Watching the San Diego Padres go 2-8 over the past 10 games and fall to fourth place in the NL West has prompted a bunch of random memories lately.
One is the infamous locker room speech in the movie “The Natural” where that bookish sports psychologist lectures the New York Knights about how “Losing is a disease. …As contagious as polio/syphilis/bubonic plague. Attacking one, but infecting all. …But curable!”
The second is a Roger Angell quote about why he became a Mets and not a Yankees fan: “Perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming” (its application to Padres vs. Dodgers fans is particularly apt to me nowadays).
And the third memory is of a real-life sports psychologist I met years ago who gave a great talk on the emotional roller coaster that we loyal sports fans incessantly put ourselves through.
Her premise was this: There are two basic reactionary patterns that fans are prone to with each passing game. The first is called “BIRGing,” – an acronym for “Basking in Reflective Glory” every time your team gets a “W”. Endorphin’s are released, adrenaline surges, and feeling of total joy takes over your body. The words “WE WON!” are shared liberally. You feel like your team’s victory is your victory as well. Anyone like me who watched Justin Upton and James Shields silence the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bats and fans alike on Sunday and elicit a “Let’s Go Padres” chant from the Friar Faithful in attendance experienced some serious “BIRGing”
On the flip side of that dynamic is something called “CORFing” – a.k.a. “Cutting Off Reflective Failure.” This is something that a large population of San Diego sports fans are far more familiar with, and accustomed to. In essence, it’s the need to emotionally distance yourself from a team’s poor performance and the feelings of depression that set in with each and every loss. A CORFer doesn’t say “We sucked today.” He or she says “THEY sucked today.” CORFing has different components to it, but a primary one is the need for a scapegoat to vilify and hold responsible for poor performances. Any and all “Fire Bud Black” proponents out there know this one well. Another dynamic is the need to share one’s anger and despair with like-minded fans as a coping mechanism.
Now, there’s a whole school of thought out there which maintains that no true BIRGer should ever CORF. That is to say, if you’re gonna say “WE WON” after a victory, you need to acknowledge and embrace each and every defeat with a “WE LOST.”
But let’s get real. This is the Padres we’re talking about. Other than the Cubs and perhaps Indians, no other baseball team has delivered more forms of torture in more insidious ways to its fan base than the Friars. And to rationalize front office incompetence with a BIRG-y “We shouldn’t have traded ______ for _______” is nonsensical to me. You and I didn’t hire the people who squandered opportunities to win more games, divisions, and pennants. But we did have to endure the consequences. So in my mind, CORFing the Josh Byrnes-era of bland rosters, losing records and small market moves is not only warranted, but downright defensible.
Which brings us to this year. Despite the maddening inconsistencies, injuries, batting order changes, and yes, sub-.500 record, I’m still a BIRGer when it comes to this team. The copious amounts of A.J. Preller Kool-Aid that I consumed haven’t worn off yet. I believe that getting five straight quality starts out of our last five starting pitchers is a truly positive sign for this team. And I think that getting Wil Myers, Yonder Alonso and Brandon Morrow back will inject this team with a new level of potency that’s clearly been missing for much of this past month.
Having said that, I’m also well aware that this year’s Padres squad basically shares the same record right now as the 2014 and 2013 editions. And that if this “one-step-forward-one-step-back” trend continues for another month or so, we’ll be digging a hole for ourselves that we can’t climb out of.
Or should I say, they’ll be digging a hole that they can’t climb out of. >;-)