Designated HitterOctober 25, 2007
My No-Longer Lovable Red Sox
By Mark Armour

As the Boston Red Sox get ready to play another World Series, for the first time in several decades their players will do so without the added burden of overcoming someone else’s history. While the 2004 Red Sox likely had the support of most fans around the country, this support has largely evaporated in the intervening three years. In fact, a growing number of people now find the team and its fans tiresome and insufferable. How could this have happened? Do we really deserve this scorn?

I first started following the Red Sox in earnest in 1968, known in New England as “The Year After,” very much in the glow of The Impossible Dream. I was seven years old and a fourth generation rooter of the Old Towne Team. I recall listening to the radio with my great-grandfather in the early 1970s, talking about the long-ago days when the team won pennants regularly. I did not choose to become a Red Sox fan, any more than I chose my brown hair, blue eyes, or allergies. Sure, maybe I took to the game more than the rest of the family did, preferring the Game of the Week over a trip to the beach, but it wasn’t like I picked which team I was going to root for. I am sure if I had grown up in a family of Yankee fans I would today be self-absorbed and have an enlarged sense of entitlement. (I kid, I kid.)

Although I did not choose my team, and though my team always lost at the end, the Red Sox were something I wore with pride. I grew up in southeastern Connecticut, where Red Sox fans held a majority position among many dissenters. The Red Sox did not win, but they were good enough so that every year you could construct a plausible case for how they could win. (I know, because I would write up the case, longhand, with tables and charts, in a spiral notebook. “Luis Alvarado will take over at 3B and capture the rookie of the year award, Sonny Siebert will win 18 games, Jerry Moses will club 18 home runs …”). The Red Sox did not finish below .500 until I was out of college. They generally ended up finishing 2nd or 3rd, just good enough so that winning next year seemed possible. I considered myself lucky. I got to root for Tony Conigliaro and Reggie Smith and Luis Tiant, and they won more games than they lost every year. How great was that? I listened to most of their games on the radio, and (by the age of 10) kept score.

This seemed perfectly normal, though perhaps a bit excessive. I was a Red Sox fan, and we were the smartest and best fans in baseball. I knew this because the announcers on the Game of the Week said it, and the national magazine writers wrote it. We never left the game early, knew all the strategy and rules, and cheered good plays by opposing players. Roger Angell, who wrote baseball essays for the New Yorker, regularly mused about Boston’s beautiful ballpark and faithful fans. Even though I only went to a game or two a year, it seemed they were speaking or writing about me. When I became an adult and moved near Boston, I began going to more games and keeping score at the ballpark, proudly sitting amongst my fellow smart and faithful fans. It seemed we were better looking than other fans, too.

The near-misses and disappointments began to pile up, surely. The year-end setbacks of 1972, 1977 and 1978 each hurt in its own way, and the 1974 collapse was a particularly tough blow. But the fun always, always, outweighed the grief. The 1975 World Series is remembered just as much for the great performance of the Red Sox as it is for the champion Reds, the seven-game defeat celebrated more than mourned. After the Series, I wrote a thesis on baseball for my sophomore English class, which was well received by my baseball-loving teacher. When I went away to college in upstate New York in 1978, I was among a lot of Yankees and Mets fans, but I never thought, “Gosh, you guys are lucky that you got to experience a World Championship.” I watched the Bucky Dent Game a few weeks later, in a dormitory lounge surrounded by Yankee hats. I am sure I was hassled about this, but it was (mostly) good-natured. Your team was your team, and I could still talk baseball until 3:00 in the morning with Yankees and Mets fans.

After the brutal loss in the 1986 World Series, the worm began to turn on Red Sox loyalists. For the first time, stories began to appear that we were not only loyal and smart, but also “long suffering” and “wallowing in misery.” (Who, me?) In 1990, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote the book The Curse of the Bambino, which described the history of the Red Sox as a torturous trail of tears, and their fans as cynical brooding people whose identities relied on the pain caused by their team. In Shaughnessy’s world, Red Sox Nation (a term he coined) would crumble to dust if the Red Sox ever won the World Series. And he blamed all of it, especially the 71-year championship drought, on a “curse” placed when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Although most of the premises of the book were nonsense, it sold very well, has been the basis for an HBO documentary, and is still in print 17 years later.

Had the term “Red Sox Nation” been in vogue in 1975, it would have been used to describe a loyal, friendly, intelligent group of fans. There was no wallowing that I was aware of. I recently re-watched the 1975 World Series, and the announcers never mentioned any suffering. The Red Sox were a proud and storied franchise who had not won in 57 years—many teams (the Cubs, the White Sox, and the Phillies) had gone longer, and the great Reds in the opposite dugout had waited 35 years themselves. I believe that the fans Shaughnessy described in his book (“Oh, woe is me”) did not exist in appreciable numbers until he created them. With The Curse, it began to dawn on a segment of Red Sox fans that, by golly, we have suffered. Blaming it all on a curse, or on the sale of Ruth, seemed therapeutic, and more satisfying than passing it all off as a bunch of bad juju.

I moved away from the city in 1993, going clear to the other side of the country. When I told my mother I was moving West, she was mainly amazed that I could leave the Red Sox. In some ways, I have not left them at all, though I have been to Fenway Park less than 10 times since moving. Within a few years I began hearing from friends back in Boston that Red Sox fans had become intolerable. Naturally, I came to their (our?) defense. “You are imagining this,” I told them. “Dan Shaughnessy does not speak for us, stop reading his column.” The good-natured rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, I was told, had become truly hateful. “Yankees Suck” (or “Jeter Swallows”) T-shirts were being worn by children. Keep score? Nah, they were too busy screaming obscenities about the opposing players.

In 2000, Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson wrote Red Sox Century, an impressive history of the team’s first 100 years. Stout and Johnson rightly ridicule the “curse”, bringing the Red Sox fan back to his or her rightful place of dignity. Instead, they roast the team for 82 years of incompetence and bigotry, in essence claiming the team has not deserved its loyal fans. The problem with the team had not been the sale of Ruth at all. In fact, using tortured and fanciful reasoning, the Ruth sale was proper and defensible, and the ensuing deals which created the first Yankees dynasty were smart trades that just happened to not work out. The holes in their theory are too plentiful for an article of this size, but the book has many things to recommend it, and gives many unknown stories and players their due.

Although a more impressive piece of research than Curse of the Bambino, its tone was unsatisfying in a different way. Tom Yawkey was not the loveable old coot from my youth—he was a racist. For that matter, so were Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin and Mike Higgins. The Red Sox should have had Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, but instead we got Don Buddin and Tommy Umphlett. The authors concluded that the team did not win because they were not good enough to win, and they did not deserve to win.

This is not right either. The Red Sox had lost four World Series in Game 7. Obviously they were good enough to win any of those games, as they had beaten their opponent three times in the Series already. And although it is true that the team was the last to integrate, this sad fact still makes them only marginally more onerous than the team who was second-to-last, or seventh-to-last. When it comes to race, there was a lot of shame to go around in the America of the 1950s, and I am not willing to lay it all on Tom Yawkey.

What was most unsatisfying is that neither book captures all of the fun I have had following the Red Sox. Shaughnessy presented me as living a life of agony, and Stout as wasting my time on a bunch of bigots and losers. In fact, I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it. There are plenty of things about the world that get me aggravated. Following baseball, rooting for the Red Sox, is basically a hell of a lot of fun. My memories of sitting in the stands with my grandfather, or listening to the radio at our cabin in Maine, are not marred by what might have happened in 1949. There was no wallowing.

So in 2004, you may have heard, the Red Sox finally won the World Series. For those who wondered what would happen when this blessed event finally occurred, the answer was: Unconstrained Joy. The biggest celebration in the history of the city. And not just in Boston. The team’s triumph was a great national baseball story.

And now? If the team was ever the “lovable loser,” those days are long gone. The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the game, which makes its fans’ continued complaints about the Yankees higher payroll seem a bit tacky to the followers of the other 28 teams. Many Red Sox fans who were quick to defend their team’s “choker” label now happily pin the label on the Yankees instead, while reveling in their own team’s show of grit and character. The breaks of 1978 (Lou Piniella’s miracle stab in the playoff game) were just bad luck, while those of 2004 (Tony Clark’s double bouncing into the stands) were forgotten in the rush to make fun of the Yankees.

But that’s not right either. Reading those last sentences over, I see that I am also guilty of painting the picture with too fine of a brush. If there is a Red Sox Nation, it is very fractious and complicated. There is no unanimity of opinion or attitude about the team or anything else. At the end of the day, I should only speak for myself.

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived … as a professional sports team,” Roger Angell once wrote. That was 32 years ago, and since then I have taken on a career, a home and a family, and put away (most) childish things. Not all of them. It was the “business of caring,” Angell concluded, that justifies the affiliation. It does not so much matter what one cared about, he wrote, as long as one could retain this feeling in their soul. “Naiveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I submit that the team is no more, and no less, worthy of my caring than they were five years ago, or thirty years ago. The winning has changed the labels applied to me, but the new labels are no more accurate than the old labels. Winning is fun, don’t get me wrong. But I had fun in 1969, when we finished a gentleman’s third. Maybe it was even more fun—I was eight years old, after all. But in thinking it over, I admit that I miss the days when Red Sox fans were admired and thought to be the smartest guy in the room. Maybe we weren’t, but I liked hearing it.

