Theory: The teams that I like always lose in the postseason, and the teams I hate most will find a way to prevail. So here's a preview of the upcoming baseball playoffs based on who I hate most, since those teams are going to win. For a balanced perspective, I will include teams and players that my parents and family members really hate.
Here's a guide to what our family hates:
1. Affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers. We are Giants fans, and so we hate the Dodgers. I hate former Dodgers for years after they leave the team. When the Giants signed Orel Hershiser in 1998, my father gave him a standing boovation on Opening Day. It took me five years of watching Dusty Baker as a hitting coach before completely trusting him. If Tommy Lasorda ever set foot in our house, the carpet would probably burst into flames under his feet. We're not crazy about former members of the Yankees, Mets, or Angels, either.
2. Wronging the Giants. If a pitcher beaned Barry Bonds anytime in the last decade, or sparked a bench-clearing brawl, or hit a significant home run to beat the Giants, he's on the list.
3. Weird batting stances/dirty equipment/excessive spitting. This is my mother's pet peeve. Shirts covered in tobacco juice and helmets caked in pine tar are but, but what Mom really hates are unorthodox batting stances, particularly ones in which the batter appears to be crouching down and cheating his way into a walk. I think this started with Rickey Henderson, and continued through Craig Counsell. Mom isn't too thrilled with how Luis Gonzalez or even Moises Alou stand in the batter's box, either.
Last year's Houston Astros may have been my mother's most hated team that played outside of the Los Angeles area. My mother despises Craig Biggio (filthy helmet, weird batting stance, allows himself to be hit by pitches), Lance Berkman (destroys the Giants, appears to wear mascara), Roy Oswalt (weird-looking), and Roger Clemens (dude, everyone hates Roger Clemens). To complete the hatefest, the Astros brought back Jeff Bagwell to pinch-hit and DH in the playoffs, and my mom hates him most of all ("That batting stance is bullshit. Stand up!") It was quite a hateful team, so of course they made it to the World Series. Her most despised player, A.J. Pierzinski, was a playoff hero for the White Sox. If you go by the Hate Index, you can get a good idea of who will be playing in the Fall Classic.
San Diego Padres vs. St. Louis Cardinals
I have hated the St. Louis Cardinals since the day that Ozzie Smith sucker-punched Will Clark back in 1988. I have hated Tony LaRussa almost as long. My dislike of Tony is neither logical or reasonable. Seeing his face makes me want to euthanize a stray animal, just to stick it to ARF. The playoffs are generally satisfying for a Tony-hater, because LaRussa will inevitably make a huge managerial blunder that knocks St. Louis out of the playoffs. Whether it is leaving in his starting pitcher to hit for himself in late innings (2001/2002), bungling Mark McGwire's pinch-hitting appearances (2000), or wasting pinch-hitters to obsessively gain an insignificant platoon advantage (every single year), Tony can be counted on for one strategic meltdown every year. The Cardinals will keep three catchers, three lefthanded relievers, and at least one injured hitter on the playoff roster every year until Tony hangs them up.
The Padres are an interesting team, hate-wise. As a division rival of the Giants, they should provoke a lot if ire. But, they really don't. Maybe it's because Padres fans are so rare outside of San Diego. Even in San Diego, Giants fans would often form a majority of the crowd, back in the Qualcomm stadium days. Maybe it's their general lack of success. Maybe it's their hard-hitting local news and stellar fine dining.
Mike Piazza is a perfect example. He's a former Dodger, and a former Met, and he's Tommy Lasorda's godson. Yet, in the navy blue and khaki of San Diego, it's hard to feel that strongly about him.
Cardinals Hate list
Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols (Dad thinks he's on steroids), Juan Encarnacion (Dodger ties, beat the Giants in 2003), Yadier Molina (residual anti-Molina-Brothers bias from the 2002 World Series).
Cardinals Hate Index: 9.
Padres Hate list
Third base coach Glenn Hoffman (Dodger), pitcher Shawn Estes (failing to slide into second base in the 2000 NLDS, getting tagged out, and injuring his ankle [see injury to insult]), Mascot "The Friar" and his hideous creation Franken Friar (terrifying).
Padres Hate Index: 3.
Prediction: St. Louis in 4.
