Monday, February 28, 2005

Sometimes A Baseball Bat Is Just A Baseball Bat

Over the weekend, the Post wrote a point-counterpoint-style article on being a fan. Confirming the thesis that writers can only focus on two issues at once, to be a fan means you either have to be a drooling fanboy, or a mindless dolt who complains because it “cushions the psychological blow.” Uh, yeah.

The article reads as if it was written by someone who doesn’t follow sports at all, or even by someone who doesn’t particularly like sports. And, looking at the last few articles the article’s author has written, I’m right. It’s written with the same sort of detached look at sports fans that’s borderline disdainful. It’s as if the writers only exposure to sports fans is through beer commercials. Yeah, there are certainly nutball fanboys who slather themselves in paint and there are certainly plenty of fat, shirtless guys who are willing to prostitute themselves for their seven-and-a-half seconds on television.

But, despite TV’s best marketing efforts, the majority of fans aren’t like that. Do you know anyone who’s gone to a game and painted themselves? I know that when I see a self-promoting idiot, I get annoyed, especially when their inane and usually grammatically incorrect sign blocks my view. (I’d launch into a diatribe about apostrophes now, but I best save that for another time!)

I’m glad that Distinguished Senators got the nod as the con-version of the article, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump him, nor any of the Nats blogs I read, in with the mythical ideal of what a fan is.

The majority of people watching and rooting for the team aren’t sitting on their plastic-covered couch, in yellow stained wife-beaters. Unfortunately, the NFL in particular, has done an excellent job of marketing sports fandom in this way. Because of that, you get junk science and urban legends that create the false belief that spousal abuse is up on Super Bowl Sunday, despite there being no evidence of that.

It’s possible to be a fan, to root like hell for them, and be educated and critical of the team, without it having some sort of deeper psychological meaning. I doubt that Ryan’s bashing of Jim Bowden has anything to do with how much he loves his mother and the quotes from psychologists in the piece are nice sound bites -- but they don’t actually say a whole hell of a lot.

Maybe his complaints are informed and accurate? Maybe he’s calling things the way he’s seeing? Doesn’t that seem likely? But, if you’re writing from the perspective of an outsider, who thinks that all fans stepped right off the set of a Bud Lite commercial, then that doesn’t even cross your mind. (I wonder if the reporter was surprised when Ryan talked with him on the phone and didn’t appear to be breathing though his mouth?)

The article ends with a telling anecdote.
Charlie Brotman, public address announcer for the Senators from 1956 to 1971, recalled a recent party full of Nats fans. They talked about baseball all night, he said, without ever really talking about the team.
"Nobody got into specifics," Brotman said. "The only conversation that anybody had was, 'Are you going to be there Opening Day?' "

Ryan’s not like that. Ryan’s followed the team since before most of us even thought about it. He’s the Methuselah Tree of the Nats Bloggers. He knows this team better than 99% of the people who would call themselves fans. When he complains about Inning-Endy, it’s because he understands. He’s thought about the issues, considered the alternatives and realizes that Endy is the Crystal Pepsi of the Nationals: interesting at first glance, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And, when Ryan praises the team, which he has done from time to time, it’s from an informed perspective, not just the hopes and dreams of a raving fanboy.

There is a middle ground. Unfortunately, the Post failed to find it. But then, that wouldn’t make as good of a story, would it?


  • While I agree their dichotomy between "nostalgia" and "novelty" fans is a false one, I think there's some truth behind the article that you (read: "new fans of the franchise formerly known as the Expos") ought to recognize.

    You don't know the team yet.

    I know the DC area and especially its corps of bloggers are excited about having a team. I recognize that people have been doing their homework, much more than your average Expos fan would have (which doesn't say all that much). I also very much enjoy reading your blogs. But you still don't know them yet.

    The position I'm coming from, I guess, is like that of an ex-boyfriend. We had a rocky relationship the whole time through, and everyone's probably better off now that you're with her, but you still don't know this team like I do. Of course, that will change.

    You'll realize things like that while the nickname you've given to Endy (whose brother is named Ender, no kiddin) certainly suited him at the beginning of the '04 season, he was under the Mendoza line until June and that .277 average represents a sea change in the middle of the season. And that you should be levelling more complaints about Vinny Castilla or the fact that Joey Eischen seems to have made tenure. And that Brad Wilkerson is the next Larry Walker.

    I gotta hand it to ya, the DC fanbase is impressive for a cash-strapped team with poor management that hasn't played a game yet this season. Although I agree the Post article was a bit unfair, I think it makes sense to suggest that the fanbase here is still green, and that getting to really know and love a baseball team's every little quirk -- and the one thing this team's got in bundles is quirks -- is going to take awhile. There's nothing wrong with that.

    So, Washington, take good care of my baby.

    By Blogger Angry Sam, at 2/28/2005 12:34 PM  

  • Excellent point about the NFL-ization of fandom, Chris. NASCAR, as it becomes more popular, is only reinforcing this.

    I think Angry Sam makes a similar point to that made by Junky J.P. Flaim in the article, which is that it's hard to be realistic when you just don't "know."

    As I see it, there are two essential functions of being a fan. (1) Root. (2) Second-guess. If you don't "know" the team, it's hard to second-guess. Ryan, like many of us, have already tried to get to "know" the team as best we can. So there's your second-guessing.

    Of course, these functions will be influenced by your particular "worldview" as a fan. Bloggers, many of whom are sons (and daughters) eras touched by sabermetrics and neo-sabermetrics, will OFTEN but not ALWAYS demonstrate their with a more critical, detached eye.

    That's the point, I believe, that the writer missed. Ryan's not trying to detract from anyone's enjoyment of the team, and he's not personally attacking anyone's passion (as some on the Ballpark Guys board seem to indicate).

    In other words, as Chris says, the writer shouldn't look to psychologists. He should look to Bill James and Baseball Prospectus and sim games (and maybe fantasy baseball, too).

    By Blogger Basil, at 2/28/2005 2:26 PM  

  • The NFL-ization of fans is a disturbing trend. It's bad enough to see these Halloween costume idiots between seemingly every play on TV, but just try sitting behind one.

    I got behind some 50+ year old fat guy in a purple Santa suit at a Ravens game. Every time a camera came close he stood up like a dancing bear.

    Monday Night Football seems particularly eager to showcase these clowns - I'm glad this trend has not moved to baseball for the most part.

    By Blogger Brian, at 3/01/2005 1:22 PM  

  • By Blogger Sneakers hobbies, at 10/29/2009 9:23 PM  

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