The Crucial Role of World Series Losers

New York Times
October 31, 2017
By Doug Glanville
Even failure has meaning, and the lessons — for fans, too — are sometimes more valuable.
Baseball is a series of definitive moments, but none are quite like the final out of the World Series. It’s recorded, and we all, players and fans, claim instant perspective. Win the World Series and everything you experienced before it has led, inevitably and majestically, to this moment. Even previous failure has new meaning, and previous success has been bottled. More important, winning made it worth it all, whatever “it” was — the rehab from Tommy John surgery, the 111 losses four years ago, the boos.
Jeff Luhnow, the general manager of the Astros, has been accused of thinking he was smarter than everyone else. He experimented with unconventional concepts. He split minor league games into two parts, in effect using two starting pitchers (a k a the “piggyback”). He unearthed unorthodox players and turned them into stable big leaguers. Luhnow, the Penn grad with degrees in engineering and economics, brought with him a decision scientist with a NASA engineering background from his previous position with the St. Louis Cardinals. He thinks and lives outside the box.
An Astros victory could show that maybe he was smarter than everyone else, or at least could see the future more clearly than others. Anyone who blazes a trail will at one time or another be considered an outsider, a rogue. Only with the benefit of time can we think about it objectively. A 13-12 win, or a 13-12 loss, in Game 5, for instance, can be the difference between being perceived as a visionary or as a gimmicky bureaucrat. Results create perceptions.
The Astros put together a 101-win season in 2017, after losing over 100 games for three years running. Now they’re fueled by MVP candidates galore, and opponents must pick their poison: Pitch to Jose Altuve, George Springer or Carlos Correa? Defensively, they seem to catch everything, and they feature a lefty-righty standout pitching combo of the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander and another Cy Young winner, Dallas Keuchel.
In the other dugout are the Dodgers, who carry the hefty cargo of a storied organizational history. Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Jackie Robinson to Vin Scully. They, too, won over 100 games this year (104), but they got there by way of four 90-plus-win seasons in a row. Their past covers a lot of ground, including their epic rival battles with the Yankees from the 1940s and ’50s, into the ’70s and even the ’80s. Oversimplified, those Dodger World Series teams were mostly Yankee punch lines. Yet in real time they were also a franchise of excellence, with six championships.
The 2017 Dodgers got past a stretch when they lost 16 out of 17 games, a slump that would have sunk any team’s ship. (I played for a Cubs team that lost the first 14 games of the season. We did not reach the World Series.) They are anchored by Justin Turner, a super utility player, with the emphasis on super, sporting the Mr. Heat Miser hair and power to all fields. The Dodgers also have the generational pitching talent of Clayton Kershaw (three Cy Young Awards) and a host of other pitchers to support him.
The Dodgers organization spent money well (baseball’s highest payroll: $229 million, almost $100 million more than Astros), and “Moneyball”-type analytic minds run their team. Diversity abounds in Dodgertown leadership. In Dave Roberts, they have the only remaining African-American manager in baseball; their general manager, Farhan Zaidi, is a Canadian-American of Pakistani descent and grew up in the Philippines.
The end of a baseball season means a sudden shift from a day-to-day existence, from scraping for the next morsel of success to assessing what it all meant. Some definition is found in the playoffs as, one by one, teams are eliminated until there are two standing. Then one.
When the final out is recorded, both the Astros and the Dodgers will have stories to tell. The losing team could elect to think about the accomplishment of being the second-best team in Major League Baseball. Quite a feat. The winners tend to write the history books. They’ll have the luxury of talking about success and failure as absolutes as if they are two fixed points on a complete circle that we are guaranteed to reach with a little willpower.
Yet the losing team has just as much to offer, in many ways something more valuable: lessons in how we respond to much more common aspects of our lives. The disappointments, the setbacks, the failures. We should not just set our sights to emulate the victor, but also listen and learn from the defeated, especially when they express the will to fight another day.
Congratulations are in order for the champion. The World Series ring is iconic, the pinnacle. But attention needs to be paid to all of the teams the winners have left in their wake. If those teams played and lost with grace, heart and soul, that can inspire us all and grant us humility should we one day become champions in our own right.
Republished from The New York Times
Photo: The Houston Astros celebrating their win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series.
Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/Associated Press



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