I am a fan of the Oakland A’s. Our tribe cohabits the Bay Area with San Francisco Giants fans. In the old days, our teams would only play in spring training and—once in a lifetime—in the World Series. But now, due to interleague play, we see each other six times a year.
The Giants have had the upper hand as of late, probably because they are the better team. Like this last week, when the Giants swept the A’s in three very close games. Ugh.
Immediately after the third game a good friend, a Giants fan, thrilled by his team’s success, called me up to talk about it! I thought he had called to gloat, though I now think he was actually just so excited he didn’t stop to think what he was doing. He wanted to talk to another baseball fan. He called me. Bad idea.
I wasn’t very polite. In fact, I’m ashamed to say, I hung up on him after a few terse words. He felt excited. I felt miserable.
I’ve never really understood this substitutionary deal. How it is that the fortunes of 25 millionaires none of whom I have ever met seem to control my sense of success or failure, I don’t get, at all. But they do, and not just for me. Millions and millions of us poor devils live and breathe through sports. We can’t help it. We revel in their victories and, more often, we suffer in their defeats.
As I thought about my friend’s call I was struck by the razor blade that separates joy from misery in any competitive event. They are conjoined: one always goes with the other, often on the same field. And they are blind to each other’s existence. The ecstatic victor cannot feel the loser’s pain, nor can the losing sufferer enjoy his opposite’s victory. Each emotion stays pure and separate—even though they are as close as twins.
In life there are win-wins, and there are also lose-loses. Win-wins are seen in growing economies and happy families. Lose-loses appear in riots and trade wars and divorces. But for entertainment, we seek the win-lose of sports, and more all the time. We crave the sharp, cleansing drama of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”—both, together, for they cannot be separated.
This is part of our human nature that I do not understand.