You may have guessed that I tend to favour the underdog. I remember, back in the late 1980s, tuning into the World Cup and seeing, to my shock, lowly Cameroon looking set to defeat world champion Argentina and their captain Diego Maradonna. I immediately started cheering for Cameroon. The shocked delight of their victory kept me rooting for them, well beyond the point where they became a respected soccer power. I’ve also cheered Ireland for this reason, and I cheered France when they won their first World Cup over Brazil.
I guess this isn’t uncommon. Brazilians, who know how to party, embraced France as it celebrated its World Cup upset victory. They admired the grit and determination of those who weren’t used to winning, who fought on even though the odds were stacked against them.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve always harboured a fondness for the Montreal Expos, even though I don’t particularly follow baseball, and even though the Toronto Blue Jays are supposedly my home team, and have two decent World Series victories beneath their belts. I’ve never met manager Felipe Alou, or his son Moises, but I cheered for them nonetheless, even after Moises was swept away to Florida, because they were stars playing where they had no business playing. Felipe in particular seemed to know how to build World Series contenders using only a shoestring and some spit.
In this era of overpriced players and greedy owners, of teams like the Yankees who get the best World Series victories money can buy, the Expos also struck me as something closer to the purity of sport. There certainly was no sense of entitlement among these guys. They were playing with a deck that was heavily stacked against them, but they kept playing. They loved the game and, under Felipe, they excelled at it. Stars were built, and then promptly exported to wealthier teams. For this reason, the Montreal Expos have been called Major League Baseball’s farm team — an analogy that might not be too far off. Blue Jay games are boring, but farm team games like those of the Omaha Golden Spikes or, lower still, the Intercounty Maple Leafs or the Kitchener Panthers, are more fun. I sense a greater connection with the players, who are playing at a level that I am incapable of, but who might not be receiving what they are owed. Thus it was the fans’ responsibility, my responsibility, to make up that difference in cheers.
Of course, the Expos departure from Montreal was inevitable thanks to the inadequate support of the city. Montreal was unlucky in many ways; the Expos were forced to play in an antiquated cavern of a stadium, in front of an audience that tended to gravitate to either victory or hockey. The ‘Spos came close twice, coming within three outs of heading to the World Series in 1981, and finding itself the best team in baseball when the lockout cancelled the 1994 season and the World Series. But that’s the nature of underdogs. Not only are you outmatched by players who are paid better than you, who have more resources than you, but also who are just plain luckier than you. That’s what makes the underdogs’ rare victory so sweet, and why the Expos’ final defeat is still somewhat sad to this sports non-fan.
Oh well. I still have the Cubs if I want to cheer for underdogs. It will be our year in 2008. And, if the new Washington Senators can live up to the chant (you know the one: “first in war, first in peace, last in the
American National League”), then I might start cheering for them too.
According to this article, it is expected that the new Washington team will be known as the Washington Senators after the historic team that vacated the city for Texas in 1971. However, there is a movement to name the team the Washington Grays after the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues that shared the Senators’ stadium.
I say compromise: call them the Washington Gray Senators.