Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 3, 2001
BASEBALL: IN DEFENSE OF THE BANDWAGON
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
There are few phrases that enrage dedicated sports fans faster than "bandwagon fans." Nearly all of us have faced the appalling spectacle of watching our favorite team go down in flames in a tight, crucial game, only to be taunted by some blowhard who couldn't have named two players on the winning team two years ago. Remember all those people with the Michael Jordan jerseys? How many of them do you think could pick Elton Brand and Ron Mercer out of a police lineup? Hey, where'd all the Rams fans go?
Here in the Big Apple, we have long held a reputation as the bandwagon capital of the world. Never having been to LA, I will have to accept that as true, because we certainly have the evidence. How many "Yankee fans" have ever heard of Oscar Azocar, Alvaro Espinoza, or Dave LaPoint? When I was in grammar school I was the only Mets fan in my class. I can remember trading baseball cards - in those days you could do this unsupervised in a schoolyard without calling your broker and checking the price of Ken Griffey on the CNBC ticker - and discovering that you could get an NL All-Star and half the Mets roster for one Yankee. When I was in high school (1985-89), strangely enough, there were plenty of Mets fans. Where'd they come from?
The Mets drew about 800,000 fans a year in the late 70s (I guess that means they were a "small market" team then, but that's another day's issue); by 1986 it was over 3 million. Jim Baker, a Mets fan who used to work for Bill James, has a nice description on Rob Neyer's website of the frustration this created for long-time Mets fans. That meant plenty of people who cheered on Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling who didn't remember Kevin Kobel, Scott Holman, Mardie Cornejo and the day Mark Bomback gave up a home run to Pedro Guerrero that broke the windshield of Bomback's car in the Shea Stadium parking lot.
Boston fans who haven't lived here can't fathom the impact of this. I mean, at least in Boston, the fans are either full-fledged hometowners or such obvious bandwagon fans that they have no credibility. Losing a heartbreaker and having to eventually face people from another city is one thing; living with the bandwagon is another.
But there are two types of bandwagon fans. One is the frontrunner Ė the fan who switches gleefully from team to team, always in search of associating himself with a winner. The other is the fan who just doesnít pay as much attention when the team is losing. To a certain extent we are all that way, even if only to the point of being less emotionally invested in each individual game when the team is going nowhere. Iíve never been a team-switcher, but I will admit that in football and to some extent basketball, my interest in the Giants and Knicks wanes when the teamís not very good. There is little in life more dull and depressing than rooting for a bad, boring football team.
The Subway Series, of course, was the true frontrunner's nightmare - two basically evenly matched teams from the same city, and the absolute necessity of taking sides in advance. Most of the bandwagon fans had been on the Yankee bus since at least 1998, and there they stayed. After all, if they lost they could still yell about all the other world championships, Yankee tradition blah blah blah. It even spilled over into politics, where Rudy Giuliani's withdrawal from the Senate race left us with a lifelong Mets fan from the Island running against a newly declared Yankee fan from the suburbs of Chicago (and by the way, how can anyone be both a Cubs fan and a Yankee fan? I understand the appeal of one or the other, but rooting for both is like saying your two favorite historical figures are John D. Rockefeller and Gandhi).
Thinking about the Senate race, though, brought another thought to mind: undecided voters. You see, most people, like me, who have strong political opinions find perennially undecided voters maddening; we canít understand why they canít see the major philosophical differences between the two sides.
But you know what? Our political system is better off for having undecided voters; for the same reason, our sports teams are better off for bandwagon fans. One-party governments, of course, are famous for their corruption and unresponsiveness to the people. Hey, why bother? For the baseball equivalent, you need look no further than Chicago. No matter how bad they are, the Cubs draw. They make money. No matter how good they are, the White Sox donít draw as much. They just arenít the cash cow the Cubs are. The consequence? Remember, Boston Ė with one baseball team since 1953 Ė has won the World Series more recently than Chicago, with two. Chicago
Why is this? Coincidence? Partly. The curse on a city whose team threw the World Series? Maybe. But the refusal of Cubs fans to even stay home once in a while from Wrigley means that IT JUST DOESNíT MATTER if the Cubs win. I wonít stop following the Mets, but I have to consider it my duty as a fan to stay home from the park sometimes if my team is being run poorly. Management needs to have a message sent sometimes.
So... feel free to scorn frontrunners and scoff at the fans who didnít suffer through bad times. But remember this as well: like the undecided voters, we need these people.