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The Joy of Gloating

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"It is an Englishman's right to gloat, especially when there is something to gloat over. D'backs fans took lots of heat during last 'season' and got shot down from all-comers. Even Devil-Rays fans were laughing at us, so at the moment while things are going well, and other teams aren't - I'm gonna gloat right back at them."
      -- Englishdback

The Germans have a word for it - schadenfreude - which is perhaps a kinder, gentler term for what we're discussing here. It's more justifiable in sports than in real life, because sports is a zero-sum game: every setback suffered by another team increases the change of your team's success.

However, this justification only goes so far, because the resulting difference in D'backs success doesn't change much, whether the Giants lose 1-0 or 16-0. Yes, there might be some kind of carry-forward, as the shell-shocked Giants stagger into town - but you could argue that there's equally as much change that the humiliation will galvanize the Giants into action, like a wounded grizzly.

And nor does this really explain the glee felt in 29 cities around the baseball circuit, watching the Bronx soap-opera, as Steinbrenner's near quarter-billion dollar team struggle to get above .500. If you support an NL team, you won't even have to face the 'Tankees' until the World Series, so how they play in June is of little relevance. Yet, once I've checked the NL West, what's my next destination? "How'd those damn New Yorkers do. Oh, look, they lost to the Devil Rays. Again. He-he-he."

No: logic has little or no real place in gloating. It's really about seeing the unworthy get their come-uppance. Of course, "unworthy" is in the eye of the beholder and, speaking personally, is a somewhat complex calculation involving many intangible, subjective factors. Except for the Yankees, whom I hate because they are rich, egotistical monsters, who happen to have won more World Series than any other club.

[You could argue Yankee-hating seems to have something in common with the hatred felt for the US in certain parts of the world - in both cases, it's arrogance, wealth and its use as a steamroller that leads, in some part, to the dislike. We don't like your government? We'll invade your country and replace it. And there's not a thing you can do about it. We want your star player? We'll throw money at him until he says "Yes". And there's not a thing you can do about it. Hardly behaviour calculated to win hearts and minds in either case.]

Regarding the Giants, things are much simpler - without Bonds, my feeling for the Giants would be much more ambivalent. They'd still be our division rivals, but so what: you don't see many people mocking the Rockies' failings this year, do you? And this is why my gloating regarding the Giants is somewhat muted at the moment. If they had Bonds on their team, and were fourteen games below .500, my joy would be unrestrained. As is, defeating the Giants is like kicking Adam Sandler in the groin while he's unconscious: if he can't feel the pain, where's the fun?

But gloating has its dangers, because nothing lasts for ever - even the Yankees. They may have won 39 pennants, and made the playoffs ever year since the strike, but lost 95 and 91 games in successive seasons, as recently as 1990-91. And they will be as bad again, some day. The knowledge that, sooner or later, the boot will be on the other foot, is perhaps part of the guilt that we feel when we gloat.

This is a good thing in a couple of ways; if I didn't feel shame about getting pleasure from misfortune that befalls others, I'd be concerned I had lost my moral compass altogether - even in a trivial field such as baseball. And it's also this that gives us strength to withstand it when we are the subjects of gloating ourselves: the sure and certain knowledge that no darkness, however grim, lasts forever.

It all satisfies - at the risk of mixing my philosophies - a karmic need for divine retribution, that "wrongdoers" will get punished, and the the "good guys" (us) get their just rewards, be it in heaven or slightly before that point. And you could certainly argue that baseball is a release-valve for feelings that might otherwise turn in less socially-acceptable directions. Like drinking, gloating is perhaps a vice that is harmless, or even beneficial, in small, controlled amounts.