But really, I just want to be treated like any other fan. I know faithful Indians followers, smart Pirates nuts, proud Phillies loyalists, and, yes, kind Yankees fans. My wish is that they all experience the occasional championship banner, but also that they enjoy the journey every year. But none of them, and certainly not I, can represent a Nation, or be made to pay for the sins of their team.

Mark Armour writes baseball from his home in Corvallis, Oregon. He was the co-author, with Dan Levitt, of the award-winning book Paths to Glory, the editor of Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, and the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. His next large project is the life of Joe Cronin.


Thank you for this article. I grew up a Yankee fan, beginning as a 6 year old in 1949. Until 1978, I do not remember any particular rivalry with Boston, certainly not one that included the nasty, mean-spirited one we see now. Our main rivals then were, of course, the Dodgers and occasionally the Giants. During the season, it was any team that threatened the Yankees pennant drive-Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit. In fact, from the fifties to the mid-seventies there was no Boston rivalry at all because ordinarily only one team was good. And even after 1978 as the Yankees declined and Boston contended again, there was little concern for the other team.

In any case, this manufactured fanaticism that feeds off a supposed historical enmity and turns vulgar and obnoxious is of recent vintage. And to me it is not fun. When I was in college, we fans routinely kidded and teased each other, but without the bile and nastiness common today. I watched the 1962 World Series at my best friend's apartment. He was as fanatic about the Giants as I was for the Yankees, and we gave each other a hard time during that long, rain-interrupted 7 games, but always with mutual respect, and after the last out, he congratulated me with a handshake.

Great article; it really expresses a lot of my feelings as a Red Sox fan. I think people are just going to dislike the team at the top, something I realized back in the '80s with the Celtics. The ever-growing bandwagon of Red Sox fans is bound to exacerbate the enmity, as well as damage the (likely overblown, and doubtlessly annoying to fans of other teams) reputation of Sox fans as "the smartest fans in the game"; in one of my rare trips to Fenway this year (like you, I live far away now), I sat in right field in front of a sorority-girl type decked out in full Red Sox regalia who kept referring to the right field foul pole as the "Pennske Pole."

Red Sox & Gay Marriage :)
Well my darling Red Sox did it last night @ the World Series taking game one 13-1 from the far from gay-friendly Denver Colorado Rockies. I totally believe that when a state stands ups for its citizens & provides the pursuit of happiness like making Gay Marriage the law good things happen...

Mark Armour has penned an interesting article about a not uncommon circumstance in professional (or college) sports: those talented enough to have written popular books have often influenced the readers as well as the fans of a particular team by creating misperceptions about the team’s fans, when in fact the author may be talking about a handful of spectators. Witness the "long-suffering" Red Sox fans after the 1990 publication of Shaughnessy's Curse of the Bambino. The bottom line is, or should be, that despite the huge influx of money into today's pro game, be it baseball, football, basketball, or whatever, fans still need to enjoy the day-by-day journey and not just live or die with the result. Contrary to what many sportswriters and talking heads on TV would have us believe, there is no "nation" of followers for any team. But there are thousands of thoughtful people who enjoy sports as part of an otherwise tough and/or meaningful life. Let’s face it. Most of us grew up playing one or more sports, and we still have fond memories of those years – and of the team we followed during those years. Still, if one can feel good about his/her team's victory in a game today, then celebrate that fact. But remember, tomorrow will be another day, the next game can have a different result, and those who rooted for the other team experience many of the same aspirations, joys, and frustrations in life as the rest of us. In the end, we can always reflect upon yesterday’s heroes, or what Ritter neatly entitled, The Glory of Their Times. Otherwise, why would any of us be reading or writing about “old-time” sports?

I will leave the third comment up although the comments section is meant to be a forum for baseball talk only.

Many parallels here, Mark, to the Chicago Cubs. I hope it's not too crass to invoke the subject of my new biography, Steve Goodman, whose "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" might be compared to Dan Shaughnessy's tome. Via exquisitely concrete description, "Dying Cub Fan" bemoaned and certainly bolstered the team's persona as that of "lonesome losers." What will become of the Cubs' well-stoked national mystique and affection if/when they enter the World Series (once again, they came close this year) and consign Goodman's classic song to the dustbin of once-accurate history?

