Yanks-Orioles and the Kid Brother Theory

Mark Teixeira and Lew FordOn Friday, as I watched the Orioles and Rangers fight out the wild-card playoff in Arlington, Texas, I was begging for a Baltimore win. The winner would face the New York Yankees in the divisional round, and I am an evil, soulless fan of the corporate Yankees juggernaut. So I pulled hard for the O’s, both on Twitter and in real life, and typically received one of two responses:

1. Be careful what you wish for. It’s stupid to root for a specific opponent, because you never know how the next series will play out.

2. If you are going to root for an opponent, root for Texas. They suffered a late-season collapse in the AL West, losing the division to Oakland on the last day and spiraling from best team in the American League to desperation wild-card status. Baltimore, meanwhile, is a crazy destiny-blessed team that punched above its weight all season, finishing with a 29-9 record in one-run games and 16 straight wins in extra-innings games.

But here’s the thing — I was certain, in a way that most people will find smug, that the Yankees wouldn’t lose to the Orioles. They’re our little brother. They can’t win.

[Oh yeah, fair warning: If you’re an Orioles fan, this post will rate somewhere between a 60 and 90 on the Condescension Scale.*]

[*Who should the Condescension Scale be named after? Al Gore? Dennis Miller?]

In Michael Jordan’s autobiography (with Mark Vancil), For the Love of the Game, Jordan had this to say about the 1993 Finals against the Phoenix Suns:

“Playing Phoenix and Charles Barkley in the 1993 Finals was like playing against your little brother and knowing you’re well equipped. Your little brother might beat you one or two out of seven, but you know he’s going to get beat in the end.”

I’m sure that wasn’t the start of the “little brother” comparison in sports, and a Google search quickly tells me that it was definitely not the end. The phrase is used often to describe a psychological advantage one team holds over another, the way an older brother intuitively knows how to push all his kid brother’s buttons and exploit every weakness. Even if the skill level is roughly the same, the little brother won’t make it over that mental hurdle.

As you can tell, the kid brother hypothesis has no basis in statistics or any field remotely resembling actual science. If you’re desperate for an equivalent, look to Freudian psychoanalysis, a theory that is clearly conjured from thin air in an attempt to explain something inexplicable, cannot be proved or disproved by experiment or research, and will eventually fall out of favor when people come to their senses and realize it’s 90 percent bullshit.

But today, as the playoffs continue and the Yankees face the Orioles in the ALDS, I believe in the kid brother theory. In Game 1 on Sunday night, with the game tied at 2 in the top of the ninth after the Yanks left three to four runs on the table with their typical combination of stupid baserunning, poor managerial decisions (STOP BUNTING, GIRARDI), and god-awful RISP hitting, I should have been terrified. Baltimore doesn’t lose close games! The Yankees seem to lose a ton of close games. Considering the team’s weaknesses, I never held out much hope anyway. We missed our chance, and now they’re going to close us down.

Those are the thoughts that should have been running through my head. Instead, I had a weird confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I was annoyed at the way the Yankees had played. But I knew they’d win, and no amount of logic could dissuade me from that serene belief.

See, I’ve spent my entire life watching the Yankees beat Baltimore. I was born in 1983 (the last year the Orioles won the World Series), and have lived through 30 baseball seasons. In that time, the Yankees have compiled a 286-162 record against the O’s. That’s a .638 winning percentage, the best against any American League opponent in that time span. Better than the Royals, better than the Twins, better than any of the other hapless AL franchises. The Yanks have won the season series 26 times, tied twice, and lost twice. The only time the teams met in the playoffs, in the 1996 ALCS, the Yankees won in five games. Orioles fans love to remember the famous incident in Game 1, when a Yankees fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the outfield wall to pull Derek Jeter’s fly ball over the fence for a home run. That tied the game at 4 in the eighth inning, and Bernie Williams won it with a walk-off home run in the 11th. Today, Orioles fans treat that incident as something that happened in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 and cheated them out of a World Series berth. But the truth … well, four games to one. You decide.

And if the numbers aren’t enough, consider the fact that every time the Yankees visit Camden Yards, it’s like a home game. The Baltimore fans aren’t exactly the most loyal or resilient bunch — in 2012, a playoff year, they only managed to average 58.6 percent capacity, which was 23rd in MLB and the first time it was even above 50 percent since 2008 — and while it’s nice to see them pack the stadium for the playoffs, it doesn’t erase the memory of Yankees fans taking over the stadium every time they play. Since 1983, the Yankees’ record in Baltimore is actually a few percentage points better than their record against the Orioles at home. Again, this is unique; the only other AL team the Yanks play better on the road are the Mariners.

This is not sibling rivalry — it’s sibling annihilation. We’re dealing with a case of extreme dominance. There’s only one other team that qualifies as a little brother to the Yankees, and those comic geniuses play across town in Queens. But because the Yanks share a division with the Orioles, there’s a heightened sense of familiarity, akin to living in the same house. We know them, they know us, and there’s a power dynamic that’s been established over the years. It doesn’t matter what happened during the regular season in 2012, because the patterns for what will happen in the ALDS have been grooved for decades and decades. Anytime the Orioles try to overcome that historical current, they’re borne back ceaselessly into the past.

(By the way, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Baltimore for a while — do you think those legendary words were inspired by the O’s??)

And here’s something a little strange — the Yankees franchise actually began life as the Baltimore Orioles, playing in old Oriole Park from 1901 to 1902. They moved to New York in 1903, and the Yankees name was born in 1913. The current Orioles? They moved from St. Louis in 1954. No wonder the Yanks seem to enjoy a distinct advantage in Baltimore. They were there first!

Maybe that nugget lends some historical credence to my theory. In this relationship, the Orioles of 2012 are quite literally the little brother. It’s almost too perfect. Sorry, kid, but there’s only one way this can end.

Filed Under: Baltimore Orioles, Baseball, MLB, New York Yankees, Shane Ryan

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere