Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president extraordinaire, he of the national parks and the bank-busting and the pince-nez. Asthmatic child turned Rough Rider and outdoorsman, a man who was famously “fit as a bull moose.” (I assume that’s fit; I have little experience with bull meese. Maybe they always come in last in races.)
Teddy Roosevelt was such a dominant figure that bears begged for his mercy. When was the last time you saw Jimmy Carter offering a reprieve to a dangerous wild animal?
But to Nats fans, he’s just the president who never wins. Never. In spite of documentaries and op-eds and hashtags. In spite of online campaigns (Let Teddy Win has 1,683 fans on Facebook; the blog keeps a tally of his losses, 523 to date) and remarks by newsmakers, he just keeps losing.
With the Nats poised to clinch the NL East title (I am alarmed that I know what all the words in that phrase mean), word has leaked that they are planning to let Teddy win.
This would be wrong.
At first, Teddy’s losses could be regarded as a misfortune. Now they’re a constant. 523 cannot be random. The forces in the box are set against him. It might once have been a question of effort. It is no longer. He cannot win until someone else decrees that he win. And the decree will not be issued.
His merits only made the loss more poignant.
Teddy Roosevelt, of the four presidents on Rushmore the one likeliest to survive a presidential knife fight to the death, losing every single race. He is our Job. He is our Sisyphus. He is our Tantalus. He looms in our imagination because of his inability to get what he wants. He is a tragic figure. And he is a constant.
The Nats may win or the Nats may lose, but Teddy always loses. Had a rough day? So has Teddy. It’s a bizarre, “Groundhog Day”-esque train of failure after failure. It makes you think deep things about the futility of human effort.
It is, in a word, a perfect sports tradition.
Sports is a superstitious business. People speak of curses with straight faces. There are rituals and sacrifice flies and fits of Tebowing. Every home game, Teddy runs and the goal eludes him, and perhaps the Watchers in the Skybox are appeased.
For him to win simply because the Nats are playing well would be to negate the entire exercise. He is a constant. “See, Little Timmy,” you say to the child in the bleachers next to you, “you can’t always get what you want, and sometimes it has nothing to do with your individual merit.”
I don’t want Teddy to win. How else am I going to get my daily reminder of the cruel, arbitrary nature of fate? How else am I going to reduce strangers’ children to tears?
And what if he wins and we lose? His current fate is unusual. That would be cruel. That would be a real curse.
He loses and we win. The alternative terrifies.
No, keep Teddy trapped there. Make him lose. You don’t tell Ixion he can get down off the wheel now. You don’t hand Tantalus the fruit. You don’t stop Sisyphus’s rolling rock. Leave Teddy alone.
You don’t tell Job, “Hey, it’s cool, you can stop arbitrarily suffering.” At least not before the Playoffs.
Make Teddy lose.