Perhaps the answer is not to elevate the emotions of following an oft-losing (or, more accurately, a rarely Series-reaching) baseball team. Instead, we may do well to embrace the attendant symbolism that is both simple and profound -- that life is as much about losing as it is winning, and that the best advice may lie in another classic Goodman song, "You Better Get It While You Can," wherein the "get" doesn't mean "acquire" so much as it does "comprehend." It's the awareness of each precious moment, win or lose, that truly makes a difference.

Clay Eals

1728 California Ave. S.W. #301

Seattle, WA 98116-1958

(206) 935-7515 (home)

(206) 484-8008 (cell)

But it's so much easier to stereotype! It takes far less work.

Mark's piece was an excellent read and a good view in to what it means to a fan of just about any team.

The business of categorizing fans, as the smartest or most loyal or rowdiest or whatever, is one of the sillier things in sports. Naturally, every championship team automatically praises the "greatest fans in the world". That is the convention.

But when analysts try to classify, it makes little sense. There may be something to the view that Cardinal fans have some special quality or that Red Sox fans are intellectual or Yankee fans arrogant or Dodger fans laid back (talk about irony!), but I have never seen any actual study to support any such conclusion.

I have attended games in many parks, and it always seemed to me that the fans responded to the nature of that particular game, not as some stereotype. When the home team was winning, local fans always seemed particularly exciteable, and when losing, especially surly, and that was in NY, Boston, St. Louis, Toronto, Tampa Bay and many places in-between.

Particular incidents sometimes stand out, it is true, and in some parks, particular sections or traditions may either charm or alienate certain people, as for example the bleacherites in Yankee Stadium. But I don't think any city has a monopoly on boorish behavior. It was in Minnesota, after all, bastion of mid-west courtesy and hospitality, that Chuck Knoblauch got pelted with batteries when he returned as a Yankee.

bit of a strech there Charlotte.

Excellent read Mark, thank you

Nice article, but an analysis of the current behavior of Red Sox fans, or the cavalier behavior of their rich players, would have been more interesting and relevant. I'm glad you still enjoy your team, but you have a lot of really obnoxious fans and a couple of players that need to learn to shut up.

I now live in St. Louis. St. Louisans despise the Cubs fans. Cubs fans come into Busch stadium, get plastered, and then they turn around and taunt the home crowd vigorously when the Cubs do something well.

Cheering for your team is one thing, but going crazy in another city's venue is completely uncalled for. That's when people start to dislike fans from other teams. Boston fans aren't the only ones who are guilty, but they are definitely part of that group. Just as bad is the frequency with which they taunt opposing players at Fenway Park.

When Boston fans learn how to conduct themselves as you describe them at one time behaving, and their players learn to stop making absurd remarks to the media, people will once again respect the organization.

great article about a subject or subjects often ignored. I can see why Neyer gave your book, Paths to Glory, such high marks. I hope to read some of your books, and likely will, beven though my reading list is already far too long.

Thanks for the great article.

As a Cardinals fan, I cringe every time Peter Gammons or someone else in the media calls us "the best fans in baseball" or some such label because all it seems to do is irritate fans of other teams (not to mention the fact that it's highly subjective and just one person's opinion). And though I'm pretty sure that was started by Gammons sometime in the mid-to-late-nineties, as I don't remember anyone ever saying anything of the sort before that time, many members of the St. Louis media and Cardinals fans have bought into it, which I feel is making "us" appear self-righteous and insufferable.

Oh, and Jeff, I've experienced exactly what you're talking about with drunk and obnoxious Cubs fans at Busch but I've spoken to a lot of Cubs fans who say the exact same thing about Cardinals fans visiting Wrigley field. Personally, I fear that media hype about these rivalries (much of which has been entirely fabricated or exaggerated) will make all of them into the nasty, irritating rivalry the Red Sox-Yankees has become. For example, I personally don't remember much of a rivalry at all with the Cubs when I was growing up in the '80s (instead it was with the Mets, who traded NL East division championships with the
Cards 4 years in a row). In fact, I grew up also liking the Cubs to a certain extent. Now, of course, I feel like that would be seen as preposterous by many fans. I suppose this is all part of Fox's (and ESPN to a slightly lesser extent) plan to turn major league baseball into football junior, what with all the inane yelling by Jeanne Zelasko, Kevin Kennedy, Eric Karros, and "Byrnsie" as well as the corruption of Joe Buck with "Fox Attitude."

