baseball

Bandwagon Season

There’s a strange hue hanging over Northern California recently. And no, it’s not the ubiquitous smoky sky from approximately seventeen thousand wildfires going on simultaneously. It’s August, so we’re pretty accustomed to that visage.

Although did we really need to name one of them the Carr Fire? You know “car fire” has a different connotation, right, media?

“Hey, did you hear the latest on the car fire?”

“No, I took a different route to work today. Is that why you were late?”

But the current strange vision is  a color combination that I’m not used to encountering in the summer. Or really, at any time since the Bush administration. It’s a distinctive shade of green. Bright, unnatural. Maybe it’s called Kelly green? I don’t know. It seems to me that Forest Green is very deep green color, and everything else is Kelly Green. Or turquoise.

But these shirts and hats I’m seeing definitely aren’t turquoise. Turquoise only shows up in this region in April or May of years when the Sharks are both in line for a top playoff seed AND didn’t underperform in the playoffs the season before. So, basically never.

“Never” is also when I assumed I’d see this garish green-and-yellow again, but it’s the summer of 2018, and it’s back. When I first moved to Northern California, in the early 1990s, it was everywhere, the unofficial color of spring and summer, after which it became garnet-and-gold season. Then it disappeared, only to have a brief resurgence in the early aughts, coming up for breath once per decade like the Nessie above the surface of her Scottish loch. I’m wracking my brain for what that precise confluence of events, which stars and constellations have aligned, to bring out the blinding combination once more.

Wait. Could it be… Let me double check the standings just to be sure and… Yep, the Oakland A’s are holding the wild card. If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs.

At least the Giants aren’t in contention, so we don’t have to worry about the green-and-yellow clashing with the black-and-orange that is usually seen around these parts this time of year. Of course, you could never have both teams being represented at the same time. Because the people wearing the green this year are the exact same people that were wearing the orange two years ago.

You see, Northern Californians are horrible sports fans. When a team is losing, they are either afraid to represent it, or more likely, they simply stop rooting for that team. Ignore it like Janet Jackson asking, “what have you don for me lately?” And then, when that team starts to win, they all of a sudden come up with these wonderful stories of how they’ve been lifelong fans, busting out clothes that looks either twenty years old, or freshly purchased this week.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just NorCals. ALL Californians are horrible bandwagoners. Northern Californians are just much more obvious about it. The SoCals’ fandom expands or contracts based on the viability of the team at the moment. A decade ago, Dodger blue was only noticeable in the Valley and LA proper. Now it’s the unofficial color of the Southland. At least it was until LeBron signed with the Lakers, and then my Facebook feed looked like it was 2010 all over again.

But the SoCals don’t swap allegiances quite as fickly as thee NorCals. Now, maybe that’s because Southern California teams rarely change position. The Clippers, Angels, and UCLA aren’t competitive enough to do a true control experiment. The Angels won one World Series, but usually underperform. The Clippers gave us a little test run, being a better team than the Lakers for most of the past decade. And while I saw more people checking in at Clippers games, and many people saying “Hey, good for the Clippers,” nobody was changing their profile pictures to suddenly claim their lifelong Clipper fandom. If the Clippers and Lakers played in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, there would be a whole lot of people shuffling past their red-and-blue to find their antiquated purple-and-gold the moment LeBron signed. (See Below: Kings, Sacramento; Warriors, Golden State)

Southern California does have one sport with two different champions. And I give them credit for sticking by their hockey guns. The level of excitement for the two Kings championships was equaled only by the general level of ho-hum, oh-wait-there’s-another-hockey-team-here apathy the two times the Ducks won it all. And most of my friends live in Orange County. However, most of them became hockey fans before the Ducks existed. Oh, and they hate Disney. Still, if Orange County gives more of a shit about the LA team than the one in their own backyard, they’re not bandwagoning.

Back to Northern California and the impending return of “A’s Country.” Northern Californian teams swap places on a more regular basis, and boy howdy, do those fan allegiances give me whiplash. Fifteen years ago, when the Sacramento Kings came within one compromised referee game of winning the NBA championship, everything north of Fresno might as well have been washed over in purple. You couldn’t go anywhere without proudly showing your allegiance to the basketball team-du-jour.

