Fandom: A Recipe

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What does it take to be a good fan? Faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence, and moderation, says John Thorn, in one of the best pieces of writing on baseball I’ve read in some time. A sample:

As players have wrung ever more money from the game — redressing a century of wage slavery — a chasm has come to separate fans from the objects of their admiration. (Players have always taken a dim view of them.) Older fans may long for a return to the days when a Brooklyn boy might bump into Gil Hodges on the streets of Bay Ridge, but they know that ballplayers have fled the lunch-bucket fraternity for good.

Younger fans, however, have taken matters into their own hands through the strange revenge of fantasy baseball, which encourages them to act like oldtime owners, holding full sway over their chattel. In turn, this view of ballplayers as mere property — rather than members of a team and champions of civic pride — has spawned a mob hauteur. For an increasing number of today’s devotees, the players are game pieces whose failure to perform to expectation triggers simmering frustration, even rage. The logorrhea of the blogs and talk radio further fuels fans’ impatience and sense of entitlement.

I share Thorn’s reservations about rotisserie baseball, though I’m not sure it’s the only (or even the primary) culprit in changing the way younger fans relate to players. That said, this essay, in its entirety, is well worth the time—it’s full of ideas, knowledge, and suave turns of phrase that let you know you’re in the hands of a true master. Another of Thorn’s finds, Washington’s Swampdoodle Grounds pictured ca. 1886, is above.

13 comments… add one
  • Agreed, a very nice piece. I’m always fascinated by others’ attempts to describe, classify or organize the different modes and components of fandom. In a way, I’m almost as interested in fans as I am in the game (of which I’m a fan).
    Especially when it comes to how fans viewed the game and its players in different eras. I’ve read accounts of those times, and read the opinions of writers of different ages, but it always sounds filtered (because it probably is) by various factors. When I don’t relate to something, it’s hard to tell if that’s my fault or the writer’s, or if there’s something there that’s just incommunicable.
    For example, when Thorn connects the dots from today’s absence of “lunch-bucket” players to the rise of fantasy Baseball and then to fans’ “entitlement”, I don’t understand. Am I supposed to feel a personal connection to players, like I might meet one on the street, to appreciate Baseball correctly? Is that the way that someone in the ’30s enjoyed the game, because the players were his “buddies”?
    I could go on, but I love food for thought like this. I’m sure (I hope) there will be much discussion. Props, YF.

    FenSheaParkway July 16, 2008, 6:52 pm
  • I think there is a difference between what was originally known as ‘rotisserie baseball’ and what is now commonly called ‘fantasy baseball’. I grew up on Strat-o-Matic baseball, a game that was based on statistics and, of course, luck. When I began playing rotisserie baseball (way back in 1989), there was no popular use of the internet, and playing the “game” meant hours of research into farm systems and attempts to understand what made prospects into good players, and what made good players valuable. Everyone who played rotisserie, at least in my league, was a diehard baseball lover, a fan. There was no sense that the players we drafted, signed to contracts, traded, were “chattel”. Most of us who played in that league are now either touching 40, in our mid-40s, with a couple of guys in their 50s.
    Fantasy baseball, on the other hand, is a product of the internet and the information age. It is a game about formula and instant gratification. Our league (and original rotisserie baseball and also Ultra) was in some ways a simulation of the real game (long-term contracts, minor league drafts, the underrated nature of middle relievers — this was one of my secrets of success!). We drafted players with an eye for growing a team around them (literally — I drafted Bernie Williams when he was in AAA and he was on my team for six years, I waited and waited for him to play a full season, and I drafted A-Rod barely after he was drafted by the Mariners with the first pick in our minor league draft and he stuck with us until we made a 3 for 1 deadline deal and he moved on), and their successes and failures mimicked ours. In a lot of ways, my love for baseball and the subtleties of the game was enhanced by rotisserie baseball, and it would take a great deal of cynicism to interpret our league as anything other than a means to immerse ourselves in the game more than we could by just watching it on television.
    Modern fantasy baseball strikes me as something different, and perhaps what Thorn is alluding to. Fantasy baseball, especially online fantasy baseball, is about more instant gratification, about picking players week-to-week or year-to-year and moving on once the flavor of the month has changed. Our league (and Rotisserie in it’s intended format) was hardly about that at all. I think there is an important distinction to be made between the game that was founded back in the 1980s and the game that is played now.

    SF July 16, 2008, 9:10 pm
  • Heh, though I’m not as old school as SF, I’m in a 7th year dynasty league, and everyone’s team is built from scratch and reinvented time and time again.
    Ten years ago, we used to do a h2h points league off Excel spreadsheets and newspapers. That was pretty intense.

    Lar July 16, 2008, 9:58 pm
  • Lar, I used to get deep in it with rotisserie. Drafts literally impacted our team for years. I loved it, but had to stop when it began taking too much time, work got busy, and I met my wife. I don’t miss some of the “stresses” of the game, it became all-consuming. I do miss the information I learned, though, the amount of research I did was a bit obsessive. I knew K-rates for rookie league pitchers in the Mariners system, which in the end is kind of neat but also a bit wacko.
    For the record, I also drafted David Arias from AA, who went on to become Big Papi. Unfortunately I stopped playing about the time he left the Twins.

    SF July 17, 2008, 10:26 am
  • I would love to find a “dynasty” league where you keep your players from year to year and draft players. To be honest I didn’t know those existed!
    I was big into Stratomatic as a kid though.

