If there's one thing I've learned from two straight years of my hometown Phillies failing to reach the postseason, it's how to "bandwagon." Or, actually, I suppose it'd be more accurate to say I've learned how not to bandwagon. See, choosing a team to bandwagon on, absent a strong emotional attachment, should yield something enjoyable. Obviously, nothing can compare with fanhood that has rooted itself deep in your psyche and overall mental well-being paying out in a championship, but the 67 percent of us left out in the blustery autumn cold should at least be able to experience some vicarious satisfaction.
Truth is, though, the past few postseasons have discarded the most likable of the bandwagonable far too soon. Your definitions and bandwagons of choice might vary (or maybe my adopted favorites are just cursed), but no lovable underdog has won the World Series for at least the past six postseasons, and 2013 doesn't seem as if it'll change that.
I'm sure I've already managed to upset a few fan bases (you'll live, I promise), so allow me a moment to explain. Let's say the '06 Cardinals were the last truly rootable underdog, 12 games "behind" the AL champion Tigers with an inoffensive collection of mostly mediocre pitchers and a solid core of hitters. Ever since? Midnight managed to strike before any Cinderella could get her happy ending.
2007 -- Bandwagon teams: Indians, Rockies
Cleveland's storied history of playoff heartbreak -- in every major sport -- is well-documented. The 2007 Indians seemed as if they had an excellent chance of breaking the mold as they took a 3-1 ALCS lead over the recent champion Red Sox with CC Sabathia set to start Game 5. Everything was great until the seventh inning of Game 5, and, in that inning and the 18 that followed through the end of the series, the Sox outscored the Tribe 28-4. It would be six years before the Indians would get back to the playoffs.
Colorado, meanwhile, had won the heart of the nation, steamrolling through the league in September and emerging victorious in a legendary Game 163 against the Padres (remember when they were that close to a playoff berth?). Their sun-hot play carried them through sweeps of the Phillies and Diamondbacks, but amounted to absolutely nothing against the Red Sox, who won for the second time in four years.
2008 -- Bandwagon team: Rays
For the first 10 years of their existence, the Devil Rays were a doormat for the AL East, finishing dead last in the division in all but one of those seasons. The 2008 campaign, however, saw the birth of a new franchise, rebranded as the Rays and retooled with a core of young, upstart players in the ultimate worst-to-first dash.
They nearly let a 3-1 ALCS lead of their own slip away to the Red Sox, relinquishing Games 5 and 6 before pulling Game 7 out of Boston's clutches. Once in the World Series, obviously the franchise's first, they were pitted against a Philadelphia Phillies club that hadn't won a championship since 1980. As a big-market club clearly overshadowed by the story attached to the Rays, the Phillies had no underdog factor in their corner. Even though the Rays were picked to win the Series by an apparent majority of national writers and pundits before Game 1, they lost none of their underdog glow as they eventually lost in five.
2009 --Bandwagon teams: Rockies, Twins
After a year away, Colorado returned to the playoffs in a rematch of the 2007 NLDS they swept away from the Phillies. There would be no repeat, though, as the defending champs advanced in four. The Twins were making their fifth postseason appearance in eight years, having been knocked out by the Yankees twice in that sample. They were swept, and no underdog had even a glimmer of hope.
2010 -- Bandwagon teams: Giants, Rays, Rangers, Reds, Twins
If there's an argument to be made for a year that registers as only lightly heartbreaking for those latching on to an underdog bandwagon, 2010 is probably the one best suited for it. The Rangers, Rays and Twins had combined for 70 title-less seasons up to that point and had the Yankees as quarry, making any of those three easier to root for. The NL had a bit more firepower in the two-time NL champ Phillies and the playoff-frequent Braves, but the Reds hadn't won in 20 years and the Giants were dry since 1954, years before the club even moved from New York to the Bay Area.
In fact, the World Series pitted the Giants and Rangers, two franchises that were completely title-free in their current forms; the Rangers were making their first World Series appearance, and the New York Giants won their last Series in 1954 behind Willie Mays. Chances are good that, unless you were a fan of a rival Western division team, you were going to be pretty satisfied with either club ending its drought.
2011 --Bandwagon teams: Brewers, Diamondbacks, Tigers
Three of the four AL playoff teams in 2011 (Rangers, Rays, Yankees) had made the postseason the year before, and the one that hadn't (Tigers) had Jose Valverde. One NL matchup had the Cardinals (10 titles entering that October) against the Phillies ('08 winners, fifth straight playoff appearance), but the other had the Ryan Braun/Prince Fielder Brew Crew matching wits with Justin Upton and the surprising Diamondbacks, with a staff helmed by up-and-comers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson.
The Tigers would stumble in six to the Rangers, who officially left every possible shred of underdog status behind as they made their second consecutive World Series. The Brewers would whittle down the NL rooting interests to one before eventually succumbing to the now-absolutely-boring Cardinals, whose volume of trophies had passed the "Enough, Already" threshold.
2012 -- Bandwagon teams: Athletics, Nationals, Orioles
Oakland emerged from the six-year-long shadow of the Angels and Rangers to re-enter the title chase with a vigorous fan base and endearing player core (thanks in no small part to the engaging presence many of them had, and still have, on Twitter) despite the relative anonymity that came attached to most of them. The Nats were in the playoffs for the first time since their Washington reinvention and had the excitement of Bryce Harper to offset the frustration of deactivated Stephen Strasburg. The Orioles were really the best story, making the playoffs for the first time in 15 years as a wild-card team after spending 13 of the 14 previous seasons in fourth or last in the division.
The pain of bandwagoning really transferred from dull to sharp in this particular postseason, as none of those three teams even made it out of the division series and the baseball world was "treated" to a Giants Series win for the second time in three seasons.
2013 -- Bandwagon Teams: Athletics, Pirates, Rays
This year, it became less about ordinary losing and more about legitimately wasted opportunities for these teams to advance. The A's had the Tigers down 2-1 before blowing multiple scoring chances in Game 4 and, for the second straight season, getting manhandled by Justin Verlander in Game 5. The Pirates were the baseball world's truest Cinderella, making the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades after an eternity of losing seasons, only to blow their own 2-1 series lead to (who else?) the Cardinals. The Rays, for their part, just never seemed all that close to overcoming Boston.
It's been a rough stretch for the underdogs, as nearly every challenger in the past handful of years has fallen under the tide of big-market teams or perennial winners, neither of which are particularly fun for outsiders to root for. But there is good news from which to take heart! Each new year provides an opportunity for some new David to take down the Goliaths, to emerge from beneath the oppressive weight of the retread winners. Don't give up hope that, one year, the A's or the Rays or the Pirates or any team cut from the same title-starved cloth will triumph. In the meantime, enjoy the same old teams as best you can. The bandwagons will lie in wait, ready to have their patience and persistence rewarded someday.
Paul Boye writes about the Phillies at Crashburn Alley.