Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is It Better To Have Won And Lost Than To Never Have Won At All?

This is a comparison on being a fanatic of different teams in different sports in different seasons, looking at how they have brought joy and sorrow to me over the past almost quarter century. The title of the post it meant to ask the question - which is better to be a fan of? I am NOT here to start finding fault or solutions with the reasons for failure and losing.

My sports year is divided (with lots of overlap when you consider pre- and post-seasons, and the hot-stove action) between the New York Mets of MLB and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. For the color enabled browsers, I will draw out the comparisons using the colors that you saw in mentioning the names of the teams.

I am finishing my 24th full season, and next month, my 24th calendar year as a Mets fan. Over that time, I've had just a taste of the ultimate success when I was too young and too fresh to fully appreciate it, and a few fuller but shorter tastes even coming close. Most seasons have ended long before their time in ultimate failure with some good enough to have just a disappointing ending instead. Maybe the disappointing ending is the best I can ask for.

I am going into 13th full season as a full-time die-hard Devils fan, with about 5 or 6 seasons as a more casual Devils fan before it mixed in, and 1 season without the NHL entirely. Over that time, I've seen the Devils win 3 Stanley Cups, including 1 in person, 1 other Finals appearance, and make the playoffs all but 1 season since 1994. But most seasons have ended with great regular season success and failure in the playoffs.

Between the two sports and seasons, failure and success can be measured differently. If you think about it, any season that ends without the championship can be considered "failure", but it's all relative to the overall success of the team. For some teams, just being in the playoffs can be a "success". For others, not going far in the playoffs can be a "failure" even if they qualify every season. The success and failure for playoff teams not winning the championship is relative to how often they qualify for the playoffs. It should be noted that it is different between the two leagues on how many teams qualify for the post-season. After each takes the division winners (6 overall for both), MLB takes 2 wild card teams while the NHL takes 10. With the additional teams in the NHL, their playoff is 4 rounds compared to MLB's 3. But the playoff structure isn't necessarily the point here, rather a bridge between comparing apples and oranges.

In the 24 seasons that I have been a Mets fan, the Mets have made the post-season 4 times. I would call 3 of those post-seasons an ultimate failure based on the expectations of the club. I've written before about how I think each of those 3 failures sent the team into a downward spiral (and with the latest of them, I'm starting to see credible writers leaning towards that opinion as well). Only 1999 was a success, mostly because they were back from the abyss and just happy to be there - and they did make it back the next season. Like I mentioned earlier, most of my 24 seasons as a Mets fan have been an utter disappointment. Just using the .500 mark as a barometer, this could be the 11th season below .500 over that time. 2 others are known for the "collapses". 3 others had 2nd place finishes (before or without winning the Wild Card).

In 20 years of following the Devils (I'll draw that line in the fall of 1990), I've seen them miss the playoffs only once (with the league itself missing the playoffs one other time), but most of those seasons have ended in playoff disappointment. In that time, 18 playoff appearances and 10 first-round exits. The first couple were in the team's phase of being in the playoffs as a "success". 6 of those 10 were in seasons in which the Devils finished 1st of 2nd in their division (in fact, they've finished outside of the top 2 in the Atlantic Division only twice since the division was formed in 1993-94). 3 other times, they finished 1st in the Division and failed to make the Conference Finals (3rd round). But every season has been fun to watch, filled with hope and relative success, It has only been in the playoffs where constant success has eluded the team (relative to the regular season success).

So I ask the question. Which is better? To have won (a lot in the regular season) and lost (a lot in the playoffs) or to have never (or hardly) won at all?

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