On Sunday, my men’s league baseball team was eliminated from the playoffs for something like the 12th straight year in horrible, heartbreaking fashion. While I would obviously like to use this space to pore over everything that broke the wrong way for us‑again‑this isn’t about us losing, it’s about how we deal with losing.
Let me start off by saying that I used to be a terrible sport. If you’re talking about high school-aged me, you’d be talking a about bat-throwing, helmet-smashing head case who was generally not too much fun to talk to for a good half day after a loss. Even my attempts to control my anger could be considered high on the Paul O’Neil Scale. My senior year, after I surrendered a 450-foot bomb to a Mount Vernon hitter named Lawrence Taylor—no relation, as far as I know—my shortstop made a snide remark on the bench after the inning was over. Although every fiber of my hot-headed body was telling me to and slug my teammate, cooler heads prevailed and I simply kicked a bottle of Gatorade against the fence, which just so happened to splash all over our coach’s pregnant wife.
Did I get suspended? You bet I did. Did I learn a lesson from that? Probably not.
Thankfully, I’m not wired that way anymore. I don’t know if it was just part of the natural maturation process, or if it was the humbling experience of having collegiate hitters tee-off on me on a regular basis, it just didn’t seem to matter as much for some reason, and I began to behave accordingly.
On Sunday, I rolled over a curveball in a big spot to end a potential rally in an elimination game. Was I happy? Of course not. Did I throw anything? No. I hustled back to the bench, muttered a quick word of disappointment under my breath and went on with my life.
But now, somehow, I’m the outlier.
In my time playing “adult” sports, I have witnessed some of the worst displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen at any level. I’ve seen guys—upset with strike calls—toss their helmets in the air and send them flying out to the infield with a swing of the bat. I’ve seen men in co-ed Zogsports football leagues rip off their team jerseys after not getting the ball, scream at the quarterback and storm off the field.
As a side note, for you guys who join Zogsports to meet women, this is not going to help.
I’ve seen umpires berated, bases—and punches—thrown and full-on meltdowns from guys who would be wearing suits and ties to their Wall Street jobs on Monday, jobs in which this sort of behavior would warrant an immediate termination.
So why, then, do normally rational adults behave so badly on sports fields? Is it because they lack other competitive outlets? Possibly. Is it because, unlike in Little League, there’s no fear of some authority figure, be it a coach or umpire, punishing you for your actions? I’d say that has a lot do with it.
I watched some of the Little League tournament this weekend, and the one constant was emotion. Raucous celebrations, teary-eyed losers; it made for great drama. As much as I’ll enjoy a good celebration, one of the most indelible moments of the Little League World Series‑at least for me‑was future Major Leaguer Sean Burroughs, at 12 years old, face down in the outfield after his team lost in 1993.
In my opinion, people who continue to play sports into their adulthoods do so to recapture the joy they think they felt playing back in their youth, remembering only the good times, and not the times they cried in their parent’s minivan because they struck out twice against an 11-year-old pitcher with a full-on mustache‑a terrible emotion only quelled by a postgame slice of pizza.
These adults wanted to feel like kids again. I just don’t think they remembered how bad being a kid could hurt.
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