Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Germans, They're Just Like Us

(For those of you who don't read US Weekly or have a wife who does so religiously, the title is a nod to the "Stars: They're Just Like Us" section of that fine publication, which typically features stars caught by the paparazzi spilling yogurt on their sweatshirts or getting into disputes with parking attendants.)

My friend Ben, a committed Teutonophobe who derisively dubbed me "Herr Michael" when I purchased a German car and proceeded to make a number of jokes involving the car's exhaust that only Jews can make to one another, will be upset to learn of this, but it turns out that German fans are just like American fans, at least in one important respect: their pride often detracts from their good sense. It turns out that Bayern Munich fans are now upset that their star midfielder Michael Ballack hasn't signed a new contract for next year and wouldn't be that sad to see him go. Ballack, as the article points out, is by far the best player on a Bayern team that's poised to win the Bundesliga yet again. In fact, he's the best player in Germany by a significant margin. Without him, the Germans don't stand a chance this summer when they host the World Cup. For instance, in 2002, he scored the goals that won Germany the quarters and semis and then was suspended for the 2-0 loss to Brazil in the final.

Anyway, this is a somewhat verbose way of saying that Bayern fans should be thanking their lucky stars that Ballack wears their jersey and not Real Madrid or Manchester United's. Ballack hasn't signed a new contract, knowing that he will command a tremendous figure on the open market as one of the top five players in the world right now. No rational person could begrudge him a desire to maximize his own position and he's playing so well right now that he's making his value go through the roof. However, sports fans are not rational. We expect our players to love our teams more than themselves, so when Ballack doesn't put his name on the dotted line, Bayern fans lose their minds.

In this respect, they're just like Americans. Remember how Boston fans turned on Johnny Damon this December when he signed with the Yankees after they offered him more money and made his signing a much greater priority than the Red Sox did? Sports Guy wrote a great column about it, pointing out that it's hard for fans to understand that players rarely love their teams like fans do, but that, from their perspective, it's rational. Philly fans were the same way when Terrell Owens' dispute with his team blew up; they universally sided with the Eagles, even though the Eagles' hard-line stance blew up their season (even before McNabb got hurt.) Minnesota fans were happy to see Randy Moss go, foolishly thinking that their team would get better without their best player. Braves fans are routinely peevish towards players who leave after getting better offers from other teams. We fans, on this side of the pond or the other, love our teams to the point that we'll support them even when they're making decisions that make winning less likely. How rational is that? Or, put another way (paraphrasing William Munny in Unforgiven,) rational's got nothin' to do with it.


Ski said...

this may be nit-picking but the damon deal was from earlier this winter, not the summer (damon would prob have still been under contract with the red soxs last september). I am in agreement with the Simmons column, one of the best pieces he's written.

and how much did moss improve oakland's record last season?

Michael said...

Good catch on the "summer" reference. I'll correct that.

Moss didn't make Oakland any better, but how much effect can a receiver have on a team with dreadful quarterback play? I'm more interested in mocking the Peter Kings of the world who get so caught up in "this player is a bad apple" that they think that a team can get better after losing its best player. Minnesota was worse without Moss, Philly was worse without Owens, and Bayern would be worse without Ballack. So why are fans of those teams so happy to see these players leave?