A week or two ago, on the anniversary of the Los Angeles Dodgers swimming in the Chase Field pool after clinching the 2013 National League West title, I wrote a completely biased recap and poked a little fun at Arizona Diamondbacks fans. Heck, I didn’t poke fun — I implied that they do not exist. I actually have quite a few friends who live in the Phoenix area, and most of them have been known to go to D-Backs games in the summertime if for no other reason than that Chase Field has the roof closed and the air conditioner turned on, allowing local residents a three-hour respite from the never-ending inferno in which they live. But most of my Arizonan friends are actually transplants, and very few of them would consider themselves actual baseball fans, which makes me wonder why I am friends with them in the first place.
Anyway, one of those friends — we’ll call him John, for that is his name — responded on Facebook to a link to the article. He said:
I said at the time that the D-backs overreacted. If you don’t want them celebrating on your field, don’t let them clinch on your field. Still, I never understood the notion of popping champagne for clinching a division. It was a foregone conclusion. Plus, it’s not as though winning the division the last two years has done the Dodgers a whole lot good in the playoffs (last year, for example, both World Series teams were wild cards).
Two of my colleagues here at Baseball Essential have tweeted very similar sentiments since yesterday, except in reference to clinching a berth in the Wild Card game:
I’m sorry, but I would NOT celebrate a Wild Card spot. A one-game playoff is hardly a postseason appearance.
— Jose Alvarez (@josealvrz85) October 2, 2015
I guess I sound traditional but I don’t understand the excessive celebration over winning a wild card when elimination stares at the face. — Gershon Rabinowitz (@GershOnline) October 2, 2015
I can’t say for sure, but I believe that both Jose and Gershon were referring to the New York Yankees, who celebrated their Wild Card-clinching victory last night. (Interestingly, Gershon is a Yankees fan, but Jose is a Boston Red Sox fan.)
So two of my colleagues think teams shouldn’t celebrate Wild Card berths, and my friend John thinks you shouldn’t even celebrate a division title. I am here to say that they are wrong.
Let’s look at the Yankees, first of all. Coming into this season, no one had extremely high expectations for them. Yes, there is the history and the mystique and the 27 World Series titles, but the 2015 version of the Bronx Bombers was supposed to be quite weak. In an American League East division that had the powerful Toronto Blue Jays and everyone’s World Series favorites the Boston Red Sox, not to mention a Baltimore Orioles team that had made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, the Yankees figured to have to battle for third place at best.
A funny thing happened on the way to irrelevance. Alex Rodriguez was rejuvenated by a year off to rest his weary old bones. Mark Teixeira rediscovered his power stroke, and Brian McCann hit a career-high 26 homers. The bullpen was lights-out, and the starting rotation was good enough to keep the team in ballgames. The Yankees ended up spending nearly half the season in first place before being overrun by the Blue Jays late in the season.
Maybe it’s the 85 days spent in first place that has people thinking the Yankees shouldn’t celebrate a Wild Card spot, but if you look at the expectations coming into the season, the fact that their season will not end on Sunday like it will for 20 other teams is a huge victory. Jose says it is “hardly a postseason appearance,” and Gershon says that “elimination stares at the face,” but when the regular season ends and you are still standing — even if it ends up being for one day — that is cause for celebration.
Now let’s talk about the Dodgers. We’ll talk in the context of the 2013 Dodgers who swam in the D-Backs pool after clinching, but it has universal applicability. Here is what I replied to John on Facebook:
The fact that the playoffs are a total crapshoot is part of the reason it IS important to celebrate things like winning the division. Being the best over the course of 162 games means something, even if you don’t happen to be the team that gets hot at the right time and wins the World Series.
This is not a participation trophy. Finishing in first place after a grueling season means something. Is it the ultimate goal? Of course not. But only one team each season accomplishes the ultimate goal. Should the other 29 teams and their fans spend the entire offseason depressed? Was their season suddenly worthless because they didn’t win it all?
We often lose sight of the fact that baseball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Teams celebrate walkoff victories, which mean far less than a playoff berth. If you walk into a Major League locker room after the team has won a game against the worst team in the league in the middle of August, there will be music and smiles and back-slapping. Players enjoy winning, regardless of the stakes.
Yes, the end goal is to win the World Series. For 18 teams, that dream has already ended for this season. For two more, it will end this weekend. Only ten teams will wake up Monday morning with a chance to win the World Series. Was it more meaningful when only two or four or eight teams made the postseason? Sure. But when you’ve played for six months and two-thirds of your competitors have been knocked out, “We’re still standing” is a darn good reason to celebrate.