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October 27, 2008

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend: Choosing Sides in the 2008 World Series

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Written by: YankTank
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“There is nobody as enslaved as the fanatic, the person whom in one impulse, one value, assumes ascendancy over all others.” -Milton R. Sapirstein

There are few things more aggravating than trying to escape mushrooming media hype of a story you just don’t want to hear. The internet is a demon the day immediately after your team blows Game 7, or your idolized all-star is caught in salacious mischief, or your star QB’s season-ending injury is documented in 14,000 different photo angles.

You’d think that New York City journalism would be so overwhelmed with news that it could avoid spinning out the same stories over and over. But as it stands, the only thing transpiring in Manhattan is the election. And the World Series. And trying to decide what’s less interesting is like trying to pick between sharing a cell with Omarosa or Andy Dick.
I’ve been able to sidestep the burgeoning political smoke and mirrors suffocating the country, but my nagging interest in baseball precludes me from shunning the World Series. After observing the heated lunacy punctuating the election, it made me think that the polarizing and divisive nature of politics that I’ve always scoffed at, is scarcely different from that of the nature of sports fans.

The relationship a fan has with his team is perennially challenged by rival fans, the dynamic is ever-shifting. Love for the players converts to contempt for the opposition’s loyalists. You can’t love both the Mets and the Yankees, or your credibility falls along the ranks of George O’Leary. DC natives are out for blood when the Cowboys come to town. And a little research uncovered an Ohio-Michigan couples group on Facebook…with a staggering 3 female members. (I have a few ideas that explain the notable absence of boyfriends, their failure to exist being one.)

The relationship a voter has with his party’s candidate is a push-pull balance of championing the issues and attacking the other party. While Obama and McCain battle it out in the inaccessible stratosphere of politics, the common citizens are left to either cheer them on, or spit vitriol at each other. The former may be nobler, but the latter is decidedly more gratifying.

And in both pools of sports fans and American voters, there may be people who advocate principles without assassinating characters. But I think the lion’s share of the bell curve houses those whose team/candidate loyalty is overshadowed by animosity towards the opposition.

It’s arbitrary, narrow, and sometimes illogical. But this mentality is also the only thing tethering non-Tampa Bay/Phillies fans to coverage of the 2008 World Series.

On paper, this matchup should be fantastic. But we’re two games into the Fall Classic, and I still can’t find even a small pocket of emotion around who will win. The Phillies are durable and hungry. Tampa Bay is feisty and young. In the words of my mom, “Yeah, Saturday was an exciting game until I realized I didn’t care.”

When your team is out, the only thing left to do is root against the enemy. And when the enemy itself isn’t someone particularly worthy of hatred, you look for the fanbase that is.

Certain cities, usually in the northeast, are subject to this kind of hater mentality. Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are like a murderers row of obnoxious fans, so when the hapless Phillies or golden Pats are in the playoffs, it’s not the team that haters are rooting against. It’s the people in the stands.

And while the Tampa Bay and Philly teams may be in dead heat stats-wise, their respective legions of loyalists couldn’t be more polar.

*  *   *

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

What do you do with a team that has about as many fans as there are players on the roster? What the hell is a Tampa Bay fan anyway? I can’t wrap my head around this. While my sister’s ex-boyfriend purports vehemently that he has ALWAYS followed this franchise, the fact that he isn’t a middle-schooler makes this argument less plausible.

Is the vague frustration over alleged bandwagoning enough to root against the Rays? If you need a reason to hate this nascent faction, it might be a better idea to direct your attentions to the catwalk, or oddly sterile playoff atmosphere in the Trop, or the blinding effects the brand new fleet of Rays jerseys have on the viewer.

I can understand hating Pink-hat wearers or Patriots fans who popped out of the woodwork post-1994, but the Trop motley crew is inexplicably exempt from this contempt. It’s like in Teen Wolf when everyone gets into Wolfmania when the Beacon Town Beavers start making a championship run, their all-star talent in the form of a 17-year-old werewolf. It’s too weird and surreal to think about.

