In order to pay for graduate school, I went, as many students do, in search of funding, and I was lucky to receive a fellowship from the federal government (loosely) to study the Constitution and the history behind it. As part of the program, they pay for a summer program that brings the fellows to Georgetown University, and while here, we stay in dorms with a “suite mate” (I don’t know why they call it a “suite”; It has no living or common room, and it’s just two rooms with two beds each that are adjoined by a common bathroom). Because the deity of the world thinks it’s funny to mess with me, they placed me with a Phillies fan (me being a Braves fan). Fortunately for me, he’s an unusual Phillies fan, in that he’s sane, and we actually get along fairly well. We’ve discussed baseball and our rival teams, and one of the things that I’ve noticed (why now I have no idea; this isn’t new, but I happened to notice) is the use of the word “we” when referencing the team.
It’s kind of a weird situation (no, not the situation with my roommate, though that is an interesting one; the one with the word "we''). The use of “we” implies that we, the fans, are members of the team, which we aren’t (my use of “we” in the post will be in reference to the fans). We don’t play. We don’t coach. We don’t manage. We don’t draft. We don’t make roster decisions. We don’t make medical decisions for the team. We don’t even cut the grass or rake the infield. We are not part of the team. We are separated from the team by the different parking lots, the stands, and different in apparel. We, the fans, are not literally part of the team.
However, there are many that say fans are, at least, metaphorically on the team. We pay the bills. We cheer for the team. We get emotionally invested in the team. While we may not travel with the team or play alongside them, we are involved fairly heavily in the operation and success/failure of the club, and we are heavily connected with the team. To take us away would mean the end of the ballclub (please, no Marlins jokes … oops).
So the question becomes if the use of “we” in reference to our favorite team is appropriate and, if it is, when it is appropriate to use the term. Looking at the two arguments above, both lines of reasoning have their virtues. On one hand, we are not playing the game and cannot significantly influence the outcome of the game with our actions (yes, cheering can help, but on the list of reasons why teams win, we are pretty far down on the list), and there are key differences between fans and players. On the other hand, we are not wholly separate from the team, either, and if we are not wholly separate from the team, it seems that there should be instances in which the use of “we” in reference to the team is appropriate.
But drawing that line is difficult. Let’s start with a basic assumption. If the fans do not exist, the team does not exist. You can make all the Marlins jokes you want, but if they had zero fans (and therefore zero income from those fans), they would not exist where they do. If the team cannot exist without the fans, then the fans are inextricably linked to the team, and if the very foundation of the team is linked to the fans, then the fans are linked to everything the team does. The payroll and economic decisions to sign or not sign and trade for or not trade for players are, at least, in part due to the fans and their performance (attendance, concessions, buying team apparel, etc.), and the performance of those players is what drives the team. This isn’t to argue that fans are the most important factor, but I think it would be impossible to argue that the fans are not somehow involved in the team and its production/performance. Perhaps it is more appropriate to not use “we” in reference to specific moves or plays (you really should be as specific as possible), but to say the use of “we” is completely wrong seems incorrect as well.
The line, however, doesn’t seem to pertain to what actions perpetrated by the team make us part of the team. The line has more to do with when call ourselves a fan of that team. If the above basic assumption is correct, then it seems just as correct that you are not a part of the team if you are not a fan. So the crucial question is when someone becomes a fan because, if you are fan, you can say “we”.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is somewhat arbitrary. It would seem to be analogous to elections. You shouldn’t be able to complain if you didn’t vote. If you don’t care enough to vote, then you don’t get to yell about what the idiot did that you had no part in electing or not electing does/did. If you don’t participate in the affairs of the team, then you don’t get to complain about what they do or how they perform. But what does “participate” mean? I have the following suggestions, but if you have any absolute truths, I’ll take those as well.
Be Informed: This has nothing to do with sabermetrics, but you should know about your team. You don’t have to know everyone’s number, who the prospects are, and who the GM is, but you should know the regulars, the main starters, the key pieces in the bullpen, and most of the other players. And while you don’t have to keep up with the team every day, you should have a pretty good sense of how the week has gone (or the general off-season if not in season). And before you complain about a move, please do at least a little research.
Contribute Financially: This doesn’t have to be much, but it kills me when people complain about the team’s lack of spending and haven’t really spent a dime on the since they bought that hat 6 years ago. Everyone has a few dollars to buy something team-related, and whatever you buy is a tangible connection to the team.
Watch a Game: It’s hard for everyone to go to an actual game, but it isn’t that hard to watch a game. MLB.tv has a Game of the Day every day, and at some point, they’ll have one of your team. ESPN also has games on every week, and while they don’t get to everyone, they do get to most teams at least once. Local channels also usually have a team on, and while that may not be your team, chances are that the local team could play your team.
Endure the Hardships: I’m not sure you can call yourself a true fan until you’ve done this. For the first 14 years of my Braves fandom, I don’t know that I could call myself a true fan because I’d always been a fan of a winning team. The idea is like unconditional love. It’s easy to love them when they don’t give you a reason not to. Sticking through the difficult times shows true dedication. It’s much easier to give up until (or if) things get better.
Again, these are merely suggestions. I would want to see a fan do each of these, but I do understand there are certain situations that prevent some of them from occurring in certain instances. If you have anything else to add, leave it in the comments.