by Jason Wojciechowski
As a blogger and inveterate Tweeter, I don't have a lot of moral authority to ask people not to make fun of something. We've all jabbed beat writers, said mean things about front offices, wished that TV announcers would lose their jobs (or even rejoiced when the latter actually happens). There is an area that I think we'd all be better off leaving alone, though: fans.
Asshole fans exist everywhere. Nice, sober guys don't get into fights in the stands at the game. Dicks and drunks do. Chill bros don't run on the field so they'll get tased. Attention whores living unfulfilled lives do. Committed fans don't jabber on their cell phones through the whole game, pausing only long enough to wave at a TV camera when it points their way. People with misplaced priorities do. (What on earth could be more important than the game on the field?)
It is possible that some fanbases contain more utter douches than others. God knows Philadelphia has been accused of this often enough. It's possible that some fanbases contain more apathetic scenesters. People complain about the bankers in the TV seats at Yankee playoff games. And it's possible that some fanbases foster more people who feel the need to get themselves involved in the action on the field. (I'm not sure what city has this reputation. Is there one? Certainly Houston has the most skilled of field-runners, but that's a different issue.)
Do we have any data on any of this, though? Any studies on the level of attention of front-row October Yankees fans vs. front-row October Cardinals diehards? Any collections of ballpark arrest data that control for police attentiveness, alcohol sold (the better the public transportation, the more drinking, probably?), weather, and team crumminess? I'd be happy to hear in the comments of any information you all have heard, but I don't have any.
So maybe, unless we do have some nice data to cite, let's lay off the fan stereotyping for a while. I'd like to think that we're too much adults for this. Besides, the joy of Twitter for me has been interacting with fans of all types and seeing that they're mostly just like me. Colin Wyers, as near as I can tell, is not frequently shirtless and drunk in the stands at Wrigley. Grant Brisbee is not a wine-drinking snob who looks down on A's fans from his penthouse suite. (If there were any justice in the world, he'd earn enough money from his writing to have a penthouse suite from whence he could look down on whomever he likes, but that's neither here nor there.) Bill Baer doesn't pelt batteries at the opposing team's right-fielder. Ben Kabak isn't a bandwagoner, can name a player besides Derek Jeter, and likely doesn't spend a lot of time dealing with talk radio. And our very own Bill here at TPA doesn't have a ridiculous midwestern accent.
You get the point. You don't have to look very hard to find intelligent, committed, decent human beings in every fanbase. Why focus on the doofuses and paint the entire crowd with that brush? It's divisive and pointless. I'm probably preaching to the choir a bit on this (TPA has, it seems to me, a very level-headed set of readers, not prone to the kind of unthinking unkindness I'm writing against), but just in case: let's all stop that.
(Yes, even as to Angels fans.)
Included in this, I want to note, should be cracks about attendance, size of the fanbase, and the general level of commitment allegedly signified by these numerical factors. You know why the Yankees have so many fans at their games? Because they've been winning a lot for like 15 years, developing and bringing in the best players in the game, cultivating a strong rivalry with a divisional competitor, and, oh yeah, playing in the biggest city and metro area in the country, in a very accessible stadium for people from many places in that area.
Tampa fans, by contrast, have a team that's only recently had success, only recently come into existence, and have to go to a crap stadium in what is by all accounts a very difficult location. There's not a huge population to draw on in the first place and that population has been hit quite hard by the recession.
I've picked two poles (sorta -- I probably could have picked the A's, but you're surely tired of hearing me talk about them), which isn't the most fair way to make a point, but I hope it illustrates the basic idea that there are a million factors other than committedness of the fanbase that determine attendance. Saying things like "what's A's fans" or "where are the Rays fans?" is silly. No team is immune to downswings (compared to the league average) in attendance because their fans are just that good. It's all relative, sure: when Yankees fans in the late '60s or from 1989 to 1996 didn't attend games in droves, they still drew at a basically league-average rate? The drop probably had a lot to do with team mediocrity, crime problems, and so forth, and the cushion under that drop can be attributed to the positive factors mentioned above -- long history of greatness, huge population, etc. etc.
So: just like we should be careful about attributing the actions of a small set of asshats to an entire group, we should avoid ascribing moral value to the decision whether or not to attend a baseball contest, a decision that is so obviously a result of weighing factors far beyond "how much do I love this team?" that I'd like to think this kind of razzing beneath our dignity.