Pearson, Greg. Maybe Next Year: Long Suffering Fans and the Teams That Never Deliver. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016. Pp. 264. 66 Photos. Index, $35.00 paperback.
Reviewed by Jorge Iber
As a long suffering fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Dolphins (an odd combination, to be sure), this reviewer met the arrival in the mail of Greg Pearson’s tome, Maybe Next Year, with much eagerness. Here, it seemed, was a book tailor-made for sport fans tormented with an allegiance to squads that, no matter what, never seem to come through. Anytime that things look “good,” there is always that little voice in the back of one’s head reminding aficionados that certain disaster is just around the corner. It did not seem possible that so many other men and women could have suffered as interminably as has this reviewer. Of course, Cubs and Red Sox fans endured longer stretches of ineptitude, but they seemed to revel in despair, and have, ultimately, received just rewards (at least on the temporal sporting plane of existence) over the past decade. Pearson’s goal in this work is to share the misery of those of us who continue to await the arrival of our sporting manna from heaven; only to be disappointed again, and again, and again.
Pearson first delineates how he selected the participants interviewed for the 23 chapters in this loser-palooza. In short, he looked at teams that had not won a title in at least 40 years and that had been planted in the same locale for most, if not all, of that period of ineptitude. Immediately, we run into some problems (not unlike the Pirates pitching staff in 2016). The author argues that he focuses on fans who suffer “with much less media coverage” (p. 1), but then presents his first chapter on the most written about fans in baseball: those who dwell in the “Friendly Confines” (Wrigley Field). This bring up some obvious questions, as not all of the teams that fit such traits are included. For example, my beloved Dolphins have not won a Super Bowl since 1973, why are they not listed in this extensive roll call of duds? Spending time on South Beach can only make up for so much sporting frustration, after all. Just to rub salt in an open wound, the Atlanta Falcons, which have existed since 1966, have never won a Super Bowl (OK, they won the first half of the most recent one—does that exclude them?). Why aren’t these glorious choke artists not in this work? The Washington Capitals, birthed in the 1974-75 campaign, have yet to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup and have made it a habit to win during the regular season and then choke in the first round of the NHL playoffs against 8th seeds. Similar arguments can be made of other teams. The best way to summarize such discrepancies is to note that Pearson does not really articulate how he selected the franchises under consideration and why some candidates truly “worthy” of inclusion were left out in the cold. Honestly, have not the fans of the Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Cardinals not suffered enough? If you include collegiate teams in your roster (Pearson included two—the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Northwestern Wildcats), how about giving proper credit to the New Mexico State Aggies? Now there is a team that has little attention paid to it, as well as a solid, and seemingly never-ending tradition of football maladroitness. How about the UTEP Miners? I am not saying that it is wrong for the author to have selected the teams he did, they are all worthy (except, of course the once in a century calamity that befalls Pearson when he included the Cubs and they then indecorously won a World Series), but a better effort at formulating the selection process would have been of value.
Pearson then takes on the reason why fans cheer for these loveable and long-term also-rans. Not surprisingly, he turns to persons who study psychosis for a living in order to understand why some of us put up with this torture. Not surprisingly, there is mention of tradition, geography, pride in long, long ago triumphs, and stubbornness (p. 3). Pearson then briefly quotes the professionals who argue about group identity and the workings of loyalty on a person’s psyche. Here again, the author could have done more. The mention of the scholarly works are too brief and should have been fleshed out more fully. Further, there is another McFarland publication, Huskerville: A Story of Nebraska Football, Fans and the Power of Place by Roger Aden, that would have helped strengthen the rationale for Pearson’s work. I realize that the Cornhuskers have been winners, and that may have shied the author away from Aden’s work. Still, a mention and quick overview of Huskerville would have provided a solid, and accessible, intro into the type of discussion that follows for the rest of Maybe Next Year and would have improved the overall product.
The rest of Maybe Next Year follows the same pattern; regardless of the team discussed. The fans are loyal, long suffering, and feel that they have been morally and cosmically fortified and toughened by putting up with such sustained disappointment. No matter whether Pearson interviews the fans of one of the eight NFL, six MLB, five NBA, two NHL and two collegiate teams, the stories are roughly the same. It may be possible to say that this work provides readers with too much of a bad thing. Leave the winning to the obnoxious Yankee fans! Twenty seven championships have spoiled the pinstripe adherents. Just wait until the Pirates (or Rangers, or Padres, or Brewers—you get the picture) win, we’ll show those jerks how to win with class!
In summary, there is a lot to enjoy in Pearson’s work, but like the teams noted, it comes up short in the end. Readers of certain sporting affiliations get to commiserate with fellow travelers on the road to fandom’s abyss: after all, misery loves company. There is something positive to be said about the reasoning behind this work. Unfortunately, the execution of Maybe Next Year mirrors the great Peanuts strips in which Charlie Brown asks the baseball gods “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher”? Just a bit more detail and contextualization and this book would have delivered, unlike the teams covered herein.
Jorge Iber is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. His area of specialization is the study of Latino/a participation in the history of American sports. He is the author/co-author/editor of nine books. His most recent work, Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography, is a biography of former Major Leaguer Mike Torrez (he of the pitch to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent in the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees) published by McFarland.