MLB Postseason: Why you should root for the Underdog

By Hank Hansen and Jesse Yourish

Being a baseball fan can be the source of a lot of joyous experiences. The electricity of a city on the eve of a big game. The tacky celebratory song that plays after a win at your local park. The ride home in a train car stuffed to the gill with reveling fans. But what about those of us who are too geographically isolated to easily latch onto a hometown team? One option is to take the easy route and pledge allegiance to one of baseball’s handful of wealthy, perennially successful powerhouses. America’s pastime does not feature a salary cap, so it can be fairly easy to follow a trail of dollar bills to the bandwagon of a winning team*. However, your humble authors would like to suggest a more rewarding option for the next time you find yourself in need of a franchise to cheer for: The Underdog. Baseball’s postseason is now well underway, meaning there is no better time than the present to find a team to get excited about. Best of all, as long as the much-reviled moneybags known as the New York Yankees continue to blight the playoffs with their presence, they will always have an opponent who, by the very nature of playing against the Yankees, is an Underdog. This year, New York will first have to get past the Baltimore Orioles, an over-achieving band of birds in their first postseason since 1997. Should they triumph over the pesky O’s, the Yanks will then face either the upstart Oakland Athletics (a team predicted by most to have had a losing season) or the Detroit Tigers, a team that, despite their powerful roster, maintains an air of Underdog-ness because of the tribulations of the struggling city that they represent. In the National League, the Washington Nationals are the most alluring Underdogs because, although they have had a highly successful 2012 season thus far, they are less than five years removed from being the laughingstock of the sport. Their remarkable revival makes them far more captivating than the Giants or Cardinals, who are the defending champions from the past two seasons, respectively. Still though, you might still be asking just why exactly The Underdog is the most satisfying team to support. Allow us to suggest a few examples: first, let us harken back to a dark age, a time before many of us were even alive: 1991. Times were bleak in the Twin Cities, as the Twins had finished the previous season in last place. As the ’91 season unfolded, however, Twins fans could sense the beginning of something special. Remarkably, these ’91 Twins, led by the spunky Kirby Puckett and the unflappable Jack Morris, stormed into the playoffs and all the way into the World Series. Then, in a World Series that ESPN has called the greatest of all time, the Twinkies actually won. They became the first baseball team to ever win a title after finishing the previous season last in their division. Imagine the incredulous excitement that would have overwhelmed any Twins fan that got to witness their team execute such an unprecedented turnaround. Only by rooting for The Underdog can one have the opportunity to witness the purest of surprises that sport has to offer. And then there are the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers. For years the Brew Crew had been mired in mediocrity, but in 2011 they sensed an opportunity and went all in. They traded talented players of the future in exchange for a team that would contend for a title for one year and one year only, before contracts would expire and the team would unravel. The choice to invest so heavily in one season gave hope to Brewers fans and gave each game intense meaning. They may not have reached their ultimate goal, but the franchise’s past struggles only heightened the excitement of each September and October victory. What’s more, while a postseason loss for a team like the Yankees represents only a delay of the inevitable, the Brewers loss was a real, excruciating, faith-testing loss. There is no denying that tragedy often befalls The Underdog. But each past heartbreak is the fuel for the passion of The Underdog and all of its faithful followers. It is what turns each improbable August win, an event often ignored by the fans of juggernauts, into a special summer day. It is these ghosts of past struggles that make each playoff win all the more spectacular. Ultimately, sports fandom is a tedious experience. There are often long gaps between successes, years where your team bumbles around aimlessly and you begin to wonder why you care, but the payoff comes in the moments. Years of backing the smaller team, the one that always loses, become infinitely rewarding when your unheralded closer finds that little extra fire and ends the game with a strikeout of some overpaid slugger. The playoffs come every year for the Yankees, but for The Underdogs they are a special, rare opportunity to be cherished. *The authors are aware that some teams, the Chicago Cubs being a notable example, have done much to disprove the theory that teams can use a high payroll to build a successful team. refresh –>