You fall in love
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.” ― Roger Kahn
For fans of baseball and/or underdogs, 1991 was a great year. In an unprecedented turn of events, both teams in the World Series that year had finished last in their divisions the previous season. This “worst to first” fairy tale produced what some historians call the greatest World Series ever.
I didn’t know we’d be witnessing that sort of history when Drew, Matt and I boarded a plane at Santa Barbara, CA in October 1991, bound for Atlanta and World Series game three, the first-ever World Series game to be played in my hometown. I only knew that seven-year-old Drew and his Dad had been having a baseball feast all year, with Drew’s beloved Oakland A’s just slightly more esteemed by him than his baseball-loving Granny’s favorites, the Atlanta Braves.
My mom had gotten us some tickets from
a scalper a business contact, and my nephew Ryan joined us for what was more like a massive party than a ball game. The game lasted twelve innings and a then-record time of four hours, four minutes, with never a dull moment. I will always remember how it felt to watch David Justice slide into home plate in a close call for the winning run. The stadium erupted into elated screams as total strangers hugged each other amid a deafening roar.
The Braves went on to lose the series in seven games, after winning all three home games and losing all four of the away games. There must have been something extra-special about that “worst to first” hometown spirit that made the difference for both teams that year.
Having grown up in Atlanta, I was more than accustomed to watching the Braves lose, despite Hank Aaron’s thrilling, record-setting home runs and a stadium affectionately known as “the launching pad.” But no defeat was ever as heartbreaking, yet still exhilarating, as the well-played loss of the 1991 World Series. Nearly 23 years later, I still feel the way I did then; despite the agony of a close defeat, it was just as good as if they had won.
To this day, some say the series was lost on a bad call. But none of that matters now; the loss was far more edifying a lesson for Drew and me — and I suspect, for many others too. To watch these players, so disappointed yet magnificently graceful in defeat, was to fall in love with a team that would go on to win a record 14 straight division titles. For all their victories, though, it was their 1991 loss that won even the most jaded hearts of Atlanta, and much of the baseball-loving world.
Have you ever experienced a bittersweet loss that felt almost as good as a win? Do you know anyone who has seemed more heroic in defeat than they might have seemed in victory? In the poetic toast of George L. Scarborough, ” ‘A hard-fought failure is a noble thing! Here’s to the men who lose.’ ”
One year ago today: