Webster’s defines "schadenfreude" as...
No, seriously, that’s all Webster’s has under "schadenfreude." Though I should point out that my computer’s name is "Webster," and when I’m "defining" a word, that just means that I’m staring at my desktop wallpaper, which happens to be that picture .
But if you’re looking for an actual definition of the German word, it roughly translates to "taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others." Like, oh, when a hated rival is going through all sorts of off-field nonsense. The first response to a headline like this...
Dodgers a Ward of the State; Owner Can’t Make Payroll; Clayton Kershaw Quits Baseball to Work at Hertz So He Can "Make Ends Meet."
...is to laugh. Maybe chortle a little. Then guffaw, snicker, and sniggle. This reaction is acceptable for about six or seven hours. Maybe a few days or weeks. The manure being shoveled back and forth between Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball is sweet, sweet fertilizer, and it’s going to make the sunflower of your heart grow up to be a big, healthy, and beautiful sunflower. That’s schadenfreude.
Here’s a startling confession, though: I want the Dodgers to be successful. Always, always, always less successful than the Giants, mind you, but if the Dodgers were to turn into perennial 100-game losers, that would only be amusing for a decade or so. The rivalry is better, so much better, when the Dodgers and Giants are both good. Brian Johnson’s home run would have been an amusing memory if it had happened in 2007, but because it happened in 1997, it’s one of the best Giants-related moments since the team moved to San Francisco.
If baseball takes over for the Dodgers and runs them into the ground, Expos-style, the schadenfreude will only nourish us for so long. That kind of enjoyment is the equivalent to empty calories -- at some point, you need something with substance. If the Dodgers turned into the Pirates, the rivalry would get boring. It wouldn’t die, but it would get boring. It’s not like that scenario is especially likely because of this fiscal brouhaha, but it’s just something to point out.
So I’m hoping that Clayton Kershaw finishes second in this year’s Cy Young, just as long as Tim Lincecum finishes first. I hope that Matt Kemp finishes second in the MVP voting, just as long Buster Posey finishes first. And I hope that the Dodgers finish with 103 wins, just as long as they miss the playoffs while the Giants get in with 104 wins. Because that -- that -- is the real schadenfreude. That’s the kind of nourishing pain-not-happening-to-us that makes sports so special. I want the Dodgers to get so, so, so, so close, only to have the football ripped away from them.
Also, the Dodgers can’t be Charlie Brown in this analogy because Charlie Brown is too awesome. So pretend that Lucy is holding the football for Irving, the boyfriend from "Cathy." If the new arrangement with MLB makes the Dodgers go splat -- if it forces a Sizemore/Lee/Phillips for Colon kind of trade -- that’s cool. It’s better than the Dodgers turning into some championship factory. But the rivalry could be so much more. Here’s hoping the Dodgers avoid being terrible, settling instead for forever being not good enough.