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
The Yankees are pretty hated simply because they are the Yankees. However, in the past few years, I have developed a soft spot for the Yankees, mainly because Red Sox fans are so insufferable. Also, I have it on good authority that 2006 AL MVP Derek Jeter is my distant cousin. Some people doubt the family connection, but they're basically just jealous. How much could I hate my own cousin's team?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
The Detroit Tigers are difficult to hate. They're baseball's feel-good story of the year, making the playoffs for the first time in 19 years, and making local fans forget about Matt Millen for an entire summer. The Tigers have an old, chain-smoking manager, a Hall of Fame catcher in Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike B's fantasy baseball boyfriend, Magglio Ordonez.
But they do have Neifi Perez. Generally, I will develop affection for a player simply by virtue of his playing for the Giants. Hell, I cheered for Jeff Kent for six years, and he's a redneck, motorcross-loving, truck-washing asshole. But during his year-and-a-half on the team, his arrogance and total lack of talent meant that I hated Neifi more than any Giants player in history.
Yankees Hate List
Alex Rodriguez (Blue lips, this Sports Illustrated feature, wanting to play for the Dominican Republic AND the United States in the World Baseball Classic, Scott Boras); Jason Giambi (steroids, defecting from Oakland, those deodorant commercials, ass cancer, shit-talking his teammates in the press) Randy Johnson (general personal appearance, and my mom thinks his nickname, "The Big Unit" is horribly crass.), Garry Sheffield (steroids, born-again Christian, former Dodger).
Yankees Hate Index: 8.
Tigers Hate List
Neifi, Kenny Rogers (punching cameramen, dominating the A's, unhealthy roasted chicken).
Tigers Hate Index: 5, 4 from Neifi alone.
Prediction: New York in 4.
New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
I was talking with my dad this weekend about the 2006 LA Dodgers. The Dodgers have so many new players to their team, can we really hate them the way we hated Orel Hershiser and Pedro Guerrero? Look at the team: Kenny Lofton, Rafael Furcal, and Nomar Garciaparra have been on the team for only a year. Wilson Betemit, Toby Hall, and Julio Lugo have been on the team for only a few months. The 2002 NL Champion Giants are well-represented with Lofton, Jeff Kent, and Bill Mueller on the 40-man roster.
And then we watched the Giants blow a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, and I was consumed with hatred for players I could barely recognize. Takashi Saito, Russell Martin, and Jason Repko still managed to completely infuriate me. Jerry Seinfeld joked that, due to free agency and trades, sports fans ultimately just root for clothing. That may be true, but I really, really hate that goddamn Dodger clothing.
I am fairly fond of this year's Mets. Pedro, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran are all quite likable. Julio Franco is 57 years old and still playing. David Wright is one of baseball's best young players and won me a fantasy baseball title last season. Reserve infielder Jose Valentin is the captain of the Handsome Man Baseball Team. I resent the Mets spending so much money and buying up free agents, but they're no worse than seven or eight other teams in that regard. There's some lingering anti-Strawberry hate from the 80's, but much of that has been transmogrified into hatred for the Yankees and Dodgers.
Mets Hate List
Paul LoDuca (Dodger affiliation), Shawn Green (Dodger affiliation),
Mets Hate Index: 4.
Dodgers Hate List
Everyone but Greg Maddux.
Dodgers Hate Index: A million.
Prediction: Dodgers in 3.
Minnesota Twins vs. Oakland A's
I'm an A's fan, but I don't have a problem with the Twins. If you hate scrappy, come-from-behind teams, with dedicated fan bases and a lights-out reliever with a thoroughly entertaining weblog, by all means, hate the Twins. It's a shame that my two favorite playoff teams have to meet in the first round, but I'm sure I can work up some anti-Twin motivation. Prairie Home Companion is overrated! The Mall of America is way too big! Catcher Joe Mauer is too handsome! Walter Mondale really got his ass kicked in the 1984 presidential election, didn't he?
Twins Hate List: Sometimes watching Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser makes me angry, but really, that hate is directed at Brian Sabean and A.J. Pierzynski.
Twins Hate Index: 1.
Oakland Hate List: I'm not a fan of Antonio Perez, but he didn't even make the playoff roster.
Oakland hate Index: 0.
Prediction: This is the A's in the first round of the playoffs. Of course my prediction is Twins in 5.