If you are member of the Astros baseball community, and I’m talking about everyone from players to serious fans here, you almost have to go through a disastrous season like 2011 to get a full handle on how much we all, even sportswriters, know about the psychology of losing. For example, how much have you heard lately from certain pundits that, just as winning teams always find a way to win, losing teams always find a way to lose?
Makes brilliant good sense, right? All you have to do to fully appreciate the truth of that little axiom is to find your favorite club resting under the pointed end of the game outcome stick, game after game, day after day, night after night. It grows clearer and clearer. Yep! There’s Rule No. One in The Psychology of Losing Baseball Manual: (1) Losing clubs find a way to lose.
The next thing that happens with losing clubs sometimes gets set in motion a year earlier than their wins and losses demise. Once management sees that their club is overripe with age and expensive player contracts, they start trying to move these burdens away from the roster, if possible. The goal is to get something younger of value by way of trade before the heavy talent is simply lost to free agency or retirement – and to bite the bullet of acceptance that rebuilding means that losing may increase for a while with younger talent. Here comes the Bill Veeck Law that becomes our second rule of losing Baseball: (2) Get rid of the older players that your club can finish last without.
The next factor we all have to deal with in losing baseball is the double-edged sword of our sport’s long season. It is both our blessing and our curse. The long season in baseball gives a struggling team a lot of time and opportunity to come back (See New York Giants, 1951). The long season also gives a truly bad team a lot of time and opportunity to stink it up on the field. (Look no further than our 2011 Houston Astros).
Jokes abound, Did we really need to give up rain and winning baseball during the same blistering hot summer?
It’s the long season that leads to Rule No. Three: (3) Finding the face(s) of tomorrow’s hope and put him, or them, on the roster now. Can you spell Jose Altuve? I can – and I also like what I see. Had he come up as a shortstop, rather than a second baseman, he would have reminded many of us even more of the reincarnation of Phil Rizzuto – another symbol of winning during the long summer angst-night of our wailing discontent.
Rule Number Four is easy enough: (4) The worse we finish this year, the easier it gets to show improvement next year. At this writing, the Astros are nursing a five-game losing streak, sitting on a won-loss record of 33-70, .320 winning percentage record. At this rate, the Astros are on track to finish at 52-110 and a record loss total in club history for a single season that includes their first dip into the century total for losses.
Rule Number Five only works if this season turns out to be an anomaly to our more usual experience of winning more than losing: (5) Grin and Bear It (for now). The club has 59 games left to play in 2011. Because this kind of losing is abnormal for Houston, we are free to kid over the fact that the Astros would have to win 48 of their remaining 59 games to finish at .500 for the 2011 season.
If we are still in this same position this same time next year, none of us will be kidding. The continuation of losing at this level into a second year, without significant signs of improvement, will invite Houston baseball people into the sixth rule of losing baseball psychology: (6) Recurrently losing baseball clubs play to empty ballparks.
Except for aberrant places like Wrigley Field, most baseball fans in most other cities, including Houston, will not continue to support teams that show they are committed to losing baseball as a way of life.
Take heed, Mr. Jim Crane. What happens next is on your watch.