Schadenfreude in sports is strong. When it’s coupled with revenge, it’s beautiful.
So it was in Game 5 of the ALDS, as Mike Brosseau, who had a 101-mph fastball thrown at his head by Aroldis Chapman in September, sent the Rays to the ALCS with an eighth-inning home run off another Chapman fastball.
Good for him! And good for everyone who despises Chapman — which should be everyone — as that chump now has another historic homer on his ledger, following Rajai Davis’ game-tying shot in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and Jose Altuve’s pennant-winner for the Astros last year.
The Astros, themselves unapologetic cheating bastards, are everyone’s second-least favorite team these days, and since they eliminated the Rays in last year’s ALDS, that seems ripe for more schadenfreude and revenge, and everyone should be on board with Tampa Bay going to the World Series for the first time since 2008.
Not so fast.
Yes, the Astros absolutely are trash (can bangers), following the lead of their trash ownership, and they only made the playoffs at 29-31 because of MLB’s stupid setup for this season, but they’re here now for this ALCS, and there’s one very important reason to root for Houston to go to the Fall Classic for a third time in four years.
This time, they’re managed by Dusty Baker.
A winner of seven division titles with four different teams, with two other playoff appearances on his resume, Baker didn’t manage in 2018 or 2019 because… well, because he’s Black. There’s not really another explanation for it. The Yankees had a team ready to play for a championship, and they hired Aaron Boone out of the ESPN broadcast booth. So did the Cubs with David Ross. Gabe Kapler got another chance before Baker did. So did Mike Matheny and Ron Gardenhire. There’s no good explanation other than institutional racism for why Baker was out of a major league dugout for two years, but Joe Maddon only needed two weeks to bring his goofy act to Anaheim after his breakup with the Cubs.
Getting the Astros to the World Series would put Baker, who piloted the 2002 Giants to the National League pennant, in historic company. While he won’t be able to join Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa as the only managers to win the World Series with teams from both leagues, Baker can join the list of skippers to win pennants in both the AL and NL, a list that currently features Yogi Berra, Alvin Dark, Jim Leyland, Maddon, Joe McCarthy and Dick Williams.
Not that Baker doesn’t already belong in the Hall of Fame with 1,892 wins and all of his other accomplishments, but being the ninth manager in this club, and first Black manager to win pennants in both leagues, would further solidify the case for one of baseball’s best human beings to get his spot in Cooperstown.
It’s extremely easy to root for Baker to do this against the Rays, a team that’s a case study in manipulating the system to succeed on a budget. This isn’t like Moneyball, where the A’s figured out how to look for undervalued talent and revolutionized the game in the process. What the Rays do is ruthlessly efficient, churning their way through young players right up until they’re about to get paid, then trading them for more young talent, adding in the occasional veteran like Ji-Man Choi who was underutilized or miscast elsewhere. The fact that Tampa Bay has hardly anyone you’ve ever heard of is by design, and most of the players on this team won’t be there in three years.
The Astros tanked their way into stockpiling talent, but the Rays have mastered baseball the 21st century capitalist way, recognizing that young, cheap talent is plentiful, and if you run through enough bodies, you’ll find ones that work. There are only five players on the Rays who are 30 or older: Nick Anderson and Joey Wendle were late bloomers, Aaron Loup is a lefty reliever, and Kevin Kiermaier has two more years on the way-below-market deal that he signed, and probably will hit the trade block this winter. The one exception: veteran righty Charlie Morton, and even he fits the Rays’ mold as a former Pirate who got it together after leaving Pittsburgh, burnishing his postseason bona fides in Houston with the 2017 champions.
The Rays might have a winning formula, but it’s antithetical to being able to build a relationship with a team and to what we generally want in sports. If the Yankees are General Electric, the Rays are McKinsey. That doesn’t mean the Astros — Enron, if we’re going corporate here, too easy — are any better, but the Astros have Dusty Baker on their bench.
And then they can go lose that World Series to the Dodgers. That’s the revenge and schadenfreude that baseball really needs as it heads into a long, cold, uncertain winter.