Not to mention there’s also the age-old adage that you never root against a team whose largest crowd was under 50,000…and for a New Kids on the Block concert.

Sure, the cowbells are giving the Thunder Stix a run for their money in the campaign for All-Time Irritating fan props. The Rayhawks are obscene. The poster signs held up at the stadium read like loose translations of a foreign language. And the Trop’s highlighted feature? “The only stadium in the world with live cownose rays.”

(Say what you will about the Trop, but at least you’re not taking in a game where the cownoses aren’t live.)

And in the Chutes and Ladders game of team likeability, the Rays were cleared a path to higher grounds. Outside of winning 8 gold Olympic medals, there’s only one other feat that can generate such profound, unanimous gratitude across sports fans:

Taking down the Yankees.

Forget they didn’t play the Yankees in the postseason. Or that the Bombers were one of only 2 AL teams with a winning record against TB. It doesn’t matter. The Devil Rays represent everything the Yankees are not. Low-profile, cheap, young, guileless, raw, and successful. And from the looks of both teams, it may stay this way for a while.

But despite all this, the feisty Rays only give us reasons to not root against them. Is there a reason to root for them?

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies, conversely, are a much more evocative franchise. Their historical record is pathetic, boasting the unequivocal worst, most abysmal history of any baseball team. In 126 years, they have one championship, more losses than any other team, 9 seasons of playing under .300, and 14 seasons of 100-losses or more. Worst of all, they have no excuse. No small market, no ballpark issues, no manager ruts. Not even a curse.

The interesting part about Phillies fans is that most of their notoriety seems to stem from a peripheral stigma–the wildly unpopular perception of the fans tailgating across the street from Citizens Bank Park.

E-A-G-L-E-S.

The Philly baseball fans I’ve encountered have never struck me as obnoxious, crass, loud, idiotic, or even bitter. It’s almost as if years of stunning failures have resigned them to an even-keeled approach to baseball: retain fundamental northeastern sports zeal, watch the game without thinking about the season, never let it break your heart.

On the other hand, Eagles fans are the Judd Nelsons of the NFL Breakfast club. They irritate the hell out of everyone. They love the negative attention, mistake their outspoken idiocy for unrivaled fandom, wreak enough violent havoc to necessitate holding cells in their stadium, and worst of all, they won’t be slowed by logic. They’re certifiably insane.

Unfortunately for the baseball fans, Eagles have fostered such abject ignominy that Phillies fans are inevitably guilty by association. If there’s even a slight chance Eagles fans will experience remote pleasure, the general public will work overtime to prevent this.

People will root against the Phillies for the same reason I rooted for the Lakers last spring. If I had any interest in basketball, I would in all likelihood favor the Celtics. But the idea of Red Sox fans celebrating again made me shudder. That’s how powerful my hostility towards Boston fans is. That I could root against a refreshingly talented NBA team to thwart the joy of fans from a completely different sport.

Going even further away from the teams actually playing right now, anyone who hates the Mets–or rather, is entertained by their fans’ Charlie Brown-like misery, is rooting for the Phils. To the Private Pyle of MLB, what’s one more harsh whack with a towel wrapped bar of soap?

*   *   *

The complex web of fan alliances and discords runs thick and deep. It’s compelling and ubiquitous, and while I sometimes hate its overpowering nature, it fends off apathy. At least towards sports.

I limit my sociopolitical education to Facebook status updates, SNL skits, and cartoons on Page 6 of the New York Post. I only recently nailed down the names of the presidential candidates, because the further I stay away from the philosophical melee ravaging Manhattan, the better.

I don’t particularly need another demographic of people to irrationally hate. I almost killed a man for saying Jeter was one of the worst shortstops in the game, spent weeks arguing with my best friend over the Celtic’s D in the playoffs, and near disowned my youngest sister for rooting for Green Bay last year.

I am already governed by sports loyalties that breed hostility towards certain fan sects, and that’s enough. I am incapable of separating people from the teams they support, just as the politically minded often define people by their red or blue penchants.

