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Buster Posey and Schadenfreude

Right now you are down and out and feelin' really crappy.
And when I see how sad you are, it sorta makes me happy.
Sorry. Human nature - nothing I can do.
It's schadenfreude, making me feel glad that I'm not you.

   -- Avenue Q

I'm not sure how many times I've watched the collision between Scott Cousins and Buster Posey from last night's Marlins-Giants game, but it's not something that gets any easier to view. Ankles are just not supposed to bend that way, and I get a queasy feeling when watching them do so, in super slo-mo, from eight different angles. [So much for horror movies desensitizing the viewer, at least to anything except other horror movies].

But, let's be brutally honest. While on one level, it's a terrible thing, there's a dark corner of just about every non-Giant fan which woke up this morning, read that Posey could be out for the season and gave a little fist-pump. Because their team's chances of dethroning the Giants as World Series champions just got a little bit better.

Does that make us bad people? Yes and no. An intrinsic part of the adversarial nature of sports and fandom, is that bad things happening to the opposition are as uplifting as good things happening to you. No-one would think less of you for enjoying the fact that Troy Tulowitzki is 1-for-the-year against the Diamondbacks, and that's what makes the future lack of Posey heartwarming. - that's he'll be replaced by a much less competent player. That's what matters. The injury is actually irrelevant. I'd be just as pleased if his enforced absence from the line-up was due to, oh, I dunno, a prison sentence for white-collar fraud.

That's a very important distinction. My satisfaction does not stem from Posey's broken leg. It's the weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts to be witnessed coming from Giants' fans. Their agony is my ecstacy, and I don't feel very guilty about wallowing in that at all. I'm pretty sure they were hardly sending over baskets of fruit when the Diamondbacks lost the - arguably more valuable - Brandon Webb for two seasons. And they enjoyed almost freakish health last year, becoming the first NL team since the '97 Braves to have four starters make 33+ starts. Turning that luck into a crown makes this feel like the baseball gods administering justice.

Per Wikipedia, "Brain-scanning studies show that schadenfreude is correlated with envy. Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain's reward centers, such as the ventral striatum, were activated by news that the people envied had suffered misfortune. The magnitude of the brain's schadenfreude response could even be predicted from the strength of the previous envy response." From an evolutionary aspect, you can see its purpose too. As a Scientific American piece last year said:

The world is a competitive place, and an individual benefits, for instance, when a sexual competitor breaks
a leg or a hunting rival falls ill. "Anytime someone suffers a misfortune, that's an opportunity," says social psychologist Richard H. Smith of the University of Kentucky. "Life is essentially relativistic; [others'] misfortunes are good for the self."

It's easy to see where the envy comes from. Few things are better for a team, than young. cheap, exceptional talent. And few things are more likely to irritate supporters of opposing teams, than someone else's young, cheap, exceptional talent. The feelings of envy that result are entirely natural: imagine how Pirates fans, say, feel watching Posey lead to the Giants to last year's World Series title, knowing that he was still on the board when they picked, um, Pedro Alvarez. Indeed, that World Series title helps fuel the envy: if he'd been the Astros' top player, would anyone have noticed cared?

"There will never be a perfect storm like this again," wrote Grant Brisbee. "Posey is a guy who helped break an organizational drought for hitters and championships, he played a position that the fans were repeatedly told was almost impossible to do well, and he is possibly the most likable personality on the team, combining perfect amounts of seriousness and charm in a goofy clubhouse." To which I reply, succinctly: "Suck it, Giants fans. Suck it long. And suck it hard." I didn't notice an angst-ridden piece from Brisbee when divisional rival Jorge de la Rosa was lost for the year, So don't expect any sympathy when you lose your young stud.