There was another NBA team in Northern California at the time. Not that you’d know it. They were called the Golden State Warriors. I doubt you’ve heard of them. Their colors were… dark blue? Or maybe grey. I seem to remember they had some sort of ninja on their logo. With lightning-bolt lettering?

I’m being serious here. I don’t remember what their colors were in 2002, because NOBODY owned any Warriors gear. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have had the audacity to show it in public.

I know what the color and the logo look like now. It’s blue and yellow, with a picture of the Bay Bridge in a circle in the middle. I know that because the Warriors are good now, so everyone is wearing their gear. And a hell of a lot of these “Lifelong” Warriors fans were so decked out in purple a decade ago that their own children might not recognize them.

Nowadays, if you  wear a Sacramento Kings hat in Sacramento, you will be mocked incessantly. This is Warriors-county, baby!

Does this bleedover happen in other markets?  I imagine that, even when the Dallas Mavericks were very good, the predominant gear worn in Houston would still belong to the Rockets. Am I wrong here?

The good news is these Warriors fans can’t claim they bought their gear twenty years ago, because the Warriors have changed their look so many times. And yeah, their current look is a bit of a throwback, but the Bay Bridge has been torn down and rebuilt since the 1980s logo.

We went through the whole bandwagon with the San Francisco 49ers, too. Again, when I moved here, you could barely go out in public between August and February without sporting a gold Starter jacket. But by the time Y2K rolled around, you couldn’t find Niners gear everywhere. And I know these fans still rooted for their team. They would come into work on Monday morning rehashing every play of the game. Even in shitty Candlestick Park, the team was still selling out games. But there were no hats or jerseys or Starter jackets.

It got to the point that I forgot I lived in Niner Country. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up and they started winning again. All of a sudden, people who I had worked with for ten years started showing up in Niners polos and jerseys every Friday. I even mocked some of my students (“Oh hey, you Niners fans finally found all that gear at the back of your closet”), which was mean and probably a bit errant because the Niners had never been good in their life, so if they had gear, they probably were legitimate fans.

Although, in my defense, last year I taught the younger sister of the girl I mocked. I asked her if her sister still wears a lot of Niner gear. She said no.

Northern California fans feel this is absolutely normal. They simply believe the way the world works is to stop showing support for your team when they are losing. Clearly they’ve never been to Chicago, where people were wearing Cubs and White Sox gear when neither team had won anything in fifty years or more. Or Boston before 2004. Hell, I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I bet there are still a lot of people wearing Browns gear during football season there.

And this says nothing of international destinations, where people still wear shirts for their teams when they drop down to the minor leagues.

At least Niners fans didn’t put on silver and black when the Raiders got good. If there’s one sport where NorCal fans don’t just jump to the currently successful team, it’s football. But when you talk to a Giants fan who thinks it’s perfectly fine becoming an A’s fan overnight, and you ask them if they should do the same thing with the football teams, they will look at you aghast. That’s fucking crazy talk.

It should be for baseball, too. Browns fans are still Browns fans, even after years of being horrible. They wouldn’t jump ship to the Bengals just to save face. Nets and Knicks fans don’t have to look at the standings to know which team they like that day. I have a White Sox friend who says, “I’d rather my sister be a whore than my brother be a Cubs fan.”

Of course, I always told him those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

And I guaran-fucking-tee there is no New York equivalent of this monstrosity:

20180810_074941

I’m not saying you can’t root for a team other than yours. On any given day, there are usually 14 games that do not feature your favorite team. It’s not a bad thing to prefer one team over the other. In 1986, when the Mets were playing the Red Sox in the World Series, I assume that Yankees fans wanted the Mets to win. But I doubt they started spouting off about how long they had loved the Mets and started wearing Mets gear instead of Yankees gear.

That’s what puts California fans apart. They are proud of switching their allegiance on a dime. Again, look at that atrocious hat. People are PROUD to own that hat.

But when two teams share one media market, dammit, those are supposed to be rivals. I grew up an Angels fan and I absolutely hated the Dodgers. The typical sports news in Southern California was eighty percent Dodgers and twenty percent Angels. We were the red-headed stepchild of SoCal.

Then the Angels won the World Series and the whole Southland was smothered in halos. Not only did the Orange County Register remember there was a team in Orange County, but the Los Angeles Times did, as well. It was unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. I actually felt a little sorry for the Dodgers fans who stayed true, because I knew how they felt rooting for the forgotten team in the market. Just like those Golden State Warriors fans.