Thanks to everyone for their comments. Although I think it is unfair, in the main, to categorize fans as good or bad (in the same way as it is unfair to say the same thing about people based on race) I think I understand some of what people are getting at. When the size of Red Sox Nation (a term I hate, by the way) is suddenly 5 times larger than it was 10 years ago, when the Red Sox hats at Safeco Field (my closest park) seem to have popped up out of nowhere, it is fair to ask, I think, "Where did these people come from?"

When it becomes all about the winning, when I believe that the success of my team somehow makes me a better person than you, bad things follow. Much like "patriotism". Loving one's country is admirable. Believing that your country and its people are better than other people is not.

A rivalry only exists when two teams are good and fighting for supremacy. Thus, "it" began in '78, tapered in the '80s and early '90s, and then reared it's ugly head again when the Yankees won four out of five from '96-'00. I have to say, I actually somewhat LIKED the '96 Yankees; my utter disdain for them didn't begin until Roger Clemens jumped the Toronto ship, and then when George (who everybody in baseball hated, not just Red Sox fans) began throwing good money after bad. Yes, the Sox have an enormous payroll as well, but quite fankly, they have no choice if they want to compete year in and year out in the AL East, where the Yanks have set the payroll standard.

Also, it's 90% media driven, in this era of the internet and message boards and blogs and SportsCenter.

And yes, I had fun during the years when the Sox weren't doing well, too, but I have to tell you...I'm having more fun now.

When the size of Red Sox Nation (a term I hate, by the way) is suddenly 5 times larger than it was 10 years ago, when the Red Sox hats at Safeco Field (my closest park) seem to have popped up out of nowhere, it is fair to ask, I think, "Where did these people come from?"

Everybody likes a winner, Mark. Relax. As soon as the team is bad again, they'll be gone, and it will only be the saps like you and me left behind.

Then it will be just like it used to be...the Red Sox losing. Nope, if pink hats are what you have to endure for a winning team, then so be it.

Re Charlotte) All we need to do is have Bill James add social awareness to the win shares calculation and we'll be set!!! Let's see, hitting for the cycle will now include, a single, double, triple, home run and rejecting a moral standard recognized for over five thousand years!!! I fully expect my comment to be deleted as a show of the double standard accorded to morality bashing.

I dunno, Mark. Everything you say is true, but I can't say that I can really object to the way the tenor of Red Sox Nation has changed over the years, both since Shaughnessy and since winning in 2004. Being a Sox fan now is cool. There was a while when it was nott all that hip, it was kind of old white and boring. Now all the kids are doing it. They sell Red Sox memorabilia, hats, and jerseys in Newbury Comics, f'g'dsake, in among the glitter hair die and spiked leather and "Anarchy in the U.K." t-shirts.

It is a pain that Fenway has become like one of those clubs that you have to impress the bouncer to get into, though. I gave up my tickets because I could not afford to buy into the Club Level at $100+ per seat (esp. when my seats at Yankee stadium are still $17 per seat) which was what the team offered me when they remodeled the place. It frustrates me that the people who are paying $100 a seat aren't doing it because they want to see every pitch of a game. They are going there to be seen, to be in the 'in' place, in the in crowd. Meanwhile, me and my scorecard are a Mexican restaurant on Mass Ave watching the game on TV because that's what I can afford.

The good part is that the team executives are not pulling the wool over the fans eyes. They take that hipness money and plow it back into a team that is calculated and built to be in contention every year. Hey, look, it worked!

"And now? If the team was ever the “lovable loser,” those days are long gone. The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the game, which makes its fans’ continued complaints about the Yankees higher payroll seem a bit tacky to the followers of the other 28 teams."

Sorry, but this argument held true in 2004 as well. Myself and countless other St. Louis fans had to cringe at the notion of being steamrolled by the so-called band of Boston misfits, "idiots" and underdogs whose payroll was tens of millions of dollars more than the Cards'. The Evil Empire II grew out of Fenway well before that (well-deserved, I might add) sweep concluded at old Busch Stadium three years ago.

Mark Armour's eloquent article misses the key point. The issue is simple and it has to do with the relative joy of rooting for underdogs versus favorites. Since Mark is a big statistics man, I will do this in a mathematical way: 100 is the maximum fun derived from any sporting event. 1 is the ultimate sorrow.

Rooting for the favorite, who then wins gives you a 67 fun factor, because, well your team won, which is nice, but you expected it all along, so it isn't thrilling and any gloating over the other team will feel, appropriately, obnoxious.

Rooting for the favorite and losing gives you a fun factor of 1, because your team lost, it's humiliating (because they were supposed to win after all) and because you have to put up with the gloating from the other team.