    Atheose July 17, 2008, 10:50 am
  • I have a friend that’s been playing a football keeper league for close to 10 years, it’s insane how in to it this “owner group” is. These are four guys who’s lives could not have possibly gone in more different directions but this team, the league, keeps them together. One of them even did time for tax evasion, but managed to still participate from behind bars.
    It also might have something to do with why he’s 36, good looking, successful, yet single.

    LocklandSF July 17, 2008, 11:05 am
  • While I would have like to have played rotisserie, I’ve never known enough people who might have shared a similar interest in keeping stats, or even Baseball in general, to have pursued so engrossing an activity. But I would like a word of defense for online fantasy Baseball.
    I can’t vouch for how other leagues or players might operate, but I don’t see it promoting a different sort of fandom than roto did. It just includes more people. Part of the popularity is that it is so easy, that the casual fan can participate. I used to organize a Yahoo league (which became more difficult every year I go without purchasing a computer) and had to find people to fill it. These people were often casual fans who, through playing in the league, were much more invested in Baseball than they would have been that summer without it.
    Roto might be designed for the hard-core fan, but if you can’t find enough of them, modern fantasy encourages greater interest from casual ones. Especially if you write a weekly newsletter for it.

    FenSheaParkway July 17, 2008, 11:07 am
  • It also might have something to do with why he’s 36, good looking, successful, yet single.
    I played WoW (World of Warcraft for all you old fogies) for over a year, pretty much in every spare moment I had that wasn’t spent at work or in class. I quit cold turkey after going on a first date with my current girlfriend, whom I have now been dating 3 years. Easy choice.

    Atheose July 17, 2008, 11:17 am
  • As eloquent as Thorn’s essay is, it has an element of syrupy romanticism that feels insulting. Frankly, the relationship between fans and players has always been complicated – all you need to do is cite Ted Williams and Jim Rice as two guys who didn’t exactly garner tremendous love from Sox fans (and the media was even worse with them) and you realize that this wasn’t because of fantasy baseball, or the internet, or anything else. Thorn may want us all to stay til the last out even if our team is losing by ten, but maybe Thorn doesn’t have a 4 year old at home who gets up at 6am.
    I love the romantic aspect of the game and the idealistic attitude towards the sport, I truly love baseball and the pageantry and also the just-plain ordinary stuff that goes on in the park. I love reading box scores (not playing rotisserie baseball has made reading box scores so much more enjoyable, somewhat to Thorn’s thesis). I love reading Angell. But there is certainly an element of blame the victim here, a bit of antiquated sentimentality. Written beautifully, yes, but also a tad unfair in its generalizations to many sincere fans, both young and old.

    SF July 17, 2008, 11:20 am
  • “(not playing rotisserie baseball has made reading box scores so much more enjoyable, somewhat to Thorn’s thesis)”
    I’m curious. How is it more enjoyable? And I’m not being confrontational here. I just haven’t read a boxscore sans fantasy baseball in 6 years.

    Nick-YF July 17, 2008, 11:26 am
  • I think there’s no inherent disappointment in seeing your fantasy players doing poorly. I could pick up a box score between the Royals and Athletics (two teams I don’t care about) and objectively say “Hmm, Grienke didn’t give up any runs but he only lasted 5 innings? He needs to be more economical with his pitches.”
    Meanwhile, if I check that same boxscore and Frank Thomas (who is on my fantasy team) went 0-4 with 3K’s I go “Goddamnit Big Hurt, stop sucking!”

    Atheose July 17, 2008, 11:30 am
  • It is more enjoyable because I read box scores now to find out more about games, to see who did what and how, I love deciphering them. When I played rotisserie I would look at box scores to see how “my guys” did, I was more singularly focused on them since I had a more specific vested interest in the performances. Now I read box scores not to see how my team did, but to see what happened in the game as a whole, the way they were intended. I find this more enjoyable, even though I loved playing rotisserie.
    Going back to Thorn’s essay, Gil Hodges played ball in the 40s, 50s and 60s, his career began over 60 years ago. “Older fans” who yearn for the days of possibly running into Gil in Bay Ridge are, at the youngest hitting retirement age, or, if still alive, in their 70s or 80s. He excludes a lot of people with statements like the one about the pragmatism of these “older fans”. As much as YF loves this essay, I find it a tad demeaning to a vast number of baseball lovers far younger than the ones who know they aren’t going run into Gil in Brooklyn. Are the aged the only ones with wisdom? This essay smacks of Buzz Bissinger, without the bile.

    SF July 17, 2008, 11:37 am
  • Ath – I did mine on Yahoo, though there’s a lot of input.
    But time is half the reason why we do dynasty leagues. I mean, sure, you might have to be more hardcore (to know prospects coming up) but we don’t have to do research every year on the huge draft (because we’ve been keeping players) and it’s vaguely stagnant because of that – for example, my outfield was Manny, Vlad, and Dunn. Okay, they’re not awesome, but they make it easy for me to ignore OF prospects. Though by the looks of it, I can’t afford to do that next season!
    We don’t do minor leagues though, which might or might not make it “fair”, since people always save up their waiver picks for the uber prospects.
    But ya, it’s a strange sense of attachment. (which mightbe why I should affinity for semi-random players) I’ve had Jake Peavy ever since he was a rookie. I still kick myself for dropping Santana, Johan, right before his first Cy Young year. I still look at Prior wondering what could’ve been. I dropped finally dropped Lidge after a few subpar years to see him dominate this year. I kick myself for choosing Carlos Gullen over Utley a few years ago.
    This might not be how people play fantasy anymore, but that’s how I play, even if it’s a daily league with many add/drops.
    By the way, I grew up in Bay Ridge, so it probably would’ve been neat to see people, but ah well.

    Lar July 17, 2008, 12:24 pm

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