By Evan Brunell
I grew up a Red Sox fan and still follow the team closely. Given I've lived in or near Boston my entire life and began my baseball writing career by starting Fire Brand of the American League (which is still going), I would submit I'm qualified to talk about anything Red Sox.
Well, that's exactly what we're going to do here in light of the news that the Red Sox ranked No. 6 on GQ's worst sports fans in America (which also carried the photo) piece in which the New York ranked No. 9 for the Yankees and Philadelphia took home the No. 1 and 2 spots for the Phillies and Eagles. GQ's reasoning for ranking Boston on the list?
Winning the 2004 World Series was the worst thing to ever happen to Red Sox fans. Having been beaten into a state of lovable-loserdom by generations of championship futility, they now seem intent on living out some sort of horsehided cycle of domestic violence, inflicting upon us everything that for eighty-six years was inflicted upon them. It is a display of epic hypocrisy. All their whining about the Yankees' salary-driven Evil Empire? They now gloat while drubbing opponents with what is routinely the second-highest-paid roster in baseball. All that self-satisfaction about being a bunch of scruffy underdogs? They blindly maintained it while winning the 2007 World Series with a payroll almost $90 million higher than Colorado's. All these continuing claims to be an elite group of die-hard supporters? They have the biggest legion of bandwagon fans in the country, pushing past the Pinstripes as baseball's top-drawing road team in 2005, 2007, and 2008. These days, Red Sox fans are indistinguishable from Yankees fans—just with more grating accents.
Now, if you want to brush aside my incredulousness that Red Sox fans could rank No. 6 given my history with the Red Sox, go right ahead. But here's why I find GQ's reasoning odd:
The writer starts off by parroting that most common of complaints about Red Sox fans being two-faced when it comes to salary concerns. However, I have yet to meet a Red Sox fan -- myself included -- who turns a blind eye to the fact Boston regularly ranks No. 2 in payroll. Do Red Sox fans want the payroll to be that high? If the alternative is trotting out a bad team -- which the Red Sox have done countless times in the team's history -- then yes, they want the money to be spent. But to think that Red Sox fans willingly ignore the financial advantage is ludicrous. Not one fan likes the fact that Boston can outspend all but one team if needed. To say that fans "gloat" with the high payroll is to run counter to everything I've seen and been told by fellow friends and fans. The financial might of the team is considered an evil necessity. After all, what self-respecting Red Sox fan wants to be equated with the Yankees?
In addition, the gap between the Yankees' payroll and Red Sox's payroll has been routinely significantly larger than the gap between the Red Sox and No. 3 on the list. In fact, the Red Sox ranked No. 2 in payroll in five of the last eight seasons. The other three seasons saw two fourth-place finishes and one sixth-place finish. The takeaway? While Boston is flush with cash and can hang with almost any team and deserves the moniker of a big-market, big-salaried team, they hang with the other teams, unlike New York which runs away with the lead. In 2010, the Red Sox maximized their payroll, leaving little room for in-season acquisitions, with an eye-popping $168 million payroll. Boston will pay a similar amount in 2011, although the Phillies will have caught up to Boston in total dollars allocated, and the Cubs, Mets, Tigers and White Sox are big spenders as well. (And as the Cubs and Mets in particular have proven, it's not how much you spend... it's how it's spent.)
Speaking of high payrolls, the common belief among people is the Red Sox only came into their financial might after winning the 2004 World Series, as this author appears to indicate.
And yet the Red Sox have always ranked among the top teams in salary, and only twice in the last 11 years has the payroll been under $100 million. Knock the Red Sox for financial might all you want, but recognize that the "lovable losers" so beloved from 2000-04 spent plenty of money. You can't have it both ways. The issue here isn't money. It's that the Red Sox lost all the time despite the money. What's changed? The Red Sox now actually win.
The author then goes on to say Red Sox fans "blindly maintained" the "self-satisfaction about being a bunch of scruffy underdogs ... while winning the 2007 World Series with a payroll almost $90 million higher than Colorado's."
