Red Sox Backlash
That’s not to say the specter of history was totally absent this time around. Many Sox haters seized on comparisons to 1978, for example, as well as memories of the previous year’s sequel to ‘78’s Boston Massacre, as the Sox went into a funk from June to September.
And oh, yes, there was that matter of Red Sox haters, and Red Sox hatred. No summary of this year would be complete without mentioning that relatively new and venomous phenomenon.
I first started becoming aware that perhaps all was not hunky dory vis a vis Boston in Greater Sportsfanland during conversations I had with Brian, a coworker of mine who’s become a friend, and who is also a lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan. Since we met post-World Series, in 2005, there was never the bond of commiseration between us I’ve experienced with some other Cubs fans. Instead, I was surprised at times to hear Brian make statements indeed about the “odd mix of insecurity and arrogance” of Red Sox fans.
Brian’s the kind of guy who doesn’t mind getting your goat. In fact, you could sometimes call that his MO. But as the year progressed, our friendly jibes turned to argument, and as the Red Sox inched toward another postseason while the Cubs fell apart, things actually even got a little hostile.
Finally, by September, we had a lengthy conversation touched off by some statements from Brian about his impression of Red Sox fans, which was even worse than it had been to begin the year, and had a lot to do with our well-documented xenophobia. He seemed put off by my admitted tendency only to “see” baseball players when they appear in Red Sox uniform. He found my exclusive focus on the Red Sox a kind of bigotry. (We have since worked all this out—I have no beef with Brian, but these exchanges between us were big influences on my baseball year and a good example of the kind of dialogue that went on about the Red Sox.)
He wasn’t alone. When Evan Brunell put up a post on MVN’s Last Page on Oct. 7 entitled “What it means to be part of Red Sox Nation”, the responses were quick and disagreeable. Evan’s second commenter wrote:
Get with the program boys and girls, you people stopped being lovable losers in ‘04, when you beat the Yanks. And deservedly so. The Yanks got their just desserts that year. And this club was built the same way Yankee teams have been built of late Beckette, [sic] Matzusaka, Drew, Lowell and Lugo, to name a few. So get out of fantasy land and deal with the reality that you have an excelant [sic] team RIGHT NOW. Apreciate [sic] for that [sic] and lay off this bullcrap about belonging to a “nation”
These weren’t the only examples, of course. Red Sox fans, the darlings of the country and a national sports media cottage industry in 2004, have apparently worn out their welcome. “The New Yankees fans” is a phrase I’ve heard used frequently. The rest of the country has gotten sick of our continued presence at opposing ballparks.
Scarier still, I’ve found myself falling back on some of the same ideas in response to this that I remember hearing from Yankees fans when their team was on top. When it comes to the opposing ballparks thing, for example, I’ve pointed out what all those Red Sox “carpetbaggers” are doing for the box office receipts at the other ballpark, which the opposing team’s fans apparently can’t. Believe me, even I sometimes have cognitive dissonance myself nowadays about what it means to be a Red Sox fan.
And as we’ve found ourselves lumped in with the Yankees, as another perpetrator of East Coast Bias on the beleaguered sports fans of the heartland, sometimes, oddly, paradoxically, I feel like my Yankees-fan friends and acquaintances are the only ones who understand me. (And yes, I have them.)
But it’s not just opposing fans turning on Red Sox Nation. It’s the national sports press, too, kicking over the whole castle of misunderstandings and oversimplifications it built in ’04 by way of countless columnar uses of the word “insufferable” and “greedy” and “spoiled.” Just as our masochistic tendencies clearly brought about and justified our fate in the Curse era, our current happiness about winning has apparently brought about this backlash. When, oh when, will we Red Sox fans stop shooting ourselves in the foot?
Within our own media, writers like Tony Massarotti at least make distinctions between old die-hard fans sticking around to enjoy victory and the new bandwagoners that have come to be referred to as the “pinkhats.” But the “bandwagon fan”—a straw man if I’ve ever seen one—has been reviled just as venomously in the local press as he has been nationwide.
As these generalizations and oversimplifications from both sides build on each other, I’ve begun to hear the same phrases used toward Red Sox fans that I’d heard hurled toward Yankees fans. Okay--in the interest of full disclosure, phrases I’d hurled myself.
Never heard of a nation that allowed so many “citizens” to come and go so easily… they need to intensify those borders b/c RedSoxNation sure grows when the going’s good and shrinks when the going’s bad. Sounds more like Poland 1939 vs Poland 2007…
“Like no other team in baseball, the Sox can take over your life” as they have, at times, mine.”
Ever heard of the Brooklyn Dodgers? Or the New York Giants, New York Yankees, and Chicago Cubs? Trying to compare diehard fans to other diehard fans is like comparing Budweiser to Miller… everyone likes the other for a different reason.
Red Sox fans are feeling their oats, but please relax with the superlatives. Red Sox Nation is still a ridiculous idea to every baseball fan, especially since they hijacked the idea from Raider Nation. But hey, the Sox are in the ALCS, so when else would this article be written, I must’ve missed it last year when Boston was postseason-less.
I have done a lot of thinking this year about this concept, the moral high ground allotted those in sports who can claim fandom during times of loss, and clung to by those who are still experiencing loss as other teams win. Many of us did it as Sox fans; now it’s being done to us.
Still. Greedy or not, spoiled or not, and despite the injustice it apparently visits on opposing fans, I found I genuinely hungered and thirsted for the Red Sox to reach that mountaintop again this year, albeit in a different way. Last time I wanted it for everyone—everyone in Boston, everyone who’d ever played for or rooted for the Red Sox. This time I wanted it again, but for this specific team.
I wanted to see what Jonathan Papelbon looked like celebrating a World Series victory. I wanted to see what would happen when you combined Commander Kickass with a postseason situation. It had the aura of spoliation about it, to be sure, but that was my nagging thought as the season progressed, despite my superstitious attempts to stifle it: I wanted that victory for this team.
This year’s victory added that last special ingredient to what was an already special team. It solidified the 2007 team as one for the ages, a characteristic I saw as early as Spring Training and especially in May, and it’s a validation I wanted specifically for this team, even as early as that.
No, these ain’t your daddy’s Red Sox. For better, and for worse.
Saturday: Part II--The Regular Season