When are sports fans allowed to panic?
Chicago Cubs fans are a murderously emotional lot, and by that I mean all of us lined up every spring to be routinely punched in the face for 108 years before finally — FINALLY — enjoying what people in New England call “Yeah, so?” The last time we Cubs fans had to deal with a post-championship hangover, it was 1909 and hangovers basically hadn’t been invented yet, so you will excuse us if we look at Jake Arrieta’s puffening ERA, the pervasive lack of clutch run support and Kris Bryant’s three-day dysentery attack (probably) and think WHELP, SHOW’S OVER, LET’S CHUCK IT ALL AND READ UP ON WHOEVER THE BEARS’ QUARTERBACK WILL BE NEXT YEAR.
It’s probably too early to worry about the Cubs, what with “four months left in the season” or whatever, but, then again, NO IT’S NOT, WE ARE CUBS FANS, WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS. Three years ago it was, “We might legitimately lose 105 games,” this year it’s mid-May, the Cubs are under .500, and my 85-year-old great-uncle in Miami is texting me, “It’s gonna take another 108 years.” This is what being routinely disappointed for more than a century does to you, by the way. I am endeavoring desperately to get my children into the New York Yankees, for safety.
But Cubs fans are hardly alone in being forced every year to decide when to get nervous/panic/abandon all last glimmering strings of hope, which brings up an interesting question: When is it appropriate to give up? What’s the right time to throw in the towel? When do you finally look at the StatCasts, sabermetrics, standings, annual payrolls and think, “I am a grown adult with a job, children, retirement account and semi-functional government, why am I electing to do this to myself?”
Plenty of good-hearted souls would argue that this should never happen, that giving up represents a moral failure, a bailing on your faith, the one-sided canceling of a team to which you have pledged your undying interest, or at least a couple dozen weekly Notifications on your phone. To these people I say, you are dumb, you dress poorly, you smell like blue cheese dressing and yes I am throwing these old ham sandwiches at you, why are you not ducking?
Giving up on a team is required behavior, a worthwhile decision (or at least internal debate) and an essential survival tactic; it’s literally the only reason very few of us Cubs fans didn’t try to drown ourselves in bathtubs through the years 2010-2014 (that, and bathtubs are smaller than you think). Blind faith is the danger, the naggy devil that compels you to keep investing your heart/$500 for weekend tickets to a team after the following thoughts have occurred to you:
Now, obviously, you don’t abandon your teams with, uh, abandon, and if the Super Bowl/NBA Finals/ presidential election/Oscars/1982 Stanford v. Cal game have taught us anything, it’s that some bizarro-world nonsense is more likely to happen now than at any previous time in human history, because no rules are real anymore and we live in screaming and endlessly churning chaos. So yeah, “Never give up” or whatever, blah blah blah, I guess that can also be a solid argument, particularly if you work in an industry that produces greeting cards or candles with “Live, Laugh, Love” on them.
But those of us who are Chicago Cubs fans/Indians fans/live in Buffalo, we know that crawling sensation, that tentacled cloud that announces itself in our stomachs one day, first quietly, then growing and growing as the strikeouts pile up, as the GB column holds steady, as all those things you saw last year fail to materialize, when the steady drumbeat of disappointments turns into a gnawing panic turns into another year gone. We are probably a tick more attuned to this than more functional sports fans, what with our bottomless capacity for self-loathing, and I admit that the middle of May is probably a little too early for the kind of low-level panic that seems to clutch my throat every time my phone alerts me that Jon Lester has given up a couple more runs. As such, I humbly submit that it’s OK to fold on your baseball team when any of the following happen: