Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people bought Mega Millions lottery tickets last week. An estimated $1.5Bn worth of tickets were sold, all in the hopes of getting part of the $656Mn jackpot. Yes, the jackpot is a comic-book worthy sum, but each ticket sold had approximately a 1/175,000,000 (i.e. 0.00000000569114597006) chance of getting a slice of those winnings. Look at those numbers for a minute. Do you know how during the Indians game they run an "improve your view" contest early in the game, rewarding a fan with a better seat? Have any of you ever won that or think you are likely to? Pretending for a minute that every seat is in play for that contest and the Indians have a full house at
Jacobs Progressive Field, the MegaMillions lottery is the equivalent of running the "improve your view" contest at more than 4,300 stadiums the size of Jacobs Progressive Field simultaneously, only picking one winner. That would be approximately double the number of professional stadiums as exist on the entire planet. And yet $1.5Bn dollars worth of tickets were purchased. The lesson here is that big prize expectations prompt irrational responses.
What does this have to do with baseball? Well, tomorrow is opening day for the Cleveland Indians and lo and behold, they are long shots to win the World Series for the first time in 64 years. The Indians will be in the bottom third of the league in payroll this year, dwarfed not only by the AL East axis of evil (New York, Boston), but also by their fellow competitors in the AL Central (Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota). Spring training featured the incarceration in a foreign country of their 2011 opening day starter because, it turns out, he had been operating under a false identity in the U.S. for years, with his return to the country and the Indians now in an indefinite state of limbo. The former "face of the franchise," Grady Sizemore, somewhat surprisingly re-upped with the team after several injury-filled seasons, and then extended the debacle by straining his back so badly it required surgery (good thing back injuries don't hang around...). The candidates to fill his open spot on the roster and play LF collectively were outhit by the Sun City seniors lawn-bowling association during the Spring. So why do we bother to follow the Tribe? Because the expectation of the prize is huge.
Much like it is impossible to conceptualize what $656Mn looks like, I think it is impossible to understand the emotional reward and release of a long-awaited Indians World Series victory. Even for any fans we have here that are old enough to have been alive in 1948, that was a team that had a strong record of success and a previous World Series title within a generation. To win now, after 62 years, after "the catch" in '54, the 60s 70s and 80s of the franchise and the city, of the 90s revival, of '97, of '07, of all of it...that would be overwhelming in the best possible way. To be a fan of Cleveland is to embrace irrationality.
Stepping aside for a moment, in the grimier moments of my former young and single life, I discovered that I had got a certain enjoyment out of gambling. Not lottery style gambling, like the MegaMillions jackpot, or the mindless gambling that comes with pulling a plunger on a slot machine. I like cards. I like dice. I like the complexity and communal nature of a craps board. I've never been stupid enough, drunk enough, or most importantly wealthy enough to lay anything more than a few hundred dollars out at a time, but I am happy that most of the times I've done so (excepting one unfortunate encounter with an automatic re-shuffling system), I've come back with a few extra bucks than I went in with. I attribute this mainly to an amateur awareness of the basic probabilities at play in these games and my willingness to actively engage that knowledge when I play. I count the cards at the blackjack table just enough to know when I'm more likely to benefit from a less than minimum bet and I only go to craps tables that let you place large odds bets (hello, Vegas Stratosphere). Aside from a bit of over-sharing, what does this have to do with baseball?...well, it explains some of why I like to follow baseball on Lets Go Tribe.
What I like about following the season here at LGT is that we try to moderate discussion that amounts to more than simply reacting, complaining or celebrating the action on the field. Hopefully, the discussion that occurs here elucidates some of the nuances of why and how the events on the field are unfolding. I don't pretend to have any influence on the action of the game (though I've purchased a stockpile of soup, hummus and beer in preparation for the season...wink, wink...), but sort of like sitting at that blackjack table with a four-deck shoe, it gives me a little more assurance of my own connection to what is happening.
As for the Indians chances, like me at the blackjack table they have upped their bet. They are not exactly going all in, but they have placed a clear emphasis on this year and next as a window of contention. The team the organization has assembled is anything but a sure bet, but it represents a complex balance of risk and reward scattered across 25 or 40 slots on the playing board. The team now has 162 chances to throw the dice.
And hey, three people won that MegaMillions jackpot.