The calculus of playoff rooting interests

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not much of a feather-ruffler, but yesterday I wrote two articles that bugged people. In the first, I suggested that it would be better for everyone if the Reds would lose to the Pirates. Take one for the team, in which "the team" is defined as 95 percent of the baseball-loving world. In the second one, I called a bunch of teams "doodyheads" in no uncertain terms. People didn't like either one.

Fans of playoff teams are nervous, nervous people, and they need targets for their rage. Not a problem. I'm here for you. But I just want you to know I'm not pulling these playoff rooting interests out of my nether regions. Mostly, sure, but there's a little science behind it. In the interest of full disclosure, then, here is the official calculus for rooting interests.

Divisional rivalries - 50%

There but for the grace of geography go you. If your dad got a different job offer 30 years ago, you would be a fan of that team. Don't fight it. It's true. You had very little say in your decision to be a fan of your favorite team, most likely.

But, still, screw those guys. Right? A couple of anecdotes to drive my point home:

1. The second category for this calculus is "Postseason droughts." But in my Giants-centric rooting column, I lauded the Tigers for preventing the Padres from winning a World Series in 1984. That was a point in the Tigers' favor.

2. In 1998, I rooted for the Yankees as if Derek Jeter were dating my sister.

That's how much I don't want the Padres to win a World Series. Some of my best friends are Padres fans. And that's a franchise without a no-hitter. It's a franchise without a cycle. It's a franchise with a career home-run leader of Nate Colbert. They are a franchise in the middle of a drought, you might say.

Still, no. And so the overarching factor is, and always will be, you can't root for the teams that annoy you for a majority for your season, every season. The unbalanced schedule makes it worse. I asked Kurt Mensching from our Tigers blog, Bless You Boys, if he was secretly pulling for the Indians in the playoffs:

I'll pull for the Indians with my cold, dead hands. I think that's how the quote goes.

It isn't! But the sentiment is clear. Nothing is more important than hating thy neighbor.

Postseason droughts - 25%

I've never been to Pittsburgh. And I have it on good authority that some Pirates fans also root for the Steelers. So what's the big deal with the Pirates? Who cares?

I like the idea of baseball as a socialist collective. Everyone gets a turn. Line up, everyone. At least once every 30 years, everyone gets to feel the joy of winning. But that's not how it works. Teams get screwed. Over and over and over again, teams get screwed. And no team in recent decades has dealt with more misery than the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The odds are pretty good that in your life, you follow a team that gets screwed. Even Yankees fans have the Jets and Knicks. You probably know the feeling of waiting and waiting and waiting for something that never comes. So you have a little empathy in your cold, black heart. You get it.

Doesn't mean you want a team in your division to do anything in the playoffs, though. In the other five divisions? Droughts mean something. You'd feel much better watching a parade in downtown Cleveland than downtown St. Louis this year. Unless you're rooting for an AL Central team.

And if a team just won a World Series? Nuts to those greedy bastards. They get docked a million-billion points. Unless they're playing a team from your division.

Payroll - 15%

There are different kinds of payroll behemoths. There are the teams that spend a lot because they're trying to buy a championship, like the '97 Marlins and the recent Angels teams. Then there are the teams that spend a lot because that's what it takes to keep the band together. The Phillies are a recent example. The Yankees are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, in their particular extreme way.

Teams that make an obvious, concerted effort to buy a championship get docked.

Teams that reuse aluminum foil in the break room get a bonus.

There's no exact formula to it. But when it's A's vs. Tigers, and you don't really have a dog in the fight, the odds are good that you'll mentally adjust for the A's being underpaid and scrappy. If it's the Yankees in the years they were signing Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano for the hell of it, you mentally adjust downward. The winner of Rays/Indians vs. Red Sox? Easy.

Player you don't like - 10%

The last category is something of a wild card. There are people who hate your favorite player, you know. There's no rhyme, no reason to it. There's someone out there right now who can't stand Andrew McCutchen or Joey Votto. So your mileage probably will vary on exactly which players qualify here.

I'll start. There is just about no way I can root for the Red Sox.


Sorry, but Victorino is embedded into the darker recesses of my brain like a tick. There's no way I can root for him.

Except …

Russell Martin also built up similar ill will with me when he was with the Dodgers. Man, that guy bugs me. But when you take a team like the Pirates with a serious drought and some low-budget success, why, it barely matters. It's 10 percent of the overall well-wishing, and that might be high.

You can adjust the sliders on the four categories if you see fit, but I've found them to be pretty steady in my years on the Internet. Hate the teams in your division. Hate the teams that have been there recently. Hate the teams that spend money. And hate the teams with the players you hate. Hate hate hate hate.

Hate is what nourishes all of us sports fans, really. Now let's go root against someone.

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