One of my earliest memories as a baseball fan is turning on the television at five years old and randomly watching the Los Angeles Dodgers. I already loved baseball, but with no local professional team to root for, I basically had to watch whatever teams happened to play on the NBC Saturday Game Of The Week.
(Man, that theme music takes me back.)
For some reason, I latched on to the Dodgers - perhaps because I liked two of their pitchers, Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela. Or, somewhat more likely, because they wore blue.
I became a fan in time to watch what remains, arguably, the most famous home run in the history of baseball, Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in the first game of the 1988 World Series, leading the Dodgers to stun the heavily favored Oakland Athletics. When the Dodgers eventually won the World Series, it was my first experience rooting for a winning team, but it seemed reasonable to me that I would get to see them win again soon.
That was nearly thirty years ago. And although there are many reasons why the Dodgers haven’t won since, including years of incompetent ownership, bad management, and of course, luck, there’s one more that should be considered.
It’s me. I might be jinxing my favorite team.
There is a long tradition of jinxes or curses in sports: the Madden curse, for example, or the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, two pseudo-phenomena which can probably be attributed to some combination of random bad luck and performance regression, as athletes (or teams) featured on covers are always coming off of recent success, and so even a modest amount of regression (or, of course, an injury) can look like a curse.
And I expect that most people who play sports at every level have experienced or felt like they were jinxed at some point - the batting gloves that you could never get a hit with, or that one pair of basketball shoes that somehow kept you from being able to make free throws.
Baseball, in particular, is a sport that thrives on curses. The Chicago White Sox didn’t win for 85 years, cursed by the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when several of their star players were accused of plotting to lose the World Series on purpose. The Boston Red Sox were cursed after they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918. The Chicago Cubs were cursed by Billy Sianis (and his goat) in 1945 (although at that point they hadn’t won since 1908, which is why their curse lasted so long). All of these are totally legitimate curses and not at all weird superstition that we retrofit in hindsight to add dramatic narrative to our otherwise mundane lives.
Although I’ve been a fan of the Dodgers since childhood, I didn’t have an opportunity to see them live until I moved to Los Angeles for college. I was so excited to get to the ballpark, to eat a Dodger Dog, to sit and cheer in person for the team that I’d been rooting for my whole life.
They lost that first game I went to, but it was an experience I still enjoyed. And I knew that I would be back. Certainly I would see them win soon.
Then they lost the second game I attended. And the third. And games four through twelve. And, because I was a mostly broke college student, it’s not like I was going to a ton of games every year, which means it took me nearly four years to actually see them win a game in person.
In 2004, the Dodgers made the playoffs for the first time since I had moved to Los Angeles, so of course I got tickets for the two games that were to be played in town. It was perfect, because those were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t even have to come up with an excuse to miss work!
Then, the Friday before my first playoff game, my boss came over to our department and told everyone that we had to work the weekend - our project was way behind, and we needed to put in extra hours to catch up.
I was so stunned, I couldn’t even lie.
“Um, I have Dodgers tickets…”
My boss, who was also a huge fan of the Dodgers, sighed and shook his head sadly.
“Me too, man. Sorry. We’ll put the game on, though.”
I’ve gone to work sick. Or with food poisoning. Or on no sleep. And that Saturday was still, without a doubt, the least productive day of work I’ve ever had, because not only was I distracted by the game on television (a mistaken concession on my boss’s part), but also because the game ended up being a five-hit shutout pitched by Jose Lima, an exciting, energetic player who was near the end of his career, and, by all logic, had no reason to have such a great game.
At the end of the day, my boss called me into his office. I was sure I was going to be fired, since I had done terrible work all day.
“Don’t worry about coming into work tomorrow.”
Well, I guess that makes s—
“Go to the game. We’ll see you on Monday.”
I couldn’t believe it. I may have hugged him, despite the fact that we were both decidedly NOT huggers. I was so excited. Even my co-workers, who mostly didn’t care about baseball, were excited for me! Although that may have been the fact that I had somehow figured out a way to finagle a day away from our terrible project.
So of course, on Sunday, I went to the game… and watched my favorite team as they were eliminated from the playoffs.
Unfortunate. But that was the first time they made the playoffs in almost a decade! It wasn’t my fault that they lost. They just hit the limits of what this team was capable of. Right?
The next time the Dodgers made the playoffs, in 2006, I was living in New York, and I managed to drag my best friend (who was visiting and does not care at all about baseball) to see the Dodgers play the Mets. Which means we got to see this highlight of terrible baseball:
The Dodgers would lose that game by one run. But there’s no way I caused that, right? I mean, it’s not like I made them screw up. I just happened to be there to witness it.
Although I maintained that I was not the cause of this misfortune, over the years, the evidence continued to mount. I moved back to Los Angeles, and saw the team lose two more times in the playoffs, in 2008 and 2009, at which point I officially decided that I had seen enough to come to a conclusion.
I am a jinx.
Is it absurd? Of course it is. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that the presence of any single spectator at an event (particularly one with such a large crowd like this) could have an impact on the outcome.
But the data proves otherwise.
I have seen roughly eighty Dodgers games in person in my lifetime, and my “record” is somewhere around thirty wins and fifty losses. In the playoffs, I have seen one win and five losses.
My rational brain tells me that there’s a way to explain this with random chance and a little bad luck. After all, some of the teams I went to see weren’t very good, and were more likely to lose on any given day than win. And even if the odds of a win were always 50/50, the sample size remains small enough that this kind of bad luck is, you know, not out of the question. My rational brain reminds me that thinking I can have any effect on the outcome is silly, and, if we’re being honest, awfully self-centered.
But then my emotional brain shows up and slaps the shit out of my rational brain, because he’s a dirty liar. My emotional brain tells me that if I go to the game, especially a playoff game, the Dodgers are more likely to lose, and that I’m hurting the team’s chances to win.
My rational brain says that if I were really a jinx, wouldn’t they lose all the time?
My emotional brain says of course not, that would be too easy to notice. The jinx is deceptive, and careful, and makes sure to drop in enough wins to make it feel like it could just be statistical noise.
My rational brain wants to know how my emotional brain knows the phrase “statistical noise”, but instead of answering, my emotional brain locks my rational brain out and then convinces me to consult a friend of mine, who is a die-hard fan and self-proclaimed Dodgers karma expert, to get an outside opinion. After explaining the situation, this was her response:
Today, the Dodgers begin another pursuit of the World Series, which they haven’t played in since 1988. And, unlike most of the teams I’ve watched over my lifetime, this one is different. This one is full of talent, and a good mix of smart veterans and young, exciting players. This one ended the regular season with the best overall record in baseball. This one, perhaps for the first time ever, feels like a team that could actually win.
As for me, I’m going to do my part and stay home. Even though there’s no rational reason to believe in being a jinx, I know that I would never forgive myself if I somehow prevented this team from making it to the World Series.
Of course, if this team does, in fact, make it to the World Series, all bets are fucking off, because jinxes be damned, you can be sure I’m going to figure out a way to get to a game. And all of this is in my head anyway, right?
Someone please tell me I’m right.