Lies We Tell Ourselves About the Marlins

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about lying and liars, a fascination perhaps borne of our larger moment. We lie for all sorts of reasons: to get out of parking tickets, to settle the blame for muddy messes on our siblings, to defraud and defame. But we also lie to spare; our deceit can be a tool of kindness. An act of pardon. At the end of a long week, we tell frazzled partners that we think their hair looks good, actually. You’ll find work soon. I just love your meatloaf, mom. Sometimes, we reserve those niceties for ourselves and our bad baseball teams, setting down little pavers that make otherwise rough paths traversable.

After all, maybe that prospect has figured something out. Maybe all of our guys will stay healthy. This might be the year. We know on some level we’re fibbing or at least making a wish — projections and playoffs odds are so insistent with their pokes and prods toward reason — but in the beginning of the season, we can get away with it. Those smaller lies let us believe a bigger one: that there’s a reason to watch our dumb teams every day. That we ought to go to the ballpark. That this isn’t all just a waste of time we might otherwise have spent outside, pulling weeds. We do ourselves this kindness; we let ourselves enjoy baseball.

The Marlins are a bad baseball team. They’re projected to win a meager 66 games. The White Sox and Reds are actually each expected to do worse, but Chicago is rebuilding and Cincinnati is bad in a quietly polite, Midwestern way. Miami announced its mess months ago. And yet. The Marlins might be last in Major League Baseball in average attendance, but someone is going. They’ve talked themselves into something. And so if you’ll allow, I’d like to guess at a few of the lies I suspect have been told about, and possibly to, the Marlins, the fibs and half-truths the faithful, such as they are, have employed to spare themselves hopelessness and keep muscling through bad meatloaf.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Giancarlo Stanton

I enjoy spy films. The who thieving the what on behalf of which government shifts around film to film, but many of the best examples of the genre feature a training montage wherein a grizzled veteran, who has seen things, teaches an optimistic new recruit, who is excited about patriotism, an important lesson: the most believable lies hue closely to the truth. Telling an asset an elaborate backstory is a great way to blow your cover. The lies become hard to keep track of; the subterfuge buckles under the weight of imaginary relatives and school trips. Before long, our young spy has accidentally called his fake aunt “Peggy” instead of “Rhonda” and it all comes crashing down.

Many Marlins fans spent the winter openly furious with Derek Jeter and the new ownership group, but I have to think, as the team got a good prospect return for Christian Yelich and Opening Day crept closer, that they started to build a new persona. Not a spy or a tanking team but a guy named Jason. Well, “Jason.” He started with little things. He bought in to Lewis Brinson. Sandy Alcantara? Sure-fire starter. But then the lies ballooned, and required more bits and bobs to come true. J.T. Riddle? All-Star. Jarlin Garcia, too. Heck, did we even need Giancarlo? NLCS here we come!

For a while, “Jason” got to walk around, living that truth. But then, the first pitch on Opening Day came…

… and later…

It all fell apart; the lie was too big. And poor “Jason?” He disappeared in Prague, or was it South Beach?

Booing Will Make Me Feel Better

The thing about the lies we tell to get by is that sometimes we still need a lifeboat to survive them. They’re lies, after all; eventually the truth will out. Sometimes our lifeboat is an extra beer, or yelling NONSENSE! You know how adults routinely yell the literal word NONSENSE? And we boo. We know it’s rude, but it also feels so good. Throaty. A touch naughty. The trouble is, booing our own guys is frowned upon. It might feel good and throaty, but it also feels disloyal. As a lifeboat, it has to sail in specific waters. Like Citizens Bank Park.

First, I should acknowledge that there may not have been a single, solitary Marlins fan in Philadelphia on April 7. Truly not a one. We’re talking about lying, you and I, but I don’t want you to feel that I am lying to you right now. You’ve become an accomplice to my speculation, and like all folks in cahoots, we have to be in it together or risk one of us turning state’s evidence. It’s important that you trust me. And so the truth is, this entire crowd may have been comprised of those rooting for the home team. Let’s go to the tape.

There isn’t an obvious Marlins fan behind home plate.

Or over Rhys Hoskins’ shoulder.

Or above the Phillies’ dugout.

But wait, maybe this soul!

Or perhaps these two.

It was a cold night and folks were bundled up, but these folks weren’t bundled up in red. Could be Marlins fans! We can say there was probably at least one; we found three maybes. And as one of those maybes settled into their seat, I bet they thought, “I can boo. I’m in Philly. That’s what they do here. I have a lifeboat.” Only, their imagination failed them; they didn’t allow for the possibility it could go this badly. Lifeboats are good for normal swells, like blown saves and oblique strains, but they won’t do for nights like April 7, when a couple of maybe-fans watched the Marlins lose 20-1. They thought their lie was in thinking it might go their way, and that was part of it, but they forgot that lifeboats spring leaks, leaks no amount of booing can fill. Not even in Philly.

