You know what's sad about living in this disillusioned age? Disillusionment. It starts when you're a kid and never lets up.
When we're children and someone tells us that "life isn't fair," we cry. When we're adults and we hear those words we nod knowingly. It's called maturity and it's supposed to be an improvement.
Life is loaded dice and sweetheart deals, fair play is for suckers, and if you're naÃ¯ve enough to expect an even break you deserve the fleecing you'll get. That's pretty much what everyone believes about pretty much all of life.
But not about sports. Sports is magic.
Sports is about the last place left where we expect fairness and are disappointed when we don't get it. Even the power of the almighty dollar is diminished on our sporting grounds. The Yankees have all the money in the world and every year they try to buy the World Series. They've won a lot, but it's been nine years and a billion dollars since their last crown. And only Yankee fans think that's not fair.
We do sports great in America. This is the nation where you're most likely to get gunned down because you're in the wrong store at the wrong time when some spurned loser decides to end it all and take a room full of total innocents with him, yet you don't have to think twice about taking your five-year-old to a Giants game wearing a Dodgers hat.
Why are our streets among the developed world's most violent and our stadia the most peaceful? Why don't we have soccer thugs here?
I don't know. It must be magic.
Something about sports kills cynicism. I don't need to tell you—but I will anyway—that one bad year can bankrupt an auto company and one lost election can drive a party to the bitterest depths of despair; the memories of both are fresh enough.
But hope in sports is harder to kill, every year it rises from the ashes like a Phoenix—even in Phoenix.
The year is 1908, Teddy Roosevelt is president, Henry Ford produces the first Model T, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—are killed in Bolivia, and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
They haven't won it since, not in 101 years, but are Cub fans cynics? Not really, they grumble a lot, but every year they pile into Wrigley Field and almost every game is a sellout. That's three million fans, not one of whom was alive the last time the Cubbies won it all, stuffed into Wrigley, shouting themselves hoarse for a victory that may never come.
When the world cries tears of sorrow and the prophets preach that the end is near, the sports fan sings a sweeter song.
"Wait till next year." That triumph of the human spirit over insurmountable odds is on breathtaking display at every game played by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Texas Rangers and so many other deserts of defeat in America.
Sports are little temples to idealism, a place to practice what we preach about fair play, where the rules are agreed on by all and everybody hates a cheater. All is not perfect on our fields and courts, perfection is beyond human achievement in any endeavor, sports included. But we expect it, sports comes close enough that we are outraged by every juiced player, corked bat and paid-off referee.