Even worse, the Angels started selling out their games. I was like the fan of the indie band that hits it big. For two or three years, I couldn’t get tickets.

Of course, the Angels only won once and within a few years, the Dodgers were back on top in SoCal. Now I can get any ticket I want in a stadium that’s only forty-percent full. All is right with the world. Until we lose Mike Trout…

Which brings me back to the Bay Area. I thought we had finally gotten to an equilibrium a la SoCal, with the A’s as the permanent underclass. They haven’t been competitive in over a decade, and they usually have to trade away their entire team every year. Even worse for them, their decade of crap was also a decade when the Giants won the World Series three times.

And some of the A’s fans that switched to the Giants actually acknowledged it. They say it’s tough to root for a team that will never sign good players and will always trade away their stars. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Giants fault. Back in the early nineties, when NOBODY went to, or watched, Giants games, they threatened to move to Florida. To entice them to stay, the commissioner made it so that the A’s would never be able to move out of very-heavily congested Alameda County. So then the Giants built their brand new stadium and everybody started going to their games. The A’s tried to follow suit and the Giants blocked them. The Giants are literally the only team in all of sports that can control the ability of a rival to make money.

And that power was given to them because the A’s were too popular in their market.

Now, or at least up until this year, the Giants have the fancy new ballpark and the world championships and all of the fans. Fans who say, “I just love the black-and-orange color scheme. That rustic, intertwined SF Logo. I mean, the A’s logo is just so gauche and doesn’t really match with anything.”

Until 2018.

In Sacramento, our AAA team switched affiliates from the A’s to the Giants, thinking this would bring in more fans. Not only did they switch, but they went Giants all the way. When they were the A’s franchise, they marketed themselves as “Sacramento’s team.” Since the switch, they reference Sacramento as little as possible. All of their giveaways are Giants players who never played in Sacramento. The bobbleheads all wear Giants, not River Cats, uniforms. They even put the fucking Golden Gate Bridge on our hats and uniforms.

It’s sucked for attendance though, because they forgot that Northern California fans are fickle. The year after the World Series? Yeah, gangbusters in Sacramento. But since then, it’s been dismal. Plus the team has tanked. The A’s usually have really good minor league teams, a result of that whole “trading their entire team every other year” thing. But the Giants don’t really build through the minors.

So now the River Cats are horrible and the stands are empty. The only time fans show up is if a major leaguer is rehabbing, and then they only pay attention when that particular minor leaguer is at bat. Then they talk over the rest of the action and check their phones and just generally don’t give a shit about anybody else on the team.

When Madison Bumgarner was rehabbing, tickets were being sold on eBay for over $100. Fifteen-thousand fans showed up. MadBum  pitched into the third inning. By the fifth inning, there were only about four-thousand fans left. The following week, MadBum was back up in San Francisco. The stands were half-full. Those Sacramento fans probably could have seen him for substantially less than $100, even after paying for gas and bridge toll.

Hey, at least playing in Sacramento is preparing those AAA guys for what it’ll be like to be a real San Francisco Giants, where nobody will come to their games or bother knowing who they are unless they’re winning a World Series or are named Barry Bonds.

Open Letter to Rob Manfred

Dear Commish:

Congrats on your first Opening Day. Not only for you, but for the sport. You make the first legitimate commissioner of Major League Baseball in over twenty years. How nice it must feel to have this important post without the necessity of an owners’ coup. You didn’t have to collude with Jerry Reinsdorf to oust the previous commissioner.  You didn’t have to lead Dick Cheney-esque committee to “look for the next commissioner,” only to find that, lo and behold, there was “no other viable candidate” but yourself. You didn’t have to come up with stupid titles like “acting commissioner” for six years to give you time to sell your team to your sister.

In fact, there doesn’t really seem to be any conflict of interest surrounding you at all. Other than being the afore-referenced commissioner’s hand-picked successor. But for years, Supreme Court Justices and Roger Goodell have been pursuing their own ideas contrary to the desires of the people that put them in that office.

So again, congratulations. The good news is that you are now in charge of a sport that managed to thrive despite your predecessor’s ineptitude.

