We need to revisit what a fan is

My name is Michael Saltzman and I am a San Francisco Giants fan. Like all fans, I have died hard with my team. I have survived the torture of 2003, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1993, 1989 and 1987. I have also enjoyed the highest of highs with the championships of 2010, 2012, and 2014. That’s what fans do. They figuratively live and die with their team. Through the good times, through the bad times, and through Scott Speizio.

As a fan growing up in the late 1980’s, I fell in love with Bay Area baseball. Both the Giants and A’s were outstanding teams. Guys like Will Clark, Robby Thompson and Matt Williams were coming up through the minor league system at the time for the Giants, and they became the foundation of many successful seasons in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the A’s had a great team of their own with some Hall of Fame talent like Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley, along with guys like Dave Henderson  and Terry Steinbach.

However, during the 1989 World Series, I came to a crossroads in the rule of fandom.

1. 1st rule of Fandom: You can only have one team.
2. 2nd rule of Fandom: YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE TEAM!!

You weren’t allowed to root for both teams. Those hats they came out with that had the A’s on one half and the Giants on the other were disgusting, not creative. At least that’s how I was brainwashed to think. I had a problem. I was nine years old, and I had favorites on both. I loved Kevin Mitchell. He was my absolute favorite player. His 1989 season led to an MVP award and his 47 home runs and 125 runs batted in led the way for the Giants that season. Rickey and Dave Henderson were also great for the A’s and I loved watching Rickey run the bases and loved watching the swagger of “Hendu” in centerfield.

But, you can only have 1 favorite team. You can only have one team you die hard for. So, I had to make a decision, and like the first paragraph explained, I am still a proud Giants fan.

But let’s go back to those favorite players for a minute. Mitchell was my favorite as a nine-year-old boy in 1989, and his posters were on my wall and his baseball cards were in my school binders. In 1992, the Giants betrayed me and traded Mitchell to the Seattle Mariners. How could they do that? That was my favorite player. Other favorites would be gone soon after as Will Clark and Matt Williams were both gone during the next few seasons. So, even if I had picked Clark or Williams to be my favorite player, I would have suddenly had to start watching Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians games, respectively. Despite my favorite player being shipped to Seattle, I stayed with the Giants. It wasn’t easy, and I did “root” for Mitchell, Clark, Williams, and other former Giants when I watched them play elsewhere.

This brings me to the main reason I am writing this article and why I gave you my personal back story as well. We basically become fans for one of two reasons.

A. We were born near the team we root for.
B. We have a favorite player

There rarely is a third reason. My brother-in-law was born in Australia and the only games broadcast there when he was growing up were Yankees games, so he became a die hard Yankees fan and a die hard Don Mattingly fan as well. I still consider this the first category because when you aren’t near a team, the team that gets broadcast the most where you live will often become your honorary team. This is one of the very reasons the Cubs and Braves have had such a great national following, because of their games being shown nationally on basic cable television for so many years.

I was born in San Jose, California, and went to many games at Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum. It wasn’t an accident that those two teams were my favorite teams, or that my favorite players were on those teams.

So let’s talk about B for a minute then. Sometimes, we have a favorite player. That player usually is on the local team, but not always. There are certainly fans of Derek Jeter who never spent time in New York and there are certainly Giants fans because of Buster Posey who have never been to California.

So let’s take a player who is great, and who has been traded and look at the dynamics of the fandom surrounding that player. Unfortunately, the Oakland A’s have traded away many players in recent years and those players have gone to perform well in their new homes. Meanwhile, friends of mine are stuck rooting for the constantly changing roster in Oakland. Josh Donaldson, one of the best players in the game and an MVP candidate in 2015 for the Toronto Blue Jays, was an Oakland A’s third baseman in 2014.

Very few fans of Josh Donaldson became Blue Jays fans. Most Josh Donaldson fans stayed Oakland A’s fans.

WHY!!!!

This is the part of fandom that I never understood, and even as an adult and victim to the rationale we give for why this always happens.

I understand that loyalty to your hometown is similar to loyalty to your family for many people and when you are a fan of a team from the place you are from, there is a bond that feels just as strong as the bond with your family. However, many fans of Josh Donaldson and the A’s became fans of Donaldson because of his abilities on the field. The playoff success the A’s have had in recent seasons gave them many more casual fans and those fans loved the way that Donaldson played the game.

So when Billy Beane traded Donaldson, why aren’t fans allowed to root for the Blue Jays? Why do they have to root for Brett Lawrie, the A’s new third baseman, more than Donaldson.

Imagine your emotions in the following scenario: You and your best friend are die hard A’s fans. You sat on the couch and watched the 2014 post-season and were crushed when the Royals stormed back to defeat your favorite team. In the off-season, you hear the news that Beane has traded Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Lawrie and prospects. You go to see your friend a few days later and he is sitting on that same couch wearing a Blue Jays jersey.

Do you feel?

A. Betrayed
B. Angry
C. Baffled
D. Confused
E. All of the Above

You’re damn right ALL OF THE ABOVE. What a traitor! What kind of fan are you!?!? How could you leave our A’s for the stupid Blue Jays? I guess the big money teams can buy your loyalty too.

Why does this happen? Why do we let ourselves fall in love with players on our favorite team, and then treat them like chess pieces when they move elsewhere? These are our favorite players. We should be allowed to root for those individual players no matter where they play. If you are a Josh Donaldson fan, you should be rooting for him in Toronto. And yet, we don’t. We stick with our team because the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.

But how many of us fell in love with our favorite team because of a player? How many Yankees fans, are actually just Jeter fans? How many of those Jeter fans are now sitting around their room with all of their Yankees memorabilia trying to convince themselves that they love the Yankees and not just Jeter?

It’s human nature. For those Jeter fans, they ended up watching many Yankees games over the years, and when Aaron Boone or Scott Brosius had a big moment, they cheered just as loud as if Jeter got that hit. They want Jeter to do well, and for him to win, the other 24 guys have to play well too. That’s why we end up buying other replica jerseys and generic memorabilia that has nothing to do with our favorite player as the years go. We end up liking other guys too. And, we also know that when our favorite player retires, we will need a new favorite to keep the line moving.

Many fans of my Giants began because of Posey. However, since they started following the Giants in 2010, they also became fans of Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence and Matt Duffy. This is not surprising. It happens to every fan. We end up liking other players, but our reason for liking the “team” in the first place is only because of the one guy. When Posey retires, these fans will feel obligated by the rules of fandom to stay with the Giants. That is because of the infamous “Rule #3.”

3. 3rd rule of fandom: You cannot change allegiances no matter what.
4. 4th rule of fandom: YOU CANNOT…I love Fight Club.

We vilify fans for changing teams. If the team they change to is good, regardless of the reason, we say they jumped on the bandwagon.  We again rip them for their lack of loyalty. We tell them that they are not worthy of calling themselves fans because they didn’t stick with their team no matter what. We use the term die hard and we figuratively mean it. We “kill” fans for changing their loyalty.

We need to realize that this is entertainment and our entertainment should be best spent on the people who entertain us the most. When Jeter retires, fans don’t owe the Yankees anything. They should be allowed to shift to a new favorite player, regardless of whether they are on the Yankees or not. Same with Posey. Same with Donaldson. Same with whoever your favorite player is.

The name on the back of the jersey means more than the name on the front. That’s what a true fanatic really should be. They are crazy about the players that make them fall in love with the game every day. If you love your team, the way I love the Giants, feel free to stick to your team through thick and thin. I’m going to even after writing this story. Like I said in the beginning of this article: I am Michael Saltzman and I am a San Francisco Giants fan.

Leave a Reply