Red Sox fandom in the wake of two World Series does continue to change. It would be impossible for it not to. From $90 ticket prices to the advent of Web-based social networking to new statistical approaches for evaluating on-field talent, the team and the sport and the nature of sports in general have changed.
And maybe Shaughnessy has at least half a point, aside from the one on top of his head, when he notes the growing boldness of requests from Red Sox Nation, whether directed at the front office or invisible baseball gods. We used to fear their wrath, and now we are making more demands. In fact, the demands began before the dust had even really settled on the final out of the 2007 season. Even that night in Denver, Red Sox fans began what would become a ubiquitous chant over the next several months: “Re-sign Lowell!” Yes, right there in the wake of a victory no one would’ve expected even five years ago, Red Sox fans were already looking ahead to the 2008 roster, and making their wishes known. And so many Red Sox fans can plead guilty to at least some of the criticism levied against them: we remain, at times, a strange mix of sentimental and ruthless, and vocal participants in all the goings-on that surround our team.
Where I disagree with today’s Sox critics is in describing this as a recent phenomenon. This behavior, it turns out, has its own tradition, but it’s rooted not in the Bambino and 1918. Instead, it’s to be found in the dynasty era of the Red Sox, and the early days of the American League.
The Royal Rooters are the most well-documented early Red Sox fans. They actually existed before the team did, and were part of what led American League founder Ban Johnson to establish a new team in Boston. According to Glenn Stout’s gold-standard history of the team, Red Sox Century, Mike Lowell in 2007 was certainly not the first player whose contract earned the scrutiny and vocal lobbying interest of Red Sox fans.
The Royal Rooters above all others show that we have something of a tradition in this town of being annoying (just ask the 1903 Pirates), as well as of being overly invested, overly identified, and perhaps overly involved with the day to day workings of this team.
For more recent evidence that unfavorable comparisons of today’s Red Sox fan with the pre-World Series edition are perhaps misguided, here’s an excerpt from my 2003 edition of Century that would surely rankle the Boston-weary national audience were it written in a national sports column right now:
Since fans here believe they deserve to win, losing, particularly in more recent seasons, means more than just the loss of a simple game. Here, losing isn’t a transient event. It’s a permanent affront, a challenge, an insult and a slur. It is truly a loss, for losing deprives Boston fans of something they feel they’ve already earned.
And that’s why in Boston, in a funny way, any victory that doesn’t result in a world championship isn’t really winning at all but just another form of loss, which makes the experience of rooting for the Red Sox a peculiarly devout experience. That’s what makes Boston fans special; they are different, and they know it.
It might be that we have just never crossed paths so much, especially not as victors, with fans in other places. It might be that we will continue to misunderstand each other for years into the future. It might be that we will always misunderstand each other. But in the end, I don’t put much stock in the idea that Red Sox fans have suddenly become fundamentally different, or that they’ve suddenly sprouted personality traits others find annoying that weren’t in evidence before.
And so even with all the differences between our two World Championships I find myself closing this essay with a thought similar to the last one—that if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that we in Boston and New England will continue to weave the Red Sox heavily into our daily lives. That we will continue to struggle with the ways it intersects with the rest of our culture, and with reconciling it against our past. But we will never stop wanting more.
GO RED SOX