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October 17, 2003

Fans of Losers

As is my capricious right, I'm going to go ahead and elevate this out of the comment thread for "Dear Cubs Fans." It comes from "Bowler" who writes:

This is the one point where I think I lose interest in your writing. I realize you write for a national audience, but let me tell you something:

Cubs fans don't need you telling us what a great lovable bunch of losers we have/are over here, and let's face it, you addressed this one to us (Dear Cubs Fans). We don't need you telling us how they need to keep on losing, or how we're better fans than any other fans on the planet. Pointing this out to us is like telling a leper who's about to die that he looks bad. All you've done is simply repeat the obvious.

All we want, more than anything in the world, is to get just one trip to the World Series. We don't even need to win it. We just wanted to get to the final five (or seven) games. Even if after that we didn't make it back for another forty five years, that's O.K. We would have had the memories to keep us warm and to tell the grandkids about. All we wanted was one, and I don't think it was too much to ask, really.

But please, I know you're done and all with this, but in the future, it's not a good thing to point your finger and call a bunch of people (some of which are also fans of yours) losers. Lovable or not. You can try and spin it however you want to (and I do see the glint of respect in this piece, so there's no need to go over it), but really, in the end, that's how it feels on this end of the finger.

So I can call the majority of California voters losers, but not Cubs fans? Interesting.

Anyway, I don't recall calling Cubs fans losers. Certainly I called the Cubs losers, because, quite obviously, that's what they are. But it does not necessarily follow that Cubs fans are in themselves losers for rooting for their team. Or Red Sox fans, or White Sox fans, or fans of any team with a history of total ignominy.

Most obviously, aside from your exceptionally occasional Steve Bartman type, fans have nothing to do with what goes on in the game -- otherwise how could the Marlins, with their weak-ass fan base, have done anything? (Not to mention the Angels last year; speaking as a native southern Californian, for years the Angels didn't so much have fans as spillover from the Magic Kingdom.) As I mentioned yesterday, Cubs fans appear fated to feel implicated in their team's failures. But it doesn't often mean that they are.

Fans aren't losers for rooting on losers, unless they're rooting for those losers to keep on losing (in which case, they're not really fans). I certainly don't expect Cubs fans to cheer the team toward futility. Aside sullen existentialists, that's just not in the human psyche to do something like that (and even the sullen existentialists secretly want the teams they love to win, win, WIN!!!). Yes, I wanted the Cubs and Red Sox to lose, but as it should be amply clear by now, I'm not a fan of either of these teams.

I'm not much of a fan of any team. Well, no. For the record, I'm nominally a Dodgers' fan, for the same reason I'm nominally Italian; it's about where my ancestors are. But I don't get emotionally involved in the manner of a true fan. I'm sort of mildly irritated that the Dodgers seem to rent the second through fourth places in their division year after year, but that's really the extent of it. I'm not the "fan" sort.

But his doesn't mean that fans are wrong for being fans -- I mean, why not? Everyone needs something to believe in and identify with, and with the exception of soccer hooligans most people seem to handle the quasi-tribal emotional qualities that sports fandom evokes admirably well. You want to be a fan of a sports team, then by all means, go right ahead. Have a ball. But remember that neither I nor anyone else is obligated to affirm your feelings, hopes and dreams concerning your team. That's your own baggage, especially in the case of the Cubs and Red Sox, who load their fans up with so much baggage to begin with.

Cubs and Red Sox fans are fans of losers, but let's have a reality check here. Given the competitive structure of sports, ultimately most fans are going to end up being fans of losers. To quote the philosophical motherlode that is the movie Highlander: "There can be only one." One World Series winner, one Super Bowl winner, one World Cup winner, and so on and so on. The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times since the Red Sox last won theirs (I think), but that only means that roughly 70% of the time, their fans ultimately rooted for losers -- high-achieving losers, naturally. But even so. This is why they've got all those silly divisions and leagues and such: To ladle out consolation prizes to cushion the blow of loserosoity (well, and to string along the fan pathology for additional commercial gain. But the former is just an iteration of the latter). So in this regard, on a year-to-year basis, Cubs and Red Sox fans are no different than fans of every other team but one: All rooting on losers.

The difference, of course, is in the span of decades, which is where mythology and legends and talk of curses arise. These are far more interesting than mere winning to someone like me, who is an observer of the game but who is not a hardcore fan of a particular team. Let's be honest here: The even distribution of success in sports is incredibly boring. It's why people these days watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Major League Baseball is far more interesting because the Yankees are evil and have more money than God, because the Braves keep winning their division and choking in the postseason, and because the Cubs and the Red Sox find new and exciting ways to lose, than it would be if the championship rotated more or less evenly through the ranks. We crave dynasties, of both the winning and losing sort, so we can have the drama of their respective downfalls and ascensions.

I think it's more interesting that the Cubs and Red Sox keep losing, and losing in innovative and heartbreaking ways. I mean, really: That's entertainment. And I think it's more interesting to be a fan of such a team than a fan of one without such a fascinating history. I don't mind having that bias, nor do I feel uncomfortable with continuing to hope the Cubs and Red Sox keep their fabulous losing ways going -- or telling you all that it's better this way. Globally speaking, I think it's more fun. Everyone's got their way of enjoying baseball; this is mine. You don't have to like it.

The fans Cubs and Red Sox root for losers -- as year to year, so does nearly everyone else. That's the nature of competition. Doesn't make the fans losers. It just makes them fans.

Posted by john at October 17, 2003 09:49 AM

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