Why Does Baseball Make Us Sad?


It must have been really cool to be a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wow, that name really needs to go) fan last night, when a dropped third strike eventually resulted in Ben Revere scoring from second for a walk-off win against the Dodgers.

You know who was probably done with baseball after last night? Dodgers fans.

Oh, that’s pretty reasonable actually.

Alright fair enough.

Ah, there it is (the only thing in poor Alfred’s bio is “Go dodgers”).

It’s fair to say that even if you really love baseball, you hate it maybe just as often. It’s like actually playing baseball – even at its best, most of the time it is a complete and abject failure and you don’t understand why you’ve committed so much stupid time to this stupid game in the first place.

The “us,” to clarify, is “baseball fans.” Everyone hates their sport at times, but there is no existential dread of each game quite like that of a baseball fan. The 162-game season and the ever-lengthening games serve as a pretty fitting metaphor for the unavoidable slow march to death. At the end of the day, either your death ends in the purest of glories (the 2016 Cubs World Series win) or comes for ultimately nothing (the previous 108 seasons).

And because baseball never stops being the worst, even the best moments can lead to some of the worst, like a beautiful glory boy cheesing next to, well:


So to return from that horrible, no-good Twitter search: why do we let baseball make us sad? Everything I’m about to say I’m going to state as fact but are mostly personal experiences or the grief of others I’ve experienced, but I’m willing to bet a good portion of it is ubiquitous.

There is no other American sport as fiercely regional as Major League Baseball. It is both a blessing and a curse for the sport. On the one hand, the majority of teams have to some degree a strong foundation of devoted local fans. That is unless you’re in Florida (Miami), your stadium is in shambles (Oakland) or both (Tampa, who has finished the season with the worst average attendance every year since 2012). It’s a curse because baseball struggles to grow beyond those local pockets, particularly in no-man’s lands like the Carolinas and the Deep South.

Thanks to that intense regionalism, MLB fans are a lot like kids in high school rooting for their school’s teams. Its a lot more than just a win or loss on the line, its your area’s reputation. If your plucky little public school beats a state powerhouse private school in football for the first time in literal generations, that’s more than just a win. That’s the kind of win that leads to a drunken tattoo of the score on your thigh during post-prom festivities. On the flipside, that’s the kind of loss that makes you start having serious discussions about the dangers of football and has you questioning whether anyone should really be playing it.

All of that is to say, a loss in baseball feels like a slight against you as a person. During the regular season, your standard loss is a single negative mention on Twitter. But if you’re team sucks, it adds up, and in a hurry, particularly as actually negative mentions on Twitter roll in right alongside them.

That’s another avenue baseball rips you apart: while often ridiculed for its pace of play, baseball is the perfect sport for Twitter. There’s enough breaks between the action for a quick perusal of the timeline or to spend more than a half-second thinking of the perfect spoonerism or pun. (Or actual good content like stats, some of the best in-game coming from MLBAM’s Statcast czar Daren Willman.)

If you’re constantly plugged into the collective hivemind of Baseball Twitter, the doom and dread is cyclical and unending, particularly if you try to stay up-to-date with multiple teams or simply know people who are fans of different teams.

But it isn’t just the simple act of losing that makes baseball suck all the time; it’s the way in which our teams lose that makes us ready to quit on the sport over and over again.

Take Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander’s start against the Seattle Mariners on June 21. After five perfect innings, he fell apart, starting with a perfectly reasonable bunt single from Jarrod Dyson that still was awful. He only got two outs in the inning, gave up three earned runs and the Tigers eventually lost 7-5.

That game started out with the potential for one of the rarer feats in baseball, and ended totally mundane and like most Tigers’ games: a bullpen blowup and a loss.

My totally rational response to a bad team losing yet again in what eventually was the way they lose almost every game?

So why is it that specifically baseball fans feel the crushing weight of depression in regards to their sport more than anyone else? Like everything else, it comes down to time.

Baseball makes us sad because, as a game that takes sadistic pride in being the Game of Failure, failure is all the fans come to expect and all they think about until proven wrong. And as baseball games lengthen, so does the time we get to spend picturing just exactly how our team is going to blow their lead or watch them futilely try to overcome a lead. And even when your team wins, there’s the fresh dread of another game just around the corner.

Here is a short list of some of the ways baseball makes us sad:

  • Your team loses
  • A team you hate wins
  • A good/fan-favorite player gets hurt/old/traded/thinks he is traded in the middle of the game and is told by fans
  • The MLB offices prevent people from posting their own gifs
  • Your manager uses the same terrible closer who always blows the game. Always.
  • A player you hate because you don’t think he’s very good and is taking playing time away from young players keeps playing well, leaving you conflicted
  • You’re a Mets fan at almost anytime in history
  • You’re a Cubs fan who died before the World Series last year
  • Someone says small ball is good
  • Someone says stats are bad
  • Someone tries to fix the game by “making it shorter” and really wants to put a runner on second in extra innings

Why do we let baseball make us sad? Because in the in-between, the positive moments make you feel like nothing bad has ever happened and that everything is worth it. And there’s still nothing quite like watching a baseball game in person, where the oppressive sadness lurking in the back of every fan’s mind is blotted out by crowd noise and that cliche grass smell.

An important thing to remember, though, is that I, and most other baseball fans, love this sport just as much as we despise how sad it makes us. Its a self-destructive cycle, kind of like tuning in to watch Clayton Kershaw carve your favorite team up.

Every baseball game is ultimately like a really good but really sad poem. You’ll probably cry a little bit, but you’re still happy you read it.

There’s no crying in baseball? Not a chance. It’s built on it. That’s why it makes us sad: because it’s supposed to in order to fully appreciate the highs of a long season and make a hopeful World Series win all the better.

The philosophy of Taoism is built upon opposites defining one another, as illustrated with the Yin and Yang symbol. One cannot define darkness without lightness. And in the same way, one cannot fully appreciate the joys of baseball without wallowing in the absolute pits for a long, long time.


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