I'd love to see some actual data to back this up, otherwise it's simply an ad hominem attack. Where is this author getting evidence that Red Sox fans "blindly maintained" the underdog status? Everyone knew going in to the 2007 series that despite the Rocktober run of Colorado that the Red Sox were the team to beat. Is that supposed to make Sox fans feel any less enthusiastic about winning the '07 World Series?
I'll tell you this about the 2007 title and why it was just as important as 2004: once 2004 came and went and people came off the high of finally having won the title, a lot of Red Sox fans became fearful it would be the only title Boston would win in a very, very long time. After all, the team had just gone 86 years without a ring. That's why 2007 was so important to the team and really woke the fanbase up to the fact that the Red Sox could be for real. In fact, while the 2004 World Series win was met with unbridled joy, the '07 title was met more with relief, especially after fully knowing the Red Sox were the favorites. (Not "scrappy underdogs.") If you'll recall, most of the Red Sox hatred that persists to this day only started with 2007's victory. And that probably comes from Red Sox fans realizing -- and shifting how they root as a result -- that these Red Sox were for real, and we could actually -- gasp -- expect Boston to win in the future. But somehow, expecting the team to win has become equated with being an insufferable hypocrite when all it did was finally pull Red Sox fans out of the pessimistic, fearful gutter.
When I first started Fire Brand of the American League, my tagline was that I was a "cautiously optimistic" Red Sox blogger. And boy, let me tell you, being cautiously optimistic as a Red Sox fan through the 2007 season was quite a rare breed.
The last thing the author trots out is that Red Sox fans have "the biggest legion of bandwagon fans in the country," beating the Yankees as baseball's best draw in road attendance in 2005, 2007 and 2008 and routinely ranking near the top the other seasons. What this author likes to ignore is that the Red Sox also ranked top 10 in road attendance from 2001-2004. This is not solely a product of the Red Sox reinventing themselves as a winner -- although it certainly helps.
There's a better reason for road attendance: the exodus of Massachusetts residents. For years now, Massachusetts has been losing population in droves to warmer climates, whether that's California, Florida or even places such as Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. It's no secret that Camden Yards in Baltimore is adorned in red when the Red Sox visit, but that was the case even prior to 2004. An anecdote a Red Sox fan shared was that at least a decade ago (that's pre-2002 for you folks) the Red Sox were ranked the second-most popular team in the Southeast behind the Braves according to Baseball Weekly. And let's be honest: who else but Red Sox fans were going to show up in Baltimore with the Orioles losing over 90 games routinely?
Hey, it's definitely possible the Red Sox have the most bandwagon fans of any team. But to use road attendance as a barometer is silly.
I'm not surprised in the slightest that Red Sox fans rank among the worst in the country. But a lot of it is misunderstood. Red Sox fans are no more obnoxious than they were prior to the title. The difference is its just grating now, whereas before it was endearing as lovable losers.
Yes, there are bad Red Sox fans out there. I've run into them, and there's no denying that it exists, just like it exists for every single team. It just so happens that it exists on a larger scale due to the size of followers -- Massachusetts may be a small state, but New England is a big region. But to indicate that Red Sox fans feel entitled to win makes no sense. The better phrasing would be that Sox fans continue to be desperate to win. After years of losing, all the fans want is to hold onto the good times and keep it rolling. Obnoxious is not the word to describe Red Sox fans, and it's quite frankly a cop out.
The biggest factor in Red Sox fans landing on the worst sports fans list has nothing to do with how the fans have changed with the World Series titles. It's that there are actually World Series titles to celebrate. Winning is what has changed, and winning breeds contempt. Is it any reason, then, that of the top 15 worst sports fans, all except the Oakland Raiders are fans of hugely successful franchises?
Do you want Red Sox fans to apologize for winning two World Series and hoping -- expecting -- to win more?
Just like fans of any other team, that's not happening.
|More MLB coverage|