One of the most familiar phrases in sports is "long-suffering fans."
I think I first heard it when I was in high school. It was in reference to the Boston Red Sox, who, at that time, had not been to a World Series in about 25 years.
The phrase became synonymous with Boston fans until 2004 when, after 86 years, the BoSox finally won a World Series crown. And then they relinquished the "long-suffering" title to Chicago, where the Cubs have an ongoing streak of 104 years between championships.
But hold on a minute and consider this possible scenario for the 2012 World Series -- the Washington Nationals versus their next door neighbors, the Baltimore Orioles.
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Washington, a city that hasn't won a World Series in 88 years, and Baltimore, in the midst of a 29-year drought, are most likely going to make the playoffs. Once there, it is anybody's ball game.
The Nationals are in a tight race with Cincinnati for the best record in the National League. The winner gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Orioles have made up a 10-game deficit in the last month and have caught the New York Yankees in the tough American League East. The best team money can buy ($198 million payroll) is being challenged by two teams with modest payrolls -- Baltimore ($81 million) and Tampa Bay ($64 million).
Matter of fact, 2012 has been a very bad year for the big spenders. Nos. 2-3-4 -- Philadelphia, Boston and the Los Angeles Angels -- won't even make the postseason.
Shouldn't the plight of the big-money guys be a lesson in this era of lucrative long-term contracts?
Well, yes and no.
It looks like the Red Sox got the message, trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett -- who, combined, are owed $261 million over the next five seasons -- to the L.A. Dodgers.
The new ownership of the Dodgers obviously has other ideas. They now look an awful lot like the Boston team that the boy wonder, Theo Epstein, assembled before he departed for Chicago.
That brings us back to those "long-suffering fans" in Boston and Chicago.
Yes, they are back to suffering in Boston, despite World Series victories in 2004 and 2007. In this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, Red Sox fans are furious with management over the suddenly inept performance that began last September.
The absent Epstein gets a lot of the blame, but owner John Henry and top executives Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino have been labeled "The Three Guys Who Couldn't Shoot Straight." And new GM Ben Cherington has come under fire for some of his player deals.
Manager Bobby Valentine has become the center of controversy since the beginning of the season, when he was critical of veteran Kevin Youkilis. Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia was outspoken in his defense of Youk and things have gone steadily downhill in the Boston clubhouse.
In simple terms, the Red Sox went from a manager, Terry Francona, who coddled players, to a manager who was the exact opposite. It didn't work.
The soap opera has escalated the last couple of weeks as the Red Sox have gone from bad to worse since the trade with the Dodgers.
Now it is not a question of whether Valentine will be fired, but when.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that the front office has not given Valentine a lot to work with. He didn't even get to pick his own coaches.
The Red Sox are a mess and the fans know it. The Cubs are still a work in progress and are in the hands of a guy who has a very spotty record when it comes to player acquisitions.
But, hey, Boston fans still have the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. And Chicagoans have the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. Bunch of championships among those teams.
Think about the poor fans in Atlanta. In the entire history of professional sports, their teams have produced only one champion -- the 1995 Braves.
Now that is what I call long-suffering fans.