The bad news is that he made some really stupid decisions that you’re going to have to work around. Good luck providing guidance on that whole “which players that he implicitly encouraged to take steroids to rescue the game from his own mismanagement should get into the Hall of Fame” question. And the fact that one Bay Area team is contractually obligated to play in a shithole because he couldn’t stand up to an owner and reverse an agreement that is no longer economically legitimate. Yeah, you should do something about that.

But the thing I want to focus on is realignment. I know, it’s a scary prospect for a commissioner, considering it was the main topic which allowed your predecessor to tyrannically ouster his own predecessor.

At least it’s not as scary as relocating teams. I might bring that up a little bit, too. But I might pair that with expansion, which should make every commissioner’s eyes sparkle.

So here we go.

One of Selig’s worst boners was one of his last. Like a bad wine, age only turned him to vinegar.  Last year he moved Houston to the American League. This was absolutely stupid. The reason was to give Texas a divisional rival that wasn’t two time zones away. I understand this gripe. However, there were other ways to go about giving them some road games that start before 9:00 PM Dallas time.

Move Kansas City to the AL West. See how easy that was? Accomplishes the same thing as Houston without jacking with the geographic parity of the Leagues.

See, that’s the real problem with moving Houston. I mean, aside from being utterly dismissive to the Astros’ fans and franchise, a franchise that had represented the National League in the World Series less than a decade ago. A franchise that had been in the National League since 1962, the same year as the Mets. Last I checked, no one said “eh, move the Mets to the AL, who cares?”

The leagues should be as geographically balanced as possible. If a fan is within driving distance of two teams, one should be in the American League, and one should be in the National League. The four metropolitan areas that share teams all do that. Prior to the move, four of the five states that share two teams did it. Even Minnesota and Milwaukee form “natural rivals” with a socially similar neighbor. Selig moved the Brewers to the NL, one of the few times he made the right move, albeit for the wrong reasons.

But now, if you live in Texas and want to see a specific National League team or player, your options are to wait three to six years until they visit, or else drive twelve hours to St. Louis or Atlanta.

So who should have been moved to even out the leagues? As I said before, prior to Selig’s nimrodery, there was only one state with its only two teams in the same league.

California? I see you scanning your map. Nope, they have five. Arizona? Texas? No wait, he means before. Let’s see… Not there… there… wait a second… He can’t mean…. Pennsyl…

Okay, breathe Mr. Commissioner. It’ll be okay. You see that reaction you just had? That we can’t possibly mess with the “majesty and history” of some teams but who the hell cares about the Astros? That’s what we call an East Coast Bias. It’s all over your sport. It would be nice if it wasn’t. In case you were wondering, the Houston metropolitan area has just under six million people, making them as viable and important of a fanbase as the Phillies. Pittsburgh? Just under two-and-a-half million, right above those baseball powerhouses in Portland and Charlotte

But yes, either the Phillies or the Pirates should move to the American League. If it was the Pirates, it would be easier to put them into the Central while sending the Royals into the West. Bear in mind the AL Central already has other great Steel-Belt cities like Detroit and Chicago. Oh, and did I mention Cleveland? Go ahead and ask any Browns or Steelers fans if it works having those two cities in the same division.

Philly could move to the AL East, with Toronto moving to the Central. Plus Philadelphia does have some American League history with the A’s. And they would have a closer drive to the closest NL cities than Pittsburgh would. It would mess with the nice AL-NL-AL-NL-AL-NL tradeoff as you drive south through the Bos-Wash corridor. Technically, the Mets technically play south of the Yankees, but that’s just splitting hairs.

After the simple Houston-for-Pennsylvania switch, we’ll be down to only four sets of teams that don’t have natural interleague rivals. In the American League, it’s Detroit, Toronto, Boston, and Seattle. San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, and Atlanta are the National League loners. Interesting how one problem is in the northeast, the other in the southwest. How about either Detroit or Toronto moving to the National League? In the southwest, just send Arizona to the American League West.

You’ll notice on that last one, I didn’t say Arizona or San Diego. Why? This was another flub-up by your predecessor. Arizona was never supposed to be in the National League. They came in with Tampa Bay. But Jerry Colangelo whined that Arizona formed a natural rivalry with Los Angeles and San Francisco (but, magically, not Anaheim and Oakland) and he didn’t want to play in the stinky American League. Selig, complete with every conflict of interest known to mankind, kowtowed to another owner. He then volunteered to move his own team into what was the weakest division in baseball at the time.

