The Agony of Victory, The Thrill of Defeat

You’re probably familiar with the old Wide World of Sports tagline, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”

Well, there’s a different adage I want to write about today.  I call it “The agony of victory, the thrill of defeat.”

When you work with/near a sales organization, the end of the fiscal quarter is always a hectic time.  You feel like everyone around you is on an emotional roller coaster, and they’re not necessarily going in the same direction.  Highs and lows abound.

Last week was the end of Q2 for my company, and as has been the case for the other 20 quarters since I’ve worked there, there was some nailbiting going on.  Okay, truth be told, I bite my nails even when it’s not the end of the quarter… stupid nervous habit that I’ve had since childhood.  But I digress.

Sometimes the team does well, but not every individual member of the team is able to perform up to the standard that’s set for the team.  It’s particularly hard to watch people who bust their ass all day, every day, not able to get that elusive win that’ll push them over the hump.  It’s painful to watch, others celebrating around them.

Let me bring it to some sports analogies, my specialty.

The Agony of Victory

Byung-Hyun Kim was never the same after the agony of defeat

I was thinking back over recent sports events, trying to come up with an example of a team being victorious on the biggest stage, IN SPITE OF an individual’s performance.

Team sports are rife with these examples of an individual being blamed for a loss, choking in the clutch, something going horribly awry when a win seemed all but assured.  Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series being the example most near (but not dear) to my heart, as a Red Sox fan.  Jose Mesa for the 1997 Cleveland Indians. Ernest Byner with The Fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship.  Nick Anderson in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals.  And so on and so forth.

But I had more difficulty coming up with an example of an individual being the goat in a playoff/championship where the team actually WON.

The one that did come to mind, though, was Byung-Hyun Kim, then of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series.  To recap briefly, Kim was the closer for the Diamondbacks, and with a 2-1 series lead, he gave up a home run to Tino Martinez in the bottom of the 9th inning to blow the save. To add insult to injury, he then proceeded to give up the game-winning home run to Derek Jeter in the bottom of the 10th inning.  Even worse, he was sent out there in Game 5, and blew the save AGAIN, another tying home run given up to Scott Brosius in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Needless to say, the Diamondbacks’ manager didn’t use Byung-Hyun Kim in Game 6 or Game 7.  The Diamondbacks pulled off the upset to win the World Series in spite of Kim.  The agony of victory indeed.

The Thrill of Defeat

He's going the distance, he's going for speeeeeed

The reverse can also be true, where a team or individual is unable to clinch the victory, but since a valiant effort was put forth, the legend can be even greater.

The most iconic example of this is fictitious – Rocky Balboa.  If you’ll recall, in the first Rocky movie, Rocky did NOT win the title match against Apollo Creed.  But Rocky went the distance, surviving 15 rounds with the champ in the boxing ring, and winning America’s heart even in losing the decision.

This formula is repeated over and over in sports films, the lovable underdog losers getting so close to victory but ultimately coming up juuuuuuuuust short, usually in slow motion, and always with an appreciative crowd giving them a heartfelt ovation afterwards.

Hey man, nice shot

How about in real life, though?  We don’t have to go back very far for an example – April 5th, 2010 to be exact, when the Butler Bulldogs were THIS CLOSE to pulling off one of the greatest Cinderella stories in history.  Gordon Hayward launched a shot from half-court as time ran out, which just missed going in.  Had that shot gone through the cylinder, Butler would have captured their first NCAA Men’s Basketball championship, upsetting the Duke Blue Devils.  Instead, Duke wins as the favorite, and Butler will probably be largely forgotten.

But, hey, at least Gordon Hayward made a name for himself, enough to get himself drafted #9 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft.


  1. blamed for a loss, choking in the clutch, something going horribly awry when a win seemed all but assured. Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series being the example most near (but not dear) to my heart, as a Red Sox fan.

    Common misperception that Buckner cost the Sox this game. If he had fielded that ball properly, the game woulda just gone another inning. Mets would still have won. 🙂 #METS

    1. Well, I don’t really want to dig into the details here too much, but, yes, you’re right about the Buckner error not being the only problem for the Sox in that game. It is the most well-known error in MLB history, though.

      Clemens was taken out too early; Schiraldi was left in for too long; Stapleton should’ve been brought in for 1B defense as had been done all season long, etc.

      Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

  2. This is why I don’t work in sales, where you have quotas and stuff that are directly related to your paycheck. I have quotas in support, but I get mine and someone else’s share pretty consistently.

    Let me add a few more to your list: pulling Ortiz early in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series (with a five run lead that was eventually given up by the bullpen). And putting Bedrosian in during the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series (as Bedrock was a closer and had only one inning of solid pitching before falling apart).

    And no Sharks examples? 🙂 Wow.

    1. The problem with your examples, in this context, is those were bad management decisions that helped cost the team a championship. My point was that there are PLAYER performances that could have cost the team a championship, but the team won anyway; or, where the serious underdog ALMOST won, but narrowly lost and the legend is better for losing than winning. I don’t see those two Giants’ examples in the same way.

      Now, if you wanted to talk about Barry Bonds and his .471/.700/1.294 performance (-enhanced) in the same 2002 World Series but his team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, I’ll listen 😉

      As for the Sharks… they haven’t advanced far enough in the postseason to qualify, in my opinion. When they reach a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, then we’re talking.

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