“Almost” only matters in horseshoes and hand-grenades.
This phrase was often repeated by a local Hell’s Kitchen character whenever my childhood friends and I discussed near accomplishments.
He was right, of course. We like to tell our children that “trying” is what is important, that “it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Yet no one remembers the name of the person who nearly discovered penicillin, nor of the aviator who came close to crossing the Atlantic before Lindbergh’s famous flight.
Last week, the Texas Rangers twice came within a strike of winning their first World Series. Theirs was a fascinating tale. Their best pitcher fled to Philadelphia after the Rangers lost the 2010 World Series, believing that his chances of attaining a championship would be much improved with the Phillies. Their best player, Josh Hamilton, abused alcohol and drugs for years, nearly losing both career and life, before coming to grips with his addiction and evolving into one of the best players in the game. As a tribute to Hamilton’s struggles and perseverance, after the Rangers won the 2010 American League championship, players celebrated on the field with ginger ale, rather than the traditional champagne. The team’s manager, Ron Washington, disclosed prior to the 2010 season that he had tested positive for cocaine during the previous year, a mistake which he acknowledged and for which he apologized. Many speculated that Washington would be fired, but management and ownership supported him, and he rewarded that support by leading the Rangers to the first World Series appearance in franchise history.
A Rangers victory in 2011 would have yielded an intriguing story. Yet that story will never be told. The St. Louis Cardinals battled back from the brink of elimination and defeated the Rangers in seven classic games. The thrust of journalistic attention will therefore focus not on the Rangers, but on the Cardinals’ historic championship run. St. Louis almost missed the playoffs, overcoming a double digit games deficit in September to qualify for post-season play on the final day of the regular season. That is what will be remembered from the 2011 baseball season – not the Rangers’ successful defense of their American League title.
In the early 1990’s, the Buffalo Bills played in four consecutive Super Bowls, the only team in NFL history to attain that feat. Yet the Bills are noticeably absent from discussions of the game’s greatest teams. They are never mentioned with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots or San Francisco 49ers because the Bills lost all four of their championship games. Likewise, their on-field leader, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, never attained the glory or stature of Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw or Tom Brady, all of whom won multiple NFL championships.
In 2007, the New England Patriots took an unblemished record into the Super Bowl, matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ accomplishment. But the Patriots were defeated by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Thus, when we speak of classic undefeated seasons, only the Dolphins are mentioned. The Patriots receive little recognition for their near accomplishment.
The city of St. Louis is celebrating. Championship parades are being staged for the Cardinals and their retiring manager, assured Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa. Thousands are expected to attend.
It is uncertain whether Dallas will host any parades for its defeated two-time defending American League champions. Yet, even if consolation celebrations are held, it is difficult to imagine thousands of fans lining the parade route and showering the Rangers with chants of “We’re number two!”