The Legend of Pete Kozma

Pete Kozma

The Cardinals left town yesterday, and the Nationals have moved on to the next series (the Nats beat the Reds 8-1 Thursday night).

But I’m not ready to move on.  There’s still one piece of unfinished business: Pete Kozma.

The 2012 Nationals were a team of destiny.  Three seasons removed from the worst record in baseball, a talented young corps emerged at just the right time, won 98 games, and united a city.  When Jayson Werth hit a walk-off home run in Game 4, it promised to be the signature moment during an inevitable march to the World Series.  Only one man stood in the way–a 24 year-old unheralded rookie with 89 career at-bats.  A man named Pete Kozma.

A compelling story, if any of it were actually true.

Pete Kozma had very little do with the Nationals NLDS loss last season.  I previously examined in his role in Game 5, and why Nationals fans should blame someone else for that loss.  I won’t rehash those reasons here.

But I will address the phenomenon of scapegoating.  Human beings have a natural inclination to find a scapegoat after disappointment and defeat.  Red Sox fans for years blamed Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent for their lengthy championship drought.  Cubs fans blame Steve Bartman and, coincidentally, a goat.  Fans choose scapegoats because its easier than facing the uncomfortable facts.  In this case, the Nationals lost the NLDS because their pitchers blew it.  The team was outscored 20-4 in games 2 and 3.  They had a 6-0 lead in Game 5.  There are many people responsible for their stunning loss in the series.

But I think the Pete Kozma hatred runs deeper than the desire to scapegoat.  It’s part of a fan base seeking an identity.  It’s a team with no particular history discovering that it suddenly has history.  One year ago, Nationals fans didn’t have a Pete Kozma to hate because they had never even seen a playoff series.  No one will admit it, but it’s kind of fun to have a Pete Kozma.  People boo him, not because it’s painful, but because it reminds them how close they really were.


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