Rooting for the underdog and losing gives a fun factor of 50. You were expecting to lose anyway, had a good time swilling beers in the meantime and, when the fans of the favorites gloat afterward you have the rewarding sensation of having your belief that they were obnoxious completely confirmed (unless they choose to be magnanimous, which is a very cruel thing to do because it robs the underdog of their rightful sense of victimization).

Rooting for the underdog and winning gives a fun factor of 100, because your team wins, you never expected it, you hung in there despite the heavy risk of disappointment, and you get to gloat wildly and legitimately over the fans of the favorite and they have to take it because, hell, what can they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Now, a clever statistician will point out that because favorites in fact win more often, fans of the favorite may still have more fun over the long term. This fails to take into account important rule of diminishing fun return. By the time the (evil) Yankees win their third straight World Series, the fans only get about a fun factor of 55, because by now everyone is bored of winning, expected it anyway and, in moments of frankness, must admit that at this point, their team is just kind of piling it on. Long-suffering underdog fans, however, (Red Sox fans prior to 2004 and liberal Democrats beginning obvious examples) get greater and great potential joy (really quite off my 100 point fun chart and approaching something like 500 point ecstasy) the longer they wait for the pay off. Plus the fun factor in losing rises closer to 50 or even more, because, no, you do not win, but there comes to be greater and greater comraderie in the losing, it starts to become comical, and what was once pity for underdog fans from other fans slowly converts into admiration for stoic loyalty and ability to withstand pain. The suffering becomes part of the joy, "wallowing" becomes that joys finest expression.

Conclusion: Over the long term, underdog fans have more fun. Mark's continuing joy at being a Red Sox fan is residual from many years of (clearly repressed) suffering. What he senses, correctly, is that the Red Sox have lost their status as perenniel underdogs. Like it or not, Mark now roots for the favorite. 2007 -- if the Sox win -- will not be 2004 or anything close. Call it a potential 67.

Great article, Mark! I think you're exactly right -- generalizations about any team's fans are usually facile and off-the-mark. When you're talking about groups that include millions of individuals, you're bound to find some saints, some morons, and everything in between.

I was a big Red Sox fan in high school (mostly b/c I was pulling for them against the hated Mets in '86; like others on this thread I'm a Cards fan). And then I went to college in Massachusetts (Holy Cross), got a taste of Sox fans up close, and turned on the team. Why? Because it seemed to me that Sox fans were all too willing to taunt the fans of the teams they'd just beaten up on -- as if winning weren't enough, torment was also required. Naturally, this is exactly the kind of gross generalization I mentioned earlier, but it was my experience. Adam Corolla pointed out the same thing during a recent podcast with Bill Simmons -- the tendency for Boston sports fans to ridicule their opponents, to revel too much in victory.

The other thing that traditionally bothered me about Red Sox fans is that they seemed all too willing to play the underdog card; although in actuality, they are underdogs to only one other team, the New York Yankees. I'll never forgot Fox interviewing Tom Hanks in the stands at Fenway during the '04 World Series, and he said, "You gotta root for the Sox! They're the underdogs!" Really? The team with the $127 million payroll ($44 million more than the team they were playing) -- underdogs?

So it's always seemed to me that Sox fans are able to have it both ways. When they win, they're the biggest winners, and when they lose, they're the underdogs, the scrappy upstart losers. Whether this is true or not or just my perception, I have no idea. But it does explain why I was a Red Sox fan in high school and am no longer.

Anyway, sorry for such a long post. Thanks, Mark, for the piece and good luck in the Series.

This much-repeated idea that the Red Sox are pretty much spending as much as the Yankees is kind of silly.

The Red Sox spent 72 million less (on salary) this year than the Yankees did. How many teams spent within 72 million dollars of the Red Sox on salary this year? All but 3: The Yankees, The Devil Rays, and the Marlins.

So, are teams at a disadvantage compared to the Red Sox? Yes. BUT, the Red Sox are at more of a disadvantage to the Yankees than any team other than the Devil Rays and the Marlins (neither of which is spending all of the money available to them, I suspect). The Pirates are closer to spending what the Red Sox are spending than the Red Sox are to the Yankees. The same with the Royals, Rockies, A's, Twins, Nationals, and virtually every other team in the majors.

So please, let's stop kidding ourselves about a "second evil empire."

Where are you getting those numbers from, James? USA Today keeps pretty good records on payroll, and they have the Yanks at $189.6 million and the Sox at $143.0 million (and that doesn't include the mammoth posting fee for Dice-K). Which means the Yanks are $46.6 million ahead -- still huge, but not quite $72 million. It also means that the Red Sox are far ahead of most teams in the majors. To use your comparison, only 7 teams are within $46.6 of the Red Sox.

