Wednesday, May 06, 2009
I was listening to the local sports-talk channel this morning ... been doing that a bit lately, the remodel leaves plenty of space in the bathroom so I tossed a little radio in there, and I catch a few minutes of Gary Radnich while I'm in the shower. Gary was making the claim that even a Giants fan should tip our caps to the Dodgers for their record-setting start to the season. The other guy in the studio, don't know his name, thought this was nonsense.
I've written about this before, often with Landon Donovan and other ex-Earthquakes as the instigating factor. I've always thought that athletes are not necessarily fans of their sport. But now I think I've got it wrong. There are at least two types of sports fans, and athletes often fall into the "other" type from yours truly. That "other" type appreciates the sport more than they cheer for a particular team. I can be like that when I have no stake in either of the competing teams. Watching two matches between Barcelona and Chelsea, I don't have a rooting interest ... what I want to see is good matches. That means I'm probably rooting for Barca, since they are generally more entertaining than Chelsea, but if Chelsea wins AND entertains, that's fine with me. (Of course, Chelsea purposely drained the first match of entertainment value, making it easier to root for Barca.)
But ... and this is where I differ from most athletes, from Gary Radnich, and from that part of me who roots for a "good match" when I don't care who wins. I am a fan of teams before I am a fan of the games they play. I am a Giants fan first, a baseball fan second. Same goes for the 49ers, or the Warriors, or Cal, or the Earthquakes. Being a fan in this manner is about more than just the game on the field. As Nick Hornby, the patron saint of all fans who also read books, puts it, when you root for your team, it's not vicarious. It is "your" team. I've been with the Giants since 1958 ... no player can match that (which is why all dedicated Giants fans know the name of the team's equipment manager, because he, too, has been there since '58). Part of being a fan of a team is that you have disdain for your team's rivals. As the saying goes, my favorite team is the Giants. My second favorite team is whoever is playing the Dodgers.
A baseball fan can only tip their caps to the Dodgers for their fine start. A Giants fan, though, must by definition poop on anything related to the Dodgers, no matter how good it is from an objective point of view. One of the most famous events in baseball history came when Kirk Gibson homered off of Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. Eck was my favorite player, and I hadn't yet developed my dislike of A's fans (that came in 2002), so while I wasn't as broken-hearted as were A's fans, it hurt to watch Gibson trot around the bases. But ... and I remember this quite well ... as it happened, my thoughts weren't about Eck or the A's. I wanted to cry, because the Dodgers had won the game, and I knew immediately that I'd be staring at replays of that homer for the rest of my life.
So no, I am not tipping my cap to the Dodgers.
One thing has to be admitted, though. The reason I am such a shit is likely connected to the fact that the team I like best, the baseball Giants, have never won the World Series. It's hard to be magnanimous when you're lying on your back. Especially when you have the dark suspicion that you'll never get up in your lifetime.
I'm curious, Steven, if you can relate this thought to music. (I have no choice but to relate it to music because I haven't followed a sport seriously in about 27 years.) I'm guessing that we represent opposite trains of thought here, though I can only speak for myself. As a music fan -- especially the older I get -- I rarely give a shit about artists. I'm largely uninterested in career trajectories, and if I love something by a particular artist this year it doesn't follow that I will like or even want to investigate whatever it is they release next year. There have obviously been exceptions throughout my lifetime (and I followed artists obsessively when I was younger, of course, as every pop fan does), but I have to rack my brain to think of a single exception in the current decade (I mean of an artist who has emerged in the last ten years... still racking my brain). I listen to and think about music as much as I ever have at any time in my life, but I guess I prefer the equivalent of a good match over a particular team (in pop terms, let's call it "a good song" over "a great artist").
Posted by: scott | Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 08:01 PM
I'd never thought of this, but it makes sense. And you get at something important about pop music that I don't know we always remember, that we respond differently as we age. Blanket assumptions are often dangerous, but they might be especially so when thinking about popular culture, where how something like music matters to us when we're young isn't necessarily the same when we're older. I think about how I cared more about albums back in the day, and assume it's all about the way music is made available to us nowadays ... but maybe it's just that when I was young, I had plenty of time to devote to listening to albums all the way through.
