SPORTS

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July 8, 2003

On dirty bandwagon fans

As a diehard fan of all five Boston sports franchises, I can safely tell you

that none of them are worth acts of violence, unless you count player-to-player violence like checking, blocking, tackling, charging the mound, and faking an injury while pretending to cry really loud so the ref will give the other guy a yellow card.

Let's face it: I'm not fighting somebody over a team that hasn't won it all in 85 years. In fact, I've actually dated one diehard Yanks fan who is now one of my closest friends. We may have yelled at each other every time the two teams met (as they did this past weekend), but at least she cared about her team, knew the roster up and down, and knew things about other teams, which meant that she wasn't some bandwagon fan that Red Sox and Yankees fans alike cannot stand. Since the two of us were together in a foreign country, I always felt like I was dating some beautiful Soviet spy-girl and could be arrested as a traitor by the CIA at any moment. And all this just because she was a part of what Sox management, in homage to President Reagan, calls "The Evil Empire."

Another time I knew someone who also claimed to like the Yankees. I asked her why, and she proceeded to give me the wrong answer: because they win. Then I asked her the only possible question one could ask at that point: Can you name one member of the New York Yankees?

Bear in mind that the Yankees at that time had huge names like  Jeter, Clemens, Justice, and Williams, but this girl couldn't name anyone. She had said that Jeter had been right on the tip of her tongue, but I didn't buy it for a second ("Isn't he that shortstop guy?"). Vintage bandwagon fan right there.

True fans say things that sound like dissent whenever their team loses too often, but they still keep coming back. When the Yankees fall apart some time in the next few years, I challenge their fans to weed out the frauds. I want to feel them spitting poison at me, even as they do so from behind Tampa Bay in the late August standings. Red Sox fans may think they want silence from the New Yorkers, but the truth is that it's no fun if the "Yankees suck!" cheer doesn't get a vehement reaction from some sub-human creature wearing a pinstriped Giambi jersey.

While you have been reading this article more than 300 Mets fans have switched over their allegiances, and at this point it's pretty much a fight to the finish between the Mets fans and the rainforest to see which of them will disappear first.

Not surprisingly, Chicago does not have the same kind of bandwagoning issues that New Yorkers struggle with. In Chicago both teams have been losing for so long that a sense of quiet desperation hovers over the entire city. The conventional wisdom says that it is absolutely impossible to be a fan of both the Cubs and the White Sox, but it is pure folly to believe any of that. Even the recent intense series between the two cross town rivals was pure illusion. I'm quite convinced that fans of both sides pretended that the games were their very own World Series.

The truth about Chicago's secret two-team loyalty system can be seen every day at either U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park) or Wrigley Field. Every time I go to a Cubs or White Sox game I hear murmurs of approval as fans check the out-of-town scoreboard and see that the "rival" has come out on top.

The only real difference between the Chicago teams is that the Cubs have to deal with the issues that go along with being both a baseball franchise and a tourist attraction. The Cubs are also a never-ending trend among the Chicago chic and even some old-fashioned baseball intellectuals. But weed all of that out, and the two teams are the same.

Is the Chicago phenomenon morally excusable? My gut reaction is to say that it is, if only because of the fact that 80 plus years of collective suffering can really break the back of any fan base. Thus a black and blue Chicago exists because it has to. I'm sure Bostonians would have had the same problem (at least until the 1990s) if the Braves had stayed in Massachusetts where they belonged.