clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A philosophy of fandom

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

What's scary is the nature of our young fan base. We need to educate them. We need them to be loyal to the organization and not waver because of a tough season, a season where it really seems like we've been snake-bitten.
  -- Derrick Hall, June 27, 2009

Important Disclaimer. All of what follows is personal opinion, discussing my opinion of what fandom means to me. Fandom is like religion in some ways, in that everyone has their own - while there may be broad areas of agreement, it is a potential minefield for discussion. Nothing here is meant to denigrate "your" approach to fandom, which is every bit as valid as anyone else's. Ok? Right, after the jump, let's get on. It's semi-rambling and leaps about a bit, but hopefully you'll find it interesting.


Fandom in team sports doesn't make a great deal of sense: you are rooting for a nebulous entity, called 'The Arizona Diamondbacks.' Few of the players on the team now were here three years ago - and with the departure of Randy Johnson, the last tie to the 2001 World Series, which cemented so many of us as die-hards, is gone. Yet both the breadth and depth of sports fandom is unsurpassed in America: I'm pretty sure a higher percentage of people would identify themselves as fans of a team, than fans of a TV series or band. The former is seen as 'geeky', the latter generally the provenance of the young. But the majority of people have a team they support, in one or more sports.

What it provides is a element of drama that, let's be honest, is largely missing from most people's lives - and this is largely a good thing. Just as horror films provide a safe, controlled outlet in which death and violence can be encountered, so supporting a team provide an adrenaline thrill and the chance to experience uncertainty and tension, not found in most 'normal' jobs, outside of the armed forces. For three hours a night, we live or die with the team: but at the end of the day, we turn off the TV and go to bed, because it doesn't matter.

It's also based on a cycle of expectation, usually followed by disappointment. Obviously, there can be only one World Series winner, but three-quarters of the teams in the National League won't see playoff baseball this year. At the time of writing (thanks to interleague play), only six of the sixteen even have winning records. No team wins every year. Heck, it's not that long ago even the MFY went an entire decade without getting into the post-season [1982-1993, including back-to-back seasons with more than ninety losses], though it's certainly true that their resources now help them to stay competitive. But last season, their $209m payroll - $65m+ more than any other team in the history of the game had ever spent - still didn't buy them a playoff spot. Great, wasn't it? :-)

Logically, failure is more likely than success, yet as we've seen lately in Arizona, the absence of success can triigger a major crisis - a team's failure is our failure, while if our team does well, it boosts self-esteem. A study at Indiana University showed fans a game, then asked how they thought they'd do at various tasks. Consistently, there was a sharp rise in confidence in abilities after a win, and a corresponding drop after a loss. Fans were even far more likely to say they could get a person of the opposite sex to go on a date. Yet failure can be as binding a force as success: look at Cubs fans, or Red Sox ones prior to 2004. There was something semi-masochistic and admirable about being a Boston fan in those days; now, they're the Yankees Lite. One wonders what would happen to Cubs fandom if they ever did win the World Series. It might just spontaneously combust.

This is perhaps what Hall meant about a "young fan-base"; the one in Arizona has not been through the cycles of failure and success, and know that neither should be expected to last forever. To quote Rudyard Kipling, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same..." Personally, I don't think my interest in or passion for the Diamondbacks is significantly connected to their won-lost record. Sure, it certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience when they win 90 games a season, rather than lose them, but I can't say, for example, that I have watched any fewer games this year than in 2007.

That's what I think differentiates die-hard fans from the more casual ones - I certainly fall into the latter category with regard to the Arizona Cardinals. I was cheering as hard as anyone for them in the SuperBowl, but the instant it was over, I went right back to ignoring them. Bandwagon jumper? Fair-weather fan? Guilty as charged, absolutely. It may be that four division titles and a World Series in the first decade may have 'spoiled' Arizona fans. It just isn't a normal pattern for any team, let alone an expansion franchise - only one of the nine other teams founded since 1969 won even a single crown in their first decade [the Royals]. Is it realistic to expect this to continue?

Face it. We Arizona fans have had it incredibly easy during the lifespan of the franchise. Just compare our expansion siblings in Tampa, who took eleven attempts to avoid losing ninety games. Dammit: those fans really earned that 2008 trip to the World Series. Or the Marlins and Rockies: 32 seasons combined, and not a division between them. The Rangers: this is their 49th year, including the time in Washington, and they have one playoff game win. I could go on. This is why, as an Diamondbacks fan, when I read some of the posts on azcentral com bemoaning the current state of the team, I feel I'm reading texts from whiny teenage girls to their friends, upset because their rich daddy won't buy them a new Corvette and a nose-job.

Not that there isn't ground for legitimate criticism - though it can get drowned out in the noise, and I'm deliberately steering clear of specifics for now, as it'd basically be piling on after the weekend. But I think management has been guilty, wittingly or not, of promoting unrealistic expectations This team was touted as one which would, at the very least, be competitive - that clearly isn't  the case, and may be a major cause of the subsequent backlash, While there's no comparison between this roster and 2004, a big difference is, I don't think anyone expected much from Jerry's Kids: in 2003, we finished 16.5 games back, which didn't exactly trigger great hope for the following year. In contrast, last season, we led from the end of the first week until the start of September and finished just two back. What we have in 2009 is not just failure, it's unexpected failure.

That is particularly frustrating due to the weird relationship between teams and fans. It's symbiotic, in that neither could exists without the other, yet the power is almost all on the team's side. Again, this is where it becomes almost closer to a religion, because we have to take it almost entirely on faith that those who are running things have 'our' best interests at heart. As fans, there is almost nothing we can do to influence the decisions made on our behalf. We go to the game, or not. We cheer or boo [though the latter has come in for strong criticism from some quarters]. Nowadays, we post angst-ridden rants on sites like this. Really, that's about it. And when things do not turn out as we've been told they would, a sense of disappointment verging on betrayal is very understandable.

My relationship with the team is, from this end, like the one I had with the Snakepitette during her teenage years. It was frequently infuriating, because anything I said pretty much had no effect, yet I still cared deeply, even if I could do little more than hope that things worked out okay in the end [and, I'm pleased to report, they have done, more or less]. Just as that's a bond that can't be broken, as part of the hardcore fanbase, there is nothing the team could do which would drive me away.  I just cannot imagine cheering for another baseball team, and the odds of me shifting allegiance to the Suns or Cardinals are even slimmer.

Your 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks. Can't live with 'em - can't tie them up in a burlap bag and toss 'em in the Salt River...