Schadenfreude – (n.) satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.
Last year at this time, Chicago Cubs fans were trying to divine meaning from disappointment. From disaster. From a season’s end so deeply hurtful, made only that much more hurtful by the fact that it had happened the same way just one year earlier.
The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Cubs in nearly every facet of the game in last year’s first round of the playoffs. Out-pitched. Out-hit. The Cubs, a team who had clinched the National League Central weeks before, looked but a mere shell of the team prognosticators believed could make a deep playoff run. The outcome was as shocking as it was damning.
Welcome to our world, St. Louis Cardinals.
This year, it was the Cardinals – and not the Cubs – who were expected to do things in October. They, like the Cubs before them, had locked up the N.L. Central weeks earlier, and unlike the Cubs, sported a one-two punch at the top of their rotation seemingly built for playoff success. And their lineup, transformed by prescient mid-season moves, and powered by the best hitter in baseball, clearly had the look of a playoff winner.
But somehow, they lost. Somehow, they didn’t win a game.
And the corner of my mouth starts to curl.
When a looping fly ball handcuffed Cardinal outfielder Matt Holliday, using his groin as a trampoline, surely Cardinals fans across the country groaned with disappointment. And Cubs fans – those who could stomach watching the Cardinals in the playoffs, that is – probably smiled with knowing.
You see, if that had happened to the Cubs, our groan would not have been a groan of disappointment. We would have groaned with the knowledge that “this has happened before.” We know what follows a playoff gaffe like that. So when the Cardinals went on to lose that Game Two, Cubs fans everywhere probably smiled, self-consciously, for just a minute. We knew that series was over. Schadenfreude.
So now that the Cardinals are out of the playoffs, and the Dodgers are sweeping the collective hopes of Cardinal fans off of their cleats, Cubs fans are left with a delicate balance: the guilty joy of watching the hated Cardinals crumble, and the reluctant acknowledgment that the Cardinals were only in place to crumble because the Cubs were incapable of challenging them for a playoff spot this year. So who is the real loser? That’s actually not a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer.
Speaking from experience, bowing out of the playoff race in early September is certainly easier to stomach than suffering the indignity of playoff domination. That is not the bitterness of a jilted lover, mind you. As a man who has seen his team lose nine straight times in the playoffs, it comes from a place of knowledge, not sour grapes.
But I cannot, of course, dig deep enough to find any pity for the Cardinals. The land of LaRussa has never been one to endear much sympathy from opponents. They are often as smug as they are successful. No, I won’t shed any tears for what I know will be a miserable offseason.
Still, I can’t quite bring myself to openly accept the tiny bubble of joy welling up within me. Like when an opponent’s star player goes down, it just feels wrong to celebrate at this moment. I know their misery, and I know the Cubs gave me little reason to cheer this year. For these two reasons, it’s hard to get too excited about the Cardinals’ loss. Oh, and there’s that tiny little matter of hating these particular Dodgers. So my joy, for what it is, is stilted.
Ultimately, though, we’ve got to feel what we feel. We have had little to be pleased about this year, so what the hell. I’ll be happy about the Cardinals’ embarrassing playoff effort. But it’s tentative.
Perhaps I shouldn’t feel too badly, relishing in the Cardinals’ defeat. After all, when this happened to my Cubs, I couldn’t look back just a few years on a championship and smile, as Cardinal fans can.
So I guess I’ll smile now.