You Were Told Your Team Would Win

Let’s pause for a moment and consider a different kind of liar, the sort of liar Marlins fans themselves are not but which they got to observe on April 25: the fan of a good team. Fans of good teams don’t have to lie to make themselves feel good. They just get to feel that way. Their teams see to it! They don’t want to be spared the reality of their baseball. Their baseball is great.

The Dodgers aren’t especially good right now, but they’ve been good recently — World Series good — and that’s where the lie comes in. Because fans of good teams believe that they are always just one series against a bad team away from getting back on track. And sometimes they are. Playing the Marlins sure does seem to cure what ails you a lot of the time. But the lie the fan of the good team tells himself, despite knowing that baseball can be shifty or even weird in a one game sample, is that sometimes is always. He goes from being confident that Clayton Kershaw is going to beat the Marlins to being sure of it.

There he is, after Kershaw struck out the side to end the first inning, being sure.

And here he is in the top of the ninth, with the Dodgers down three runs, just gobsmacked. But they were supposed to get back on track?

He shouldn’t feel bad. He was hardly the only one who was sure. Here, Miguel Rojas of all people is literally hitting a home run, and a couple of happy folks are gabbing with their friends.

They weren’t worried, even then. They were certain! The certainty was the lie. I wonder if that isn’t true of all certainty.

He’ll Get Over This

Kids are so much smarter than they are given credit for. They can be little monsters, and they don’t mind being all sticky from jam, and they can’t spell right away, but we tend to underestimate their capacity to suss out what’s going on around them, and then feel deeply about it. Maybe it’s because they still sort of believe in magic and talking animals; it leads adults to think they’re dummies, but they aren’t. They’ve just mostly had things work out for them so far. They’ve never been laid off. They’re still learning about disappointment and its permanence.

Like this kid. We’ll call him Bobby, because that’s a kid’s name.

I’m going to venture to say that Bobby loves the Marlins. Right now he is a Hopeful Kid because the season is new and he can smell the grass and he has a front row seat to this thing he loves. He holds on to the netting, straining to be even closer. He does this through Happ’s leadoff home run and Kris Bryant’s walk. Then he starts sussing stuff out.

When Rizzo steps in, Bobby becomes a Skeptical Kid and has assumed a skeptical posture. There are no outs. The Marlins are already losing. Maybe loving them isn’t enough?

By the time Rizzo is hit by a pitch, Bobby is barely visible. He is a Changed Kid; things have now worked out for him a little less. He’s been let down by something he loved. He and his mother are gone before the end of the second.

His mom will worry he won’t get over it, but he will, mostly. Bobby will be fine. Kids are resilient, too. But he’ll remember; he’s felt deeply. When I was six, my dad told me raisins were dried bugs. I still don’t like them.

This Is Going to Be Fun

I often wonder what portion of a season big leaguers spend liking their jobs. I like my job now a lot, but I’ve had a few that were real stinkers, and I had to endure them so I could stay warm and avoid starvation, or living with my parents. The scale is different for baseball players, but I imagine the principle is the same. They wish Karl in media relations was less annoying and they have to wear hats all day, even when those hats rub the same little spot behind their ear, and they feel worn out at the idea of another few nights on the road. They’re living their dream, but it comes with stress and the politics of the work fridge. Their dream is still a job. Of course, they make a bunch of money. And they get to play baseball. What fun! They get to josh around with their teammates and have someone announce their presence on the field in a booming, excited voice. Imagine if, upon walking into your office, the receptionist stood and shouted, “AND NOW ARRIVING FOR GREAT WESTERN MUTUAL, HERE’SSSSSSS… LINDA FROM SALESSSSSSS!” I have to think that would pump you up.

For most guys, I bet being a baseball player is a blast. Just a real treat. I bet most guys look back on each season and think, “There were ups and downs, but I got to play baseball. I had fun.” But some guys have to play for the Marlins. Some guys go to work, just trying to do their best and live a dream they were told would be fun, only to see three people obviously yawning at them while they do their job. One, two, three, all there to clearly state how unfun this is.

Whatever those guys may have told themselves, about dreams and dollars and their name over the loudspeaker, they aren’t having fun. Sometimes, it’s Karls all the way down.

It’s good to be honest, though the shifty among us are helped in their quest for betterment by it being May now. It’s becoming harder and harder to fib about how our teams are doing. Society hangs together on the strength of honest brokers. But I think I can forgive a little fibbing – just a little – if it allows you to think the team you like best could win. If winning is on the table, you can stop worrying about its possibility and appreciate all sorts of other things by simple virtue of not despairing. You can notice fun plays and stand out performances. We lie a little, but then we can like baseball. We can give it that bit of pardon. Even for the Marlins.

Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside. You can follow her on twitter @megrowler.

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4 years ago

A bad day at the ballpark is still better than a day spent doing almost anything else.

4 years ago
Reply to  runningfrog

It can be in Denver, San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.

It should be in Boston too, but the legislature is trying hard to subvert the will of the voters.