In the 2006 cinematic masterwork Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby there are a number of goofy gags: Mr. Bobby offers a prayer of thanks to baby Jesus for his smokin' hot wife, he runs around a race track in his underpants, and, for the grand finale, he kisses a rival driver. While there is much frivolity, at the center of the story is Ricky Bobby's adherence to his most cherished of values: "If you ain't first, you're last."
Last night shortly after the Tigers loss I expressed on Twitter my opinion that Alex Avila was at least justified in swinging on a 3-0 count, and, for a lack of a few inches one way or the other, Avila would have been the hero the game. Furthermore, if you were angry with Alex you were simply an angry person.
This did not go over well.
Tigers fans were, in fact, angry. Angry at Ausmus for letting him swing. Angry at Avila for being a bad hitter. Angry at me for having the words "Phil" and "Coke" in my username.
This wasn't the first or only time Tigers fans were angry. But why? I never sense that the Lions get this much scorn, and they are a terrible franchise. The Tigers are a good franchise. After all, they have won three straight division titles.
Ah, the three straight division titles. Bringing this up really rustled some jimmies.
I got four responses saying, in essence, division championships don't matter. If you don't win the World Series it's as good as finishing last.
Is Ricky Bobby right? If you ain't first, you're last?
Do division championships even matter?
Of course they matter.
First, this may be breaking news to some of you, but you need to win the division or a wild card spot in order to win the World Series. It's true! Every single World Series champion has either won their division or a wild card spot. Coincidence? I think not!
When you get to the baseball postseason, especially in a five game series, luck and other variations play a much bigger role. The baseball season is like a marathon with a rock-paper-scissors contest at the end. You need to focus on sustained excellence through the year and hope for the best in the playoffs.
Second, winning, even if it is not the big prize, is fun. Michigan State did not win the college football national title. Only Florida State has any right to call themselves champions. But tell that to State fans. Try to steal the joy from Spartans with roses clenched in their teeth. It's not going to happen and rightly so. Winning is fun even if it is not the biggest prize.
Was it not fun to beat Oakland in the playoffs last year? Would you rather have lost right then and there? Come on.
Even winning meaningless individual games is fun. Remember getting swept by the Marlins to close out 2013? Fans were pissed even though the games DID NOT MATTER. Being no-hit is not fun. Winning is fun no matter the circumstance.
Third, there is prestige in sustained success. Let me give you two options: One, your favorite team loses in the World Series every year for a decade; or two, your team finishes in last place every year but once a decade they win the World Series. Which team would you prefer to support? I would choose team one. Can you imagine getting to the World Series EVERY SINGLE YEAR for a decade? That would be absolutely historic. If you would prefer team two, I have good news: there is plenty of room available at Marlins Park.
Now, am I concerned that the Tigers might become the '90s Buffalo Bills? A little, but the '90s Bills were AMAZING! Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed were lighting up the scoreboard and Bruce Smith was crushing people. Bills fans should be proud of those teams even though they won zero championships.
Fourth, coming close to winning means you are good, and if you are good, there is a better chance you'll win next year. The Tigers have won three straight division championships because they have good players. Guess what? They still have many of those very good players. This speaks to the quality of the owner, the management, and the coaches that they are committed to putting a good product on the field. Sure, they haven't won the World Series yet, but I get the sense from some fans that they are more angry because they have gotten close. The Lions haven't had a sniff of a Super Bowl in decades, but fans are hopeful and happy as clams discussing their early first round draft pick. Want to be angry? Be angry that the Lions are drafting so early!
See, the thing about Ricky Bobby and his mission statement is that he's a character in a comedy film. The writers gave him that slogan because it's absolutely ridiculous.
Am I content with three consecutive division titles? No.
Am I happy with three consecutive division titles? Absolutely.