Successful seasons in baseball are measured by postseason berths. It’s relatively universal. Is your favorite team playing meaningful baseball in October? The answer to that question serves as an objective and stable measuring stick by which all baseball teams — perhaps outside of New York and Texas — evaluate their performance in a given year.
By that measure, we know the 2011 season was a success. Milwaukee reached the postseason and ultimately fought its way to the NLCS before getting steamrolled by a red-hot Cardinals team that eventually won the World Series. The playoff berth earmarked the 2011 season in the history books as worthwhile.
Fast forward to the current season, and the Milwaukee Brewers are currently one of the most engaging stories and hottest teams in all of baseball, storming back from 13 games out of the Wild Card race on August 6 to only three games back on September 13. It has been an amazing turn of events for Brewers fans in just one month. It’s almost unfathomable how the team’s fortunes have changed in such a short period of time.
Such is the unpredictability of baseball.
Back to the “successful season” discussion, though. Using the objective measure of a postseason berth, it’s utterly impossible to determine whether the Brewers’ 2012 season is a success or a failure for another three weeks. While it’s true that sports ultimately boil down to results, at this moment in time, judging this season on a mere playoff berth seems woefully inadequate.
Baseball is about more than mere wins and losses. We invest so much raw emotion into our favorite teams that they almost become an extension of ourselves. Our favorite teams do not succeed or fail on the diamond. To some extent, we succeed and fail. What causes this extreme emotional attachment is a question better left to the psychology textbooks, but for many people in this country, baseball is undeniably woven into the fabric of their DNA.
That relationship results in some of the most pure expressions of emotion that people experience in their day-to-day life. The recent upswing by the Brewers has been accompanied with an unbelievable swell of support. That can be felt both physically and virtually. Last night, 37,000 raucous fans were packed into Miller Park on a Wednesday evening. Compare that to the paltry 21,000 fans at Wednesday’s meaningful Pirates vs. Reds game in Cincinnati, and one can easily see how tremendous the fan engagement in Milwaukee is right now.
Also last night, Brewers fans on Twitter attempted to get the hashtag #BREWLIEVE trending to the point that Brewers’ minor league players began joining in the movement. Amidst the fanfare, I found myself compulsively checking the status of four different games at work, scribbling numbers on scratch paper in hopes of crunching the numbers to determine exactly what the probability was that the Brewers could win the second Wild Card berth in the National League.
That’s when it hit me. At that moment in time, it did not matter to me if the Brewers actually made the playoffs. What mattered was the sense of extreme elation that had washed over me the past three days. After all, the Milwaukee Brewers have absolutely no business being in the hunt for a postseason berth this season — not with how they played for the first four-plus months. They were (rightfully) left for dead in August. Baseball Prospectus recently calculated their postseason odds to be zero percent. Zero. Yet, here they are. The Brewers currently stand three games back of the St. Louis Cardinals with three weeks remaining on the schedule.
It’s simply crazy. I mean, there are Cinderella stories, and then there is what the Brewers (and Phillies) are doing. Jayson Stark of ESPN breaks down the utter absurdity and explains how the Brewers are on the brink of making history.
But, in the end, branding this season as a “success” does not depend on the Brewers actually making history. Instead, as I impatiently prepare to settle in to watch the St. Louis Cardinals square off against the Los Angeles Dodgers at 9:10pm central time this evening, this season should be considered an unequivocal success because of how it has made us feel. Because it has made baseball intensely fun to follow again.
It’s easy to lose sight of that fact amongst the statistics, the rivalries, and the analysis. The PED stories, the labor struggles, and the instant replay battles. The record revenues, television contracts, and player contracts. Ultimately, though, what matters is the feeling of baseball. The fun of baseball. And, goodness, have I had fun over the last few days, folks. I hope you have, too.