I'm more than willing to admit my figures are wrong (perhaps USA Today doesn't include the Clemens signing, e.g.), so my question to James about where he was getting those numbers is not rhetorical.

Good article. I can understand how you didn't choose to become a Red Sox fan but absorbed it, much like I did in the midwest where my whole family are die-hard Cardinals fans.

Lots of good points you bring up. Just because a lot of Red Sox fans seem to have a need to beat the Yankees more than even a World Series championship doesn't mean every Boston fan is like that. And it doesn't mean that every Cardinals fan is a great and knowledgable fan (as the Cardinals are the team that recently have been deemed to have the best fans in the game by many national media sources). It's just an overall blanket.

As a fan of another team that has been dubbed as having a "nation", I can appreciate a lot of what you said. And of course I always point to the Cubs as having the most obnoxious fans...yet I know 1 or 2 really intelligent, pleasant Cub fans.

And I just don't think it matters how much a real fans team wins or loses. Be it a Cardinals, Red Sox, Padres, Giants, Mariners or Yankees always want to win but you'll always root for the team no matter what.

Among the truly dumb things fan complain about is the disparity in payrolls as if the Yankees and Red Sox are automatically favorites because they outinvest everyone else or that other teams are (lovable?) underdogs because they invest so much less. It is an example of simplistic and empty-headed thinking and simply an excuse to feel victimized.

It is akin to the tendency of columnists, regardless of the focus of their commentary, to refer to A-Rod as the $252 million player whether that has anything to do with the point of their article or not.

I think's Cecilia's comments brings up what bothers some people about Red Sox fans. For many people more about being cool and being part of the club than they really are about watching baseball games.

It would likely be preferable for if every team goes through an occasional down cycle. Some of the stock may leave, but those who remain will still love the game and appreciate the preciousness of a winning team. The Cardinals, it seems to me, have always maintained this kind of cycle, winning every 10 or 20 years, and having some down seasons in between. They don't tend to stay on top long enough to get entitled. This is an oversimplication, I am sure.

And Chris, the Red Sox were the "underdogs" because they had not won in 86 years. Once they won, everyone looked at the situation differently, thinking, "wait, maybe they aren't really such an underdog afterall."

Tim: you are a nut, my friend.

I apologize that the last comment is so garbled. I hit "post" too soon.

Mark -
Your article, and another I read recently by a Yankee fan, reminds me to stop and appreciate all the fun there is in rooting for a team that maybe, just maybe, has some promise and to stop and appreciate all the great things about our sport, even if your team falls short.
If you tire of the Red Sox there will always be a place for you at the table of Milwaukee Brewer fandom.

I agree completely with the sentiments of this article and with most of the posts. I've been a diehard Sox fan since I was 8 years old (1978.) I love the rituals of rooting for my team, win or lose, (and with the Sox through the years, it was usually "win".) The Sox have possibly the most famous bad luck play in baseball history with Bill Buckner in '86, but they most admittedly have had their share of good luck through the years too. It 's really all the same in any city, and Red Sox Nation megalomania is inexcusable. It's not much fun being a Sox fan anymore because the central draw of fandom is being able to share in the experience with other fans, and by and large, Red Sox fans are obnoxious, self-obsessed, cynical (I've never seen a group of fans whose team had the best record in baseball pretty much the whole year be so miserable), sore losers and sore winners. I think all the talk about the payroll, underdogs, etc. is fair, but misses the point - select a Sox fan at random and he is likely to be loud, boorish, and rude.

I still watch the Sox, close one eye, squint, and enjoy the game on the field, doing my best to ignore the ugly self-obsession of RSN


Thanks for the article. I think you break up some great points, namely that the whole idea of "rivalries" is largely a result of media storylines, or at least the degree to which they are taken seriously nowadays is.

Also, for the most part, fan stereotypes are very often just that. I visited Philadelphia for the first time this summer, and saw my first Phillies games. They were playing the Cubs, my team, and I was decked out in Cubbie gear. I was worried that the legendarily mean Philadelphia fans would jump all over me. Instead, they were some of the nicest people I've had the pleasure to sit with at a game. They were knowledgeable, courteous, and helped me find my way around the park to where I could find the best cheesesteaks.

