Crash Landing: The Familiarity of Losing Baseball
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at watching bad baseball. Outside of Royals, Pirates, and maybe Padres fans, it’s hard to find baseball lovers my age who have watched more bad baseball in their lives than people like me who are afflicted with the disease of reflexive Phillies watching. I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre 90s Phillie here* Phillies. And I’ve watched the *insert your favorite mediocre current Phillie here* Phillies. I’ve seen some garbage baseball, is what I’m saying.
I don’t mean this as a complaint. Not at all. The Phillies run of success from 2007 to 2011 made for an absolutely incredible baseball viewing experience which was more than worth all the down years. In my experience, watching bad baseball has deepened my appreciation and awareness of those glorious fleeting moments when good baseball actually cycles around. Plus, any baseball is better than no baseball.
But here’s the thing: I’ve recently found myself perversely comforted by the familiarity of the Phillies recent awful performance. The Phillies playing winning baseball is still foreign and unnerving. But losing? I get that. I know how to watch it. I’m good at this. Defensive miscues, failures to hit in clutch situations, pitching staffs getting lit up by the opposition… it’s like a home-cooked meal for me. Sure, it’s a blue box mac-and-cheese kind of home-cooked meal, but it’s comforting and familiar, no matter how poorly it resembles the ideal version of the food/sport it represents.
There will be a time in the not-to-distant future when there are legitimate expectations of winning for the Phillies, but we’re not there. The Phillies current streak of 22 losses in 26 games feels like what was supposed to happen this year much more so than their surprisingly entertaining stretch of winning baseball at the start of the season. We all knew this was coming and, well, here it is.
When the team I watch more than any other is bad, I find myself searching for specific things to focus on. At various times this season, that’s meant focusing on players like Odubel Herrera or Aaron Nola or Vincent Velasquez. It also means focusing on components of the game and slowly evolving storylines like player development or shifts in team strategy and philosophy. It means checking the minor league box scores and theorizing about when the next prospect is going to come up. In a way, it’s a more relaxed version of the sport when you manage to view the actual outcomes as incidental to the storylines you’re watching.
I remember watching the 2011 Phillies and realizing somewhere mid-July that I’d lost the ability to fully enjoy the games currently in front of me. Those games were also irrelevant, but in an entirely different way. The 2011 Phillies were playoff-bound. We all knew it and half-way through the season we found ourselves anxiously awaiting October baseball to roll around and decide the final fate of that incredible Phillies team. It was uneasy and unsettled.
But losing baseball like this 2016 Phillies season? All that uncertainty is completely gone. We know how this season is going to end. We know more or less where the Phillies will fall in the standings when the regular season comes to a close. In Philadelphia, we’ve seen it dozens of times before and we know how to do this. Winning is better, but winning isn’t happening this year. We find ways to love the sub-par product on the field. And we find ways to enjoy this silly sport until the losing ends. The key difference between the 90s and today is that there’s an increased confidence that this losing cycle is going to end sooner than later. But even if it doesn’t, well, blue box is still pretty good.