Last year I was having some work done to my car, and the owner of the body shop took me to the rear of the garage to show me his latest masterwork: a fully restored and modified early 1960s Chevy panel truck, painted metallic purple with a Ravens logo on the hood and the words "Bleeding Purple" dripping along the side. I marveled at the beautiful custom work, but shook my head as I walked away, because I knew that this passionate fan would ultimately be disappointed — not in his vehicle, but in the way that sports teams and heroes invariably let us down.
We sports fans let our emotions get the best of us and ignore the well-known realities of professional sports. The players that we deify are all too human. And the teams we love — the Orioles and the Ravens — are businesses that make decisions with a singular goal: profit for their owners. Winning assists in this effort, but losing and middling teams make money, too.
Wail as we might about the Orioles' lack of loyalty to Nick Markakis and apparent unwillingness to allow him to finish his career as an Oriole, the separation was probably a sound business decision. Mr. Markakis has been in the league for nine years, he has a herniated disk in his neck, and he came at a high price: $15 million this year alone. The Orioles appear to have simply decided it was not in the team's best financial interest to keep him around for four more years, though they were said to have been comfortable offering him a contract for three. In the same regard, one could argue that it was Mr. Markakis who lacked loyalty to Baltimore and its fans. Out of respect and gratitude for the passionate throngs, he could have stayed with the Orioles for three years and retired with fireworks and a 10-minute standing ovation at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But Mr. Markakis also did what was in his best financial interest: taking a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves worth $44 million.
The loss of Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners and Andrew Miller to the New York Yankees this year also came as blows to some fans, not to mention Chris Davis' 25-game suspension Sept. 12 for Adderall use.
That's leads us to the Ravens, where player behavior — Haloti Ngata's fall from grace and the Ray Rice saga — has disappointed the passionate. But again, the fans are at fault: We made them heroes — not because of any truly noble traits of character, courage or intellect, but because of their athletic prowess. In truth, we know little about their personal lives, and when they made mistakes that are painfully common, we were shocked and disappointed. But shame on us — it has happened before, and I guarantee that it will happen again.
Don't get me wrong — watching a baseball game on the screened-in porch on a summer night in my north Baltimore neighborhood and hearing my wife, son and daughter shout themselves hoarse at an Orioles playoff game are among the distinct joys of life. But for me it was the experience of these moments — a beautiful summer evening and the time with my family — that gave rise to joy, rather than the teams and players.
Marketing departments give us the hard sell on loving our teams and players. And, seeking distraction from the drudgery of work or the pedestrian problems in our lives, we buy in with our hearts and with our cash and are occasionally awarded when our team wins, or our favorite player retires in good graces with the home team. Chris Davis, Haloti Ngata, Ray Rice and those pro athletes who've moved on from the teams we follow remind us that we should save our passion for our lovers, our dogs or our customized Chevy panel trucks — all of which are less likely to disappoint us than the home teams and their fleeting stars.
Stephen B. Awalt is an attorney in Towson. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.