Hell, Bud, just have them play some Double-A teams and get back to us in October.

So now we’re down to only four outliers. This is where it gets a little tricky and can’t be solved overnight. The easy answer is to pair Boston and Atlanta, which usually happens anyway under the silly notion that the Braves used to play in Boston. It’s true, but I don’t know how many octogenarians are running to these Interleague games. And what exactly does Atlanta get out of the bargain?

The other match-up’s a little more logical. Denver and Seattle, the two most geographically isolated teams. They also come from the two states where pot is legal, so we don’t have to explain the pairing. Just tell the potheads that “Everybody KNOWS why they’re rivals.” Brought to you by Doritos.

But this seems a temporary fix. Before too long, the remaining five Boston Braves fans will die and other states will legalize marijuana. So we’re going to need to get a little more creative. From here on out, I’m just throwing ideas out there. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is most feasible.

If you’re wondering about the implication of that statement, the answer is yes. Yes, I’ve been telling you how to do your job. But only up until now. From here on, these are just suggestions. You’re on your own.

Florida shouldn’t have two teams. They probably shouldn’t even have one, but definitely not two. Sometime in the late 1980s, someone decided that Florida needed more teams. From 1987-1998, Florida gained one NFL franchise and two teams in each of the other three leagues (baseball, hockey, and basketball). That’s seven teams in eleven years! Is it all that surprising that none of them have taken root, with the exception of the years that the Heat make the NBA Finals?

A few years ago, I would have said the Marlins were the logical team to leave the state, making Tampa Bay as Atlanta’s rival. But then Miami got a new stadium, while the Rays still play in one of the worst.  Not that it matters how good the stadium is, or how good the team is, nobody attends either team’s games. So ship one out, leave the other one playing in the American League in Miami.

So where should the displaced Ray-Marlins go? Let’s move them up to become a rival of the Mariners. The northwest has plenty of room.

Portland, you’re thinking? Nope. Huge population, but not overly interested in baseball. They couldn’t even hold onto their Triple-A team, and kicking them out of town to make way for soccer.

No, I’m talking about Vancouver. Some people think that, since baseball failed in Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city, how could baseball survive in its third-largest? Speaking English can’t hurt. The whole border town thing helps, tooI’ve been to a number of minor league games there, and they regularly have some of the fullest Single-A stadiums I’ve ever seen.

Of course, the question about an NL franchise in Vancouver would be whether they are rivals of Seattle or Toronto. We could fix that, though. Remember baseball failing in Montreal? Want to know whose fault that is? Whoever the jackass was that canceled the World Series when the Expos were on the verge of winning their first championship. They were dominating the competition, 74-40, six games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East and four games ahead of the Yankees for best record in baseball. There was a ballot measure to build a new stadium.

Then Bud Selig and Donald Fehr decided to cancel the season. When baseball came back, Selig made sure it was skewed toward the bigger market teams, because if he couldn’t get fans to come out to the games, he would survive off of advertising. Oh, and steroids.

So give Montreal another shot.

Another dearth of Major League Baseball in the country seems to be the Carolinas.  An American League team would fit very nicely there, partway between the two NL franchises in Atlanta and Washington.  Looking down the list of metropolitan areas, I know Las Vegas is probably a no-go, and some of the other mid-majors, Sacramento and Orlando, don’t work due to proximity of other teams. San Antonio/Austin might fall into that trap, as well, or they might be viable for relocation or expansion. Heck, if you put a National League team there, I might even let you keep the Astros in the American.

Another spot that might work despite a smaller population is Salt Lake City. Much like the Rockies, I think a team there would draw from far outside the metropolitan area. Not just in Utah, but also Idaho. You could also add in a lot of Mormon support as the team traveled. Dropping an AL franchise there would finally help those Rockies stop feeling so isolated.

But yeah, the Utah Salties and Austin Smokehouses might be a little far down the road. Try to work on some of that other stuff first.

But in the meantime, Mr. Manfred, sit back on this Opening Day and enjoy the show.

It’s a beautiful little game we’ve got here.

Hopefully we finally have a commissioner that appreciates that.