I know that one reason among many that I was so sad when Sleater-Kinney went on "hiatus" is because I was fairly certain I'd never again have that obsessive absorption with a particular artist. And the reason I was certain was because I'm in my 50s, and I don't have the same energy for that kind of thing. And it takes a lot of energy.
So now, yes, I find good songs more to my liking than great artists. Which may be why I like Pink so much ... good songs, good-not-great artist.
Posted by: Steven | Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 08:14 PM
This is interesting. I think you're right about players being (more often) fans of their game. As a historian, I tend to think of it as a kind of reverence, maybe smallness, a baseball player feels as part of a long tradition. In it, it's hard to see yourself and any one player or team as all that big a deal COMPARED TO the game. For hardcore fans, what we understand best IS that bigness, of which we are a very large part. We don't have to feel small as individuals compared to a game for we don't exist that way. We exist as part of a huge organism that helps makes players feel small. We are the bigness of baseball.
That said--and I don't say this to brag--that might be the reason LA is far less into the rivalry than SF. Most fans down here don't like the Giants but don't spend much thought on them either. BUT...bring up the Yankees, and people clench their butt. We've won 6 World Series™ and lost 12 (won 5 and lost 4 since the move to LA). Eight of those losses are to the Yanks, who we bested only 3 times (1-7 for the Brooklyn days). That's the big show, and that's where the big story is written. For all the hype of SF vs. LA, it's nothing more than a local history transplanted. And LA doesn't remember yesterday, let alone history.
Posted by: Tomás | Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 01:50 AM
I have to admit, it's a pleasure reading your thoughts, here and elsewhere ... we give each other shit about our respective teams, but I'm fascinated by your take, and I suspect you've spent more than a little time thinking about this, which is why we're far more alike than different.
Up north, we're well aware that the LA-SF thing is more important to us than to the southerners, not just in baseball, either. I don't suppose it's on purpose ... like you say, you don't spend much thought on us ... but it's really the perfect way to make us pissed off. We exert so much effort in your direction, and you don't care, brushing us off like you're a dog and we're a flea.
And you can't be a Giants fan without a sense of history, because the fact we've never won is the central experience of our lives as fans. What's worse, no one cares about us ... for whatever reason, we're not lovable like Cubs fans. Heck, most baseball fans rooted for the Angels in 2002 because Gene Autry carried more resonance than anything we could cough up. Win One for the Cowboy ... and he was dead, it was really Win One for the Cowboy's Widow.
Posted by: Steven | Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 07:59 AM
As a guy who was physically threatened at the stick and more recently at Pac Smell, I share your sense of allegiance. I take comfort in knowing that, if you were born in Brooklyn and raised in LA, you'd make a terrific fan and we'd buy each other beers for life. So, I can tip my cap to you, although I might put you on my Facebook list of five people I'd love to punch. I admit, though, that I love the game more than the team and while I will never give Bonds his due...not because of juicing, because they're all juicers of one kind or another..but because he wears those ugly colors. Yet, I have to admit to you that in the latter innings of a Reds-Dodgers game when Browning tossed a perfect game against us, I stood and cheered for him...because as a fan, I'd rather see a perfect game than my team win. I guess that's the difference between us...besides the obvious. See, i would put Mays on my list of five great players I've been fortunate to see. The others would be Aaron, Bench, Mantle, and (wait for it) Koufax.
I do have an avid dislike of other teams, too. The Angels, The Yanks, The Redsox. How do you win two series in a century and suddenly have a "nation". They make me puke.
In another life, we'd buy each other tickets and pay for parking.
Posted by: gabby | Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 09:08 AM
Gabby, Bruce Fan-ness overrides everything else!
Posted by: Steven | Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 09:11 AM
raise your hand! blood brothers!!!!
Posted by: gabby | Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 01:34 PM