Alan Zendell, July 17. 2022
That’s what baseball used to be called. Growing up ten blocks from Ebbets Field, I was a diehard Dodger fan until I was fourteen. That was in 1957, when the Dodgers broke the hearts of every kid in Brooklyn by moving to Los Angeles. Baseball, like all professional sports, we were told, is a business.
It’s a lesson fans have learned repeatedly since then. Each time we learn it, it’s more of a bitter pill. Sports, like politics, is driven by money. Like politicians, team owners think the fans who keep them awash in dollars will forgive and forget every time they shatter our dreams. Politicians count on voters having short memories, but team owners sometimes learn that fans who shell out big bucks for tickets and overpriced hotdogs remember when they’ve been wronged.
Faced with the prospect of becoming a Yankee fan, my adolescent brain rebelled. Instead, I awaited the arrival of the New York Mets, who rewarded me with 40 wins and 120 losses in their first season, the worst record since 1889. They’d have lost 122, but they were so far behind, they didn’t bother to make up two rained-out games.
In 1967, I moved to Maryland, but like every hopeless romantic, I stuck with the Mets. Two years later, I was really rewarded. 1969 was a magical year for a transplanted New Yorker in Maryland. The Mets beat the heavy favored Orioles in the World Series, the Knicks beat the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA finals, and the football season ended with Joe Namath leading the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.
I tried hard to be an Orioles fan, but although they were a great team, it wasn’t the same. You couldn’t even find a decent bagel in Baltimore in those days. How could the Orioles replace the Mets? Like all spurned romantics, I started over again when I moved to Seattle in 1974. It had taken half a dozen failed attempts, but in 1976, voters finally approved a bond issue to fund construction of the Kingdome, and the Seattle Mariners were born. I was in love again. The Mariners won 64 games in their first season and lost only 98, much better than the Mets had done.
Being a Mariners fan was a struggle, but I had a place to take my sons to watch baseball games. Unfortunately, when we left Seattle to return to Maryland in 1985, we hadn’t yet met the stars that Seattle came to love – Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, (who turned out to be not very lovable,) and Randy Johnson. But I worshipped from afar, staying up well past midnight to follow the Mariners from the Eastern Time Zone.
I knew the Mariners would never desert me, which made it easy to ditch the Orioles when they were sold to the hated Peter Angelos, who proceeded to trash the once-proud franchise and bring eternal suffering to its long-time fans. NFL owners were just as bad. The year before I returned to Maryland, the Baltimore Colts had sneaked out of town under cover of darkness one night, abandoning the most loyal fans in the world. But the Mariners sustained my faith, becoming a competitive team that won a record 116 games in 2001.
Washington, DC had had it’s share of disappointments, losing two teams, both called the Senators when greedy owners moved them to Minneapolis and Dallas. It was easy to relate to Washington fans’ suffering. Thus, when Montreal had to give up its team, and it moved to Washington to become the Nationals in 2005, I was instantly hooked. Would I never learn? The Miami Marlins had continued the tradition of ungrateful owners, going through cycle after cycle of building winning teams, only to sell them off the following year, dashing the hopes of their fans, because – baseball is first and foremost a business. Still, like any new lover, I was committed.
My investment skills had improved. The Nationals won 81 games their first season. The next year they acquired Ryan Zimmerman who will live in our hearts forever. The Nationals’ owners promised to always put their fans first, and they spent the next decade building a winning team. In 2019, we were rewarded with a World Series title. The Mariners struggled that year, but you can’t have everything. In 2020, COVID wreaked havoc with professional sports, but 2021 promised to be a normal season. The Nationals fielded the same aging stars that had won in 2019. They struggled, but we, their adoring fans stuck with them.
When the trading deadline arrived in July, we knew the owners would do the right thing. But then, disaster struck. It was the Miami Marlins all over again. The owners sold out, dumping all our heroes save the young star, Juan Soto. But lovable Soto couldn’t do it alone, and this season, the Nationals have been awful. By June, both the Nationals and the Mariners were sinking fast. It was the most depressing Spring in years. I’m too old for another failed love affair.
The Nationals’ owners forgot their promise to the fans, and most of us who supported them for seventeen years will never forgive them. The Washington Post reported today that they may trade Soto next month. If they do, I want the owners to know I’m done. I’ve learned my lesson. If Soto goes, it’ll be like 1957. I’ll never spend another dime enriching the greedy bastards again.
But wait! Remember those fast-sinking Mariners? They just won fourteen straight games, and they are virtually atop the American League Wildcard playoff race. Hope springs eternal. My love has been vindicated.