I was recently reading a Newsweek piece on American culture and the prevalent individualism that persists here. The piece was a part of the look at the tragic Virginia Tech shootings. It got me to thinking about our own culture and how we approach and/or celebrate our teams. I know it doesn't appear like one has to do with the other, but the overall psychological approach that we take to following our teams and how we celebrate the individual over the team.
Here is a quote from the Newsweek piece:
"In this country more than others, we admire winners and we blame people for their own inadequacies."
I think this is part of the reason why, as A's fans, we feel inadequate because the A's haven't won the big prize in this great run during the Beane era despite having the second best record in baseball since 2000. The A's are by no means a bunch of losers, but on the media staging ground, many portray the Athletics as losers because the team hasn't won the big prize since 1989. Heck, up until last year, the A's weren't even able to get out of the first round of the playoffs. So A's fans wind up internalizing that perceived failure and don't view the successes. I know because I do it myself. I was so frustrated with the team not getting out of the first round and hated being viewed as a fanatic who cheered for a bunch of chokers, because face it, there is nothing worse in this society than being associated with a bunch of losers. It made me realize that I don't take a step back often enough to realize what an amazing run this team has had.
And that's the other thing...I've complained loudly about ESPN before, but really this is a bigger symptom of media in general these days. The article talks about the cult of individual that is pervasive in American culture. Barry Bonds, Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Peyton Manning. All of these individuals become a part of the fabric of our culture. Why? Various different reasons. Bonds for both his perceived villainy and his assault on baseball's records, Artest for his transgressions, Bryant for his remarkable talent and the rape charges, James for being supremely talented and Manning for finally being a winner. Here's the thing to me...I don't feel like the team is celebrated enough in our culture. It's part of the reason that we founded SportsBlogs Nation. We wanted to give people a place to go and celebrate their team without having to be a place that is merely focused on one thing, like Bonds approaching Aaron's home run record. It's McCovey Chronicles for a reason. The goal isn't to be all Bonds, all the time. It's about the Giants all the time.
Another example is the New Jersey Devils in hockey. I know I've brought up the fact that I root for this team in the past. The Devils are largely reviled in hockey because they play one of the best team systems in all of sports. It's designed to force the opposition into mistakes which can be translated into scoring opportunities. They've had a ton of success, winning the championship in their sport three times over the past 12 years and nearly winning five times over the past 13 years, falling short in a Game 7 in 2001 and a Game 7 in the conference finals against the eventual Cup winner in 1994. They play the ultimate team game and are largely ignored or talked about as "boring" because of it. As a matter of fact, the NHL has put in rules to try and thwart the Devils success. I won't get into those rule changes specifically, but the team has prevailed regardless.
Which brings me back to the A's. I believe that this team should be celebrated more than it is for the success it has had. I understand that it doesn't have a Vlad Guerrero or A-Rod or David Ortiz, but the team concept has worked beautifully in Oakland. Billy Beane has talked about rooting for laundry, but it's been successful in the A's case. It's hilarious listening to other team's announcers this year and they talk about not being able to understand how the A's remain competitive when they lose names like Tejada, Giambi, Damon, Hudson, Mulder, Zito and Foulke. You can almost hear it boggling their minds and assuming that if the Angels were to lose the individual known as Vlad, they would be nothing. Never mind the fact that the Angels system is loaded with up and coming talent that would make the Angels a great team for years to come. I mean we're so inclined to believe that team's succeed because of the strength of the individual and not the strength that the concept of team inherently brings. I know part of it is marketing hype because people do buy into individuals over laundry, especially the more casual fan. But it's frustrating that when an organization is a superior one, it is largely ignored if it doesn't have any "superstars" on it. And while Chavez is incredible defensively, I think we should all realize that he's probably never going to be the all-around "superstar" we all expected.
I know that AN openly celebrates Billy Beane, but I do it more so because he and his team of front office personnel make this team a strong one, year in and year out. He makes this a winning team regardless of the individual parts. He's also made it a winner despite the "noise" you hear from the media.
Ultimately, my feeling is that a successful team should be celebrated just as much as the individual who is breaking records all over the place. The Chicago Bulls won in large part because of Michael Jordan, but he didn't do it until he had a strong cast around him and yet, Jordan is still seen as the face of those champions. Peyton Manning was largely viewed as a loser, despite the fact that he was leading his team to great records and he was setting individual records. Never mind the fact that he had a great offensive line and a great receiver corps. He's now viewed in a different light because his team finally won the championship last year. He's a great player, but the Colts should be receiving the spotlight too.
Perhaps I'm wistful in thinking that someday the culture won't just celebrate the Tom Bradys, Michael Jordans and Steve Yzermans of the world. They'll also celebrate the Patriots, the Bulls and the Red Wings because the beauty of a team sport is that no matter how great of an individual you are, you simply can NOT do it alone. And that's the beauty of team.