fact that they saw the collapse coming. If the Cubs lose: “I knew it, and you’re an idiot if you’re surprised by this.” Cubs win: “Yay, I was wrong! This won’t last.”
See how that works? Call the desired outcome impossible, and you’ll never be disappointed. The only problem is, it doesn’t mean you’re a good prognosticator, it just means you’re skilled at covering your butt.
The people calling for Lou’s head because he leaves starting pitchers in too long are the same ones who get irate when he brings in the wrong reliever. The people saying Lou was a fool for starting the all-bench lineup are the same ones who, 24 hours earlier, were begging him to shake things up. They have to blame unexpected results on someone, and the unpredictability of baseball isn’t an option. It’s this: Lou sucks. The Cubs suck. If I can’t get the outcome I want, at least I can feel better blaming it on the people stupid enough not to be as cynical as I am right now.
Well, that sucks. I’m not saying everyone has to predict the Cubs to win or to bounce back. I’m not saying the optimists are right and the pessimists are wrong. I’m just saying the cynics, in this case and in life in general, are taking the easiest path, especially when it’s based on only the most recent or selective observations. If you think the Cubs suck (and their record agrees with you) I’d hope you’d form that opinion from something more than the final score to one game or even eight.
I’ll leave you with two things: 1) MLB’s collection of highlights carrying the Starlin Castro
tag; 2) Exit question: on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the suckiest team in the history of spheroidal suction and 10 being the metaphysical pinnacle of baseball existence, how good do you think the Cubs are?