Such are the issues tugging at the baseball fan’s loyalties. Twenty-eight teams’ supporters can either ignore baseball altogether or forge a makeshift allegiance to Philly or Tampa Bay. We are now at the mercy of the Laws of Thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change from one form to another.

The rabid devotion that innervated the season cannot be extinguished so seamlessly. Nor can I concoct some test tube passion for either team. Such fanaticism can only be transferred to something else.

Now on the heels of Game 5, I’m still waffling on a team to back. The best solution I can think of? Aggressively, passionately, fervently root for…a 7-game series. If nothing else, it will buy me more time.



About the Author

YankTank
Kris Pollina lives and works in New York City as an advertising copywriter. She lives and dies by NY sports and is the first to admit she can be wildly irrational in defense of her teams. She spends too much time thinking of fantasy team names, too little time reading injury reports. She doesn't understand people who keep score at baseball games. She has more interest in the Kreb Cycle than she does in the NBA, tennis, golf, or anything that is limited to running around a track. She doesn't mind the NFL overtime rules, thinks hockey is wildly underrated, and hates the expression "step up to the plate." Most importantaly, she doesn't believe in wearing baseball hats with football logos on them. Football players wear helmets.




6 Comments


  1. Phantom

    Choosing Sides I completely agree with this statement:  ”When your team is out, the only thing left to do is root against the enemy. And when the enemy itself isn’t someone particularly worthy of hatred, you look for the fanbase that is.”

    I have often thought about this and have tried to make sense of it.  I have found myself torn between two sides of a debate (with myself!).  First, I find myself rooting against the enemy (say the Dodgers because the Padres are my baseball team).  Then I find myself thinking that I should be rooting for the enemy because if my team is out, I should at least want my team’s division, or conference, etc., to win.  My inner “hater” always wins, I always end up rooting against the enemy.  

    I enjoyed your piece.  And just for the record, I would choose Omorosa.


  2. YankTank

    thanks! Yeah i know what you mean. I watched the Sox-TB series with a diehard sox fan and he was like, “the yankees arent in it, you know.” Meaning, I should be ok with the sox winning bc that would make him happy and I should value that more than hatred towards a team. But…it’s hard. I tried to, but when I turned on Game 1 of the World Series, my first thought was, “Oh my God, I’m so so happy I’m not watching the Red Sox right now. Wow. Insanely happy.”

    Wish I wasn’t so governed by this stuff, but ya cant fight city hall. Thanks again for reading!


  3. BostonMac

    Awesome article Hey Kris, this is a phenomenal article.  I love reading these kinds of philosophical dissertations about fan bases and the larger meaning of sports but  in a reserved context.  I loved it.

    For the record, I think you’re the only die-hard Yankee fan whose writing I can read without wanting to vomit.  Not sure if you’ll that as a compliment but it should be.

    I’m voting YankTank for Podcast Guest Host ’08!


  4. YankTank

    THANKS! Wow, thanks Ryan! For what it’s worth, you are literally the only Boston fan whose articles I can tolerate. I used to put Bill Simmons in that category too until about 4 years ago. So you have sole ownership now. You should take over the Sports Guy column.

    I’m gonna have to start listening to this Podcast. I dont even know what a podcast is actually, but I think it’s like a not-live radio show. I need to start reading something other than the sports section of the Post, as evidenced by the fact I had to google what “inauguration” was yesterday. (I thought it had something to do with Yankee Stadium.)


  5. Editor

    great article 1) it is actually live radio
    2) so where’d you end up siding? Cause we’re the World Series Champs baby!


  6. YankTank

    congrats phillies! honestly, I wanted TB to force a Game 6. And then a Game 7. If it went to 7 games, I have no idea. Probably TB bc I always want an AL team to win? It’s splitting hairs though…
    gotta say, It was good watching the PHils celebrate though. I was insanely jealous, but in a good way. They deserve it for certain!



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