A league of their own: why sports fans love to be miserable
It feels good to feel bad and even better to feel worse. So human beings, with our endless capacity for invention, find ways to feel more terrible than mere facts would otherwise allow. When we're miserably hot, we create a Heat Index to feel hotter than the actual temperature. When we're miserably cold, we conjure windchill to help us feel more frigid still. And when we're just plain miserable, we slip ourselves a mickey called the Misery Index -- unemployment rate and inflation rate combined -- so that our misery might multiply again.
No one is happier to be unhappy than sports fans, which is why Cubs fans (zero titles in 102 years) are legion and Marlins fans (two titles in 14 years) are non-existent.
But individual figures (such as number of years without a title) are no measure of misery. An Astro fan's depression doesn't lie in the fact that his team is 17 games out this season, or has made 64 errors so far, or has a collective ERA of 4.65, or that Houston is 25 degrees above optimal temperature in July, with a life-sapping dew point of 73. No, the Astro fan's misery lies in all of these figures combined, which is to say 17 + 64 + 4.65 + 25 + 73, for a Misery Index of 183.65.
Or that would be the Astro fan's Misery Index, if sports had such a thing -- a simple figure that could gauge, on a daily basis, which fans are leading our national game of one-downsmanship. Then we could say, with the certainty of science, that Astro fans aren't miserable at all. A Misery Index of 183.65, we would know, makes them a relatively happy group.
By current comparison, calculate the score of Minnesota Timberwolves' fans, whose MI consists of 48 (games below .500) added to 92 (number of degrees below optimal temperature on Jan. 24 of this past season) added to 4,525 (number of miles that Minneapolis is from Barcelona, where franchise savior Ricky Rubio was playing all winter) for a Misery Index of 4,665.
The beauty of the Misery Index is you can choose any numbers you like, as long as they're a negative reflection of your franchise. If that sounds unfair, so is sports. Redskin fans get to add 100,000,000 (amount in dollars of Albert Haynesworth's contract) to 362 (weight in pounds of Haynesworth not long after signing said contract) and then divide by three (number of letters common to the words Norv and Zorn) before multiplying by .375 (the team's winning percentage last season) to get an MI of 45,250,000.1.
If that seems a tad insurmountable, it is nothing as compared to the Cub fan's Misery Index. Their MI is a simple formula: 1908 (year of last World Series victory) + 16 (number of F-bombs in Lee Elia's profane rant) + 24 (uniform number of Lou Brock before he was traded to St. Louis) x 18 (life expectancy, in years, of a billy goat) x 20 (number of losses in 1960 for staff ace Glenn Hobbie, the team's best pitcher by far) x 100 (offending number in Milton Bradley's statement, "You understand why they haven't won in 100 years here") = an MI of 70,128,000.
Surely, you say, Cub fans have the worst Misery Index in baseball. But of course that's not true. The numbers don't lie, and the numbers say the Cubs don't even have the worst MI in the National League. No, the troubled Dodgers have a formula whose calculation requires a degree in applied mathematics. In layman's terms, it is 500,000,000 (dollars of debt) + 7 (luxury homes of Mr. and Mrs. Frank McCourt) x 11 (Chapter which team has filed in bankruptcy court) ÷ 42 (number of consecutive years the team was managed by Walter Alston or Tommy Lasorda) = 130,953,383.
Now, 130,000,000 is a big number, even in baseball. In dollars, it is almost exactly identical to the Cubs' 2011 payroll, a fact that should make the team's fans feel even worse. (Which is to say, even better.) But 130,000,000 is a drop in the bucket when it comes to sports' Misery Indices.
Which brings us to fans of the New York Mets. A Mets fan's misery is the 10.5 games his team is out of first place, and the $625 million of his team's reported debt, and the $1.2 million owed to long-retired slugger Bobby Bonilla over each of the next 25 years, plus the $1 billion that the team's owner was sued for in the Bernie Madoff case. Based on those figures, the Mets' fans' Misery Index can be calculated as . . .
10.5 + 625,000,000 + [1,200,000 x 25] + 1,000,000,000
. . . for a Misery Index of 1,655,000,010.5.
An MI of more than 1.5 billion is impressive indeed, and gives the Mets the highest MI of any team in sports, placing them -- for the moment, at least -- in a class by themselves. That's where every fan secretly wants to be, because misery doesn't really love company after all -- it wants to be alone, at the very top.