On the other hand, just as the Yankees and Red Sox payrolls are in a league of their own, so too are their fans. With the important caveat that this is a gross generalization, and that I've known many lovely people who support all manner of sports teams, they are insufferably annoying everywhere I go. I was near Boston this summer at a small resort with my family when my brother and I went inside the lodge area to play ping-pong. A family of Red Sox fans were sitting around the TV, with one of the 4,000 annual Red Sox-Yanks games on. One parent of the family actually started to make fun of Jorge Posada's looks, then patiently explained to his two young children that his insult was referring to Posada's large chin. Classy fellow, I know.

My brother, who attends college near Boston, complains constantly about the fans. When Boston beat my brother's White Sox during the regular season in '05, he'd get teased mercilessly (fair enough). But when the White Sox swept Boston in the ALDS, his buddies actually got pissed at him for bringing the series up. I know these stories are anecdotal and not representative, and the worst fan experience I've had is with Mets fans, but I'm simply trying to relate my overall experience: Boston and Yanks fans are very loud, annoying, and rude, and this phenomenon has gotten much worse over the last few years. I did not feel at all like this 5 years ago.

I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that ESPN and the other major news outlets act like those two teams are the only ones that matter? Seriously - that's gotten far worse lately, and it can't help but have an effect on baseball fans...

It's funny how Red Sox fans used to complain about the Yankees spending so much (indeed, coining that Evil Empire bit), now when fans of the other 30 teams point out the Red Sox are spending almost as much as the Yankees, then payroll doesn't matter any more.

I just wanted to add as an addendum to my earlier post, three years ago we were all Red Sox fans (well, maybe not Yanks and Cardinals fans. You know.) But we all got wrapped up in the moment, we all rooted for them against the Yankees, we all loved the historic comeback, and we all pulled hard for them in the World Series (well, at least I did, being a Cubs fan and all).

My feelings about the Red Sox hasn't changed because of their success or payroll or anything. It has shifted 180 degrees because of one thing: the insufferable fan base. And I know a lot of baseball fans who agree with me.

I am exactly your age and had a lot of fun rooting for the Red Sox all my life, but probably never as much as now. I too felt that my fandom was misrepresented and couldn't stand the repeated references to the curse and the Nation -- terms that were not part of my experience growing up. And the Yankees rivalry? They were a team I loved to hate -- but didn't really hate -- like a sibling rivalry. All in good fun.

Thank you for your great article

I'm sympathetic to anyone rooting for their childhood team, and wouldn't hold it against Red Sox fans that they root for their team in good times and bad. That said, there is a reason why fans of other teams find Red Sox fans to be somewhat unlikeable, apart from their recent success, and this article contains it: The repeated statement that Red Sox fans are "the smartest in baseball" and that everyone else believes this to be true, from the national media on down.

This attitude is the main reason for the backlash against Sox fans, and why certain fans in other parts of the country perceive you as stuck up, elitist, and annoying. But what do I know, I'm just a stupid Tigers fan?


I've been reading what Red Sox fans ARE for quite some time. This was the closest I've read that captures what I've actually felt as a Sox fan, and the last graph precisely sums my feelings. Thanks.

As a Red Sox fan living in Denver, things have been very interesting lately.

I view myself first and foremost as a baseball fan - and attend as many games at Coors Field as I can. I attended about 30 games this summer alone. I've always rooted for the Rockies while at Coors Field (except for the three game match up in 2004) - not necessarily a conflict of interests (or so I thought!)- I have sat through games in the cold, in the rain and sometimes snow - and there would only be a few 1000 people (if that!) in attendance. I have just witnessed the most amazing example of band-wagon-jumping in history. I was at a local bar on Wednesday night to watch game one - and was one of a few Red Sox fans - I was rooting for my team and receiving some good natured ribbing from my friends who were rooting for the Rockies - the next night, the same bar was EMPTY of Rockies fans. Denver is in a downward spiral of baseball adrenaline overload. I don't understand rooting for "your" team only if they are winning. Don't you need to stick by your team through thick and thin?? As a large fan of the game, it's really disappointing to see this happen, but it happens all the time. I must admit that as a life-long Sox fan (the team chose me...I grew up in New York!!!) I want to see them win another World Series. Living in Denver for ten years, it is amazing to see the Rockies get this far but admittedly sad to see them get slapped around like an annoying gnat.

In the past,when I proudly wore my Red Sox gear around town, no one batted an eye. All of a sudden I am public enemy number one. It is strange to be rooting for the Sox and *not* have them be the underdog, the lovable losers or (insert label here). I have had people come up to me and mention the payroll and say the Sox are the new Yankees (gasp!) I am beginning to understand the feeling of being on the *other side* of things. All I know is that I've always been a faithful fan.....