By Edward Overend, Lead Baseball Writer
Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. As a verb it’s definitions include “expect with confidence” or “ to cherish a desire with expectation.”
Among its opposites are dejection and despair.
Hope manifests itself in many ways, whether it be playing the lottery, dreaming of meeting that special somebody or merely leading a healthy life. However, perhaps nothing traffics on hope more than sports. Without it sport, and certainly fandom, ceases being.
Why would a fan of a club spend days, years, even a lifetime rooting for their team if there wasn’t a chance that some day it might be their turn to win?
Supporting a club gives an individual identity. Safety in numbers is something a human being actively pursues. Throughout history we have attached ourselves to tribes, religions or countries. In the majority of the world, as fighting has become less prevalent, we have latched onto sport as a cause to get behind, a replacement, if you like, for the more base Homo sapiens instincts.
The problem with hope, and it’s inferred optimism, is that sometimes it is misplaced or even blind. More often that not a club goes into a season with gaping holes in its roster, obvious to the outsider but not to the diehard, who convince themselves that this is the year that, finally, everything comes together, however unlikely that might well be.
That’s why each year, sometime in February when squads reconvene, we are treated to an endless dialogue of stories of players being in their best shape ever, batters who have figured something out and pitchers who have added a couple of miles per hour to their four seamer. Of course, that is the very nature of the job of a beat writer. Who wants to hear from the guy who, maybe quite correctly, points out the flaws, the shortcomings and the internal squabbles?
At the end of the season, of course, there can only be one winner of the World Series but success can sometimes be measured in other ways in baseball. Has the team improved its win total, have some of the young guys progressed, has the club won its division for the first time in two decades? There are many.
Perhaps the best derivation of success might be achievement when matched against expectation. The bar is always likely to be set higher if you are the Yankees or Dodgers as opposed to the Marlins or Astros, mainly due to the size of their payrolls.
But baseball is random, certainly when it comes to October, and so a lot of fans start off the year believing, however much the odds might be stacked against them, that it could be them. And why not?
In recent years baseball has cottoned on to this sometimes false expectation and preyed on it by adding extra wild card spots. This has kept seasons interesting for the majority of clubs just by dangling those carrots a little bit closer, effectively postponing the drawing of the lottery balls that little bit longer so as the gullible can buy more tickets.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the American League where even the last placed Athletics could still say they were fewer than ten games out of the wild card spot right down to the trade deadline. Of course, this figure was little more than a mirage as the oasis was so out of reach owing to the volume of clubs above them in the standings. However, just that promise of water, or perhaps even something stronger with bubbles, was still enough to keep O.co Joe interested enough so as to not completely check out.
Sport to many is a replacement for soap operas, something for those who would never dare to admit they like nothing more than tittle-tattle. Over the past few years it has almost become the case that the transaction has become more important and of greater interest than the action itself. Might we be able to trade for such and such, what if we added an ace, that bat might be available at the deadline…..
It’s why the last couple of weeks have been so much fun. Baseball has finally been in the news, not because of on the field exploits but due to the number of trades that have gone down, in many cases involving some of the game’s biggest stars.
Only a few days before July 31st though it did look like the whole market might be paralysed by the presence of the extra wild card spots and the sheer volume of teams “still in it.”
You see, hope is not only an affliction that the fans suffer from. Many is the General Manager who claws onto the belief that the roster he has painstakingly cobbled together has it in them to challenge. It is exceptionally hard to admit defeat in anything and so, right down to the final days, it was unclear who would be the ones to be buyers and who was going to look more towards the future.
The trade deadline effectively told fans whether to still hold out hope for this year or whether it is time to pack up. Admittedly, getting some valuable prospects in return for trading a star might well be the best thing to do but we are an impatient bunch these days.
There has really been no logical pattern as to who has decided to play on and who has folded. What makes the Mets more likely than the Tigers and the Rays to compete right down to the wire? Why did the trade happy AJ Preller stand pat?
Perhaps it’s the stories behind the trades that are the most interesting.
Two General Managers who are by no means secure in their jobs for next year trod entirely different paths. Alex Anthopoulos was given carte blanche to do almost entirely what he wanted, nobody being as active in the last few days, while Jack Zduriencik, perhaps at the behest of the owners, was allowed to do very little indeed.
Billy Beane did what Billy Beane does. Rubén Amaro Jr, or rather Andy MacPhail, finally got rid of Cole Hamels. Brian Cashman did nothing of note, neither did Bill Stoneman, both to the surprise of many. Jeff Luhnow, armed with maybe baseball’s deepest pool of prospects, decided to heighten those expectations now, as did Sandy Alderson, again much against perceived wisdom within the game. Dayton Moore added that ‘essential’ ace, whose absence has not prevented the Royals from garnering the American League’s best record.
What transpired was as much activity in trades as we have seen for many a year. Who really knows who ‘won?’ Ultimately the GM whose charges win the big prize will be lauded for making the right moves but, as discussed earlier, the post season is vastly dependent on luck with its short series and so the winners may prevail despite their General Manager and not because of him.
On thing is for sure, as fans, we wish that a front office is decisive in its decisions. If it’s time to go all in, go all in. It’s fair to say Toronto is abuzz with the arrivals of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, Houston likewise with Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez. Philadelphia finally has a future to look forward to. How rosy that is remains to be seen but at least they actually have some prospects.
Indecisiveness reveals the absence of a plan and gives off an impression more of impending doom than upcoming riches. A club that is unclear in its direction does not inspire its fan base, merely encouraging apathy. When all is said and done what the fan wants is hope, whatever the timescale is. You see, in the end, hope springs eternal.
Ed Overend is the lead baseball writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on twitter @EdwardOverend, leave a comment in the section below or join in the conversation @CTBPod or on our Facebook Page.