This, friends and loved ones, is what you’d call a timely piece reacting to the news, with the news in question being that boos rained down on Bryce Harper when he made his major-league debut in Dodger Stadium and that subsequent to said boos many members of the Baseball Twitterati condemned the entire city of Los Angeles as uncouth and unsporting. Japes about leaving the game early were made. You get the idea.
So here’s the thing: why do we care what other fans do? For that matter, why do we care what the fans of our own team do? Why do we care what anyone does at the base ball game if no one gets hurt?
Here’s who I’m totally cool yelling at: people running onto the field, people touching a ball that’s in play, people throwing stuff, people who get in fights, people who cuss too much when kids are listening, people yelling racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted things, and people who shove other people to get a foul ball (or even a home-run ball). There are probably a few others, but that’s mostly it.
Here is who you should just leave alone: people who have wrong opinions about baseball, people who clearly don’t know anything about the team they’re watching besides that Derek Jeter has nice eyes or that Mark Teixeira is a totally awesome bro, people who boo for bad reasons, people who boo for no reason, people on their cell phones on TV, people who start The Wave, people who continue The Wave, people who participate in all the silly scoreboard things (like doing the Macarena or singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas”), people who refuse to participate in any scoreboard things, people who jump up excitedly on basically any 200-foot fly-ball, people who arrive late, people who leave early, and people who don’t show up at all.
The distinction between the two groups of behaviors should hopefully be clear: the first group actually harms the game itself or the viewing experience, but the second group causes, at most, momentary irritation. A family shows up in the second inning and has seats in the middle of the row. You have to stand up to let them pass. Quelle horreur! The kids get cranky and they bail out in the eighth inning of a one-run game. You have to stand up again. The injustice of it all!
I can’t help but think that being annoyed at fans for engaging in any of the activities in the second group is pure baseball-fan elitism. Which is a weird thing to be elitist about, right? “I’m a better fan than you because I’m here for the game, not the spectacle!” Well, ok, but what does that get you? Being elitist about grammar or some skill you have isn’t very nice, but at least there’s something tangible you can point to: “I’m more likely to get a job than you.” “My blog will win more awards than yours.” What does being the world’s best fan get you? Does being able to recite all of your team’s Hall of Famers in chronological order while your seat neighbor can’t even name three members of the starting lineup win you any prizes? Does being there For The Love Of The Game instead of liking hot dogs and stupid scoreboard dances bring you closer to your god? Is that the key to the eternal kingdom?
And that assumes that you are a better fan. What if you’re not? Can you articulate a ranking system for fandom? A set of metrics to help us decide for sure that the grumpy guy with the scorecard who turns his cell phone off is a better fan than the father of two who’s always preferred football but needed somewhere to take the kids? What makes the person who puts baseball higher on their list of life priorities the grand arbiter of which behavior is and isn’t ok at the park? Who, in short, put you in charge?
Particularly ridiculous is when fans use some incident as an excuse to dredge up every old stereotype or grudge they have against another fan-base. As Jay Jaffe has demonstrated (and as I’ve also demonstrated, though far less skillfully), there’s at least one good reason to hate every team and every fan-base. You and your team are not exempt. Your team’s fans are not special. They’re obnoxious and have weird tics and do things that piss the rest of us off, just like we piss you off. “Dodgers fans always leave early” is already a stupid thing to complain about. “At least Dodgers fans won’t be there in the ninth inning to boo Bryce Harper” is just absurd. Why do you care?
Let me also point out, in closing, and as sort of an aside, that every team has millions of fans. Literally. Millions. You’ll never meet the vast, vast majority of them. You’ll never even meet most of the ones who attend any given game. And yet one of our favorite things to do is to judge an entire group of millions of people on the actions of the asshole on the cell-phone behind home plate or the dudes in the expensive seats who have the temerity to wear a suit instead of Real Baseball Gear to the park or the horrendous human beings who beat up Bryan Stow. Can we not do that?