There’s one superstar in any given sport that everyone universally loves. A person might not be a fan of the particular team he’s playing for but he or she still loves every thing that one athlete does on and off the field. I used to think getting that superstar athlete on my favorite team was the best but now, I’m not so sure. I’m starting to believe it’s not as appealing as it sounds. If you read this and still like the idea of having all the high expectations and disappointing letdowns that come with a superstar joining your team, then more power to you but if you’re like me, then maybe this will be a wake-up call.
I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Every time I (and anyone else who goes) go to a Penguins game I get spoiled. I see the two best hockey players in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Realistically they have more superstars on two lines than some teams have on their entire roster. Yes, they won a Cup in 2009. Yes, they’ve made the playoffs every year since 2007. But every summer, even though the Penguins have a great team, I still want more. I still want them to pick up a big free agent, aka, a superstar.
This past summer was a perfect example. Zach Parise, one of the best forwards in the game, was on the free agent market and after the Penguins had a disappointing first round exit in the playoffs; I really, really wanted him. He and Crosby would certainly put up offensive numbers that no one had ever seen before. Then a minute later Malkin and James Neal would hop over the boards and try and match them. The Penguins would win the Stanley Cup at least 3 of the next 5 years and if you asked all the hockey experts on ESPN.com, their predictions wouldn’t be far off from mine.
Rewind a little more, back to January. My favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers was also in the mix for a superstar free agent. Like the Penguins, they were also coming off a failed playoff run the previous season, having lost in six to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. Perhaps they were missing that one piece to the World Series puzzle. When I heard they signed Prince Fielder to nine-year, $214 million dollar deal, I was ecstatic. I had not just one, but multiple World Series in my head. With him and Miguel Cabrera bringing in runs and Justin Verlander pitching, surely we’d win the division and go far into the playoffs for years to come. At the beginning of the season, the ESPN experts picked the Tigers to make the playoffs. My friends told me the Tigers were going to the playoffs. I told myself Detroit was making the playoffs. I had nothing to worry about.
Now fast forward to present day. (I’m sorry for all the moving back and forth, you’re doing a great job keeping up with me.) The Tigers by no means are playing like everyone expected them to. Verlander is still dominant, but not 2011 AL Cy Young and AL MVP winner dominant. Doug Fister, the 2011 Tigers number two starter has struggled staying healthy all season and is just now starting to look like he’s in optimal form once again. Offensively, Cabrera and Fielder have had their hot streaks and their slumps. They have an awful road record, and if it weren’t for playing the White Sox so many times, they would be only one game above .500. The Tigers trail in the division to Chicago and are even farther back in the wild card. So far back, that if they don’t win the division they’ll be going home.
Every fan, including myself, falls into the trap of expecting the best when they get the best; however, ending up on top happens less than you think.
Look at some of the other teams in baseball. The Baltimore Orioles just clinched their first .500 season since 1997 and are in a very tight race with the Yankees and Rays for the AL East title with a cast of characters only die-hard baseball fans have heard of. Did they have any huge off-season signings like the Tigers? No, they’re the complete opposite. They have players like Nate McLouth, who was a dreadful Pittsburgh Pirate but is managing to hit .318 in the month of September for the O’s. Further evidence is out west with the Oakland A’s. They have the lowest team salary in the league and I personally couldn’t name you one player on that roster but they lead the AL wild card race.
No one expected the A’s and Orioles to be in the playoff race. If they don’t end up in the World Series, their fans will be disappointed but not like me if the Tigers don’t make it. The Baltimore and Oakland fans didn’t expect great things they are enjoying the ride.
Maybe it’s some kind of curse. Look at the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2011 Miami Heat, the 2011 Texas Rangers and the 2012 Penguins. They all had great teams, great stats and great expectations yet none of them won it all. The Patriots and Rangers lost to wildcard teams that had to fight till the last day of the regular season to make the playoffs. The Heat surely should have beat the much older Dallas Mavericks but didn’t pull it off. The Penguins had a 50-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer and a goalie that won over 40 games and led the league in wins that season. They forgot about all of that and worried more about how to literally beat up the Flyers until they were hurt, only to see themselves make a first round exit.
I have to be smarter about these situations. It’s one thing to be happy, it’s another to expect championships right away. As fans maybe if the best player joins our teams, we have to stay calm and be realistic. That’s what I should’ve done with the Tigers. Detroit’s 4 and 5 pitchers, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez are inconsistent. Victor Martinez, one of the bigger bats the Tigers had in the lineup last year, injured his ACL before the season started and hasn’t played a single game this year. I should’ve thought about all of this before the season but I did not. I still do not want to think like that.
So who knows? Parise signing with the Wild over the Penguins could be a blessing in disguise for me and the other Penguins fans. This year in sports has taught me something, signing the best player available is as nice as how many times your team wins. If your team doesn’t do that, your expectations, hopes and dreams, bragging rights to your friends and your championship t-shirts and hats all disappear. Still sound appealing? All the more power to you.