Boston Red Sox fans need to take a long, hard look in mirror


The Red Sox are losing? Oh, well, let’s start the wave.

Throughout what even Boston Red Sox players, coaches and personnel have deemed a “miserable” season, one quote has epitomized Boston. Ironically, it came from former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon well before the season ever got underway: “The difference between Boston and Philadelphia, the Boston fans are a little bit more hysterical when it comes to the game of baseball.” Papelbon infamously quipped at the start of spring training. “The Philly fans tend to know the game a little better, being in the National League, you know, the way the game is played.”

While certainly Philadelphia fans, too, have some hysterics among their ranks – a contingency that has fostered a strong Boston/Philadelphia rivalry in sports beyond just baseball – the point remains: Boston fans don’t know the game.

In the middle of August, I took a friend of mine – Tom, who was visiting from Amsterdam – to see a game at Fenway. This trip was paramount for Tom, who plays baseball in Holland and had only ever been to a major league game in Toronto. Certainly, baseball in Holland does not draw attention the way the game does in the United States, but while some facilities are small and intimate, larger ones often look empty and oversized in comparison to the interest it attracts.

The same could be said for Fenway as we sat to watch the Angels and Jered Weaver take on the Red Sox behind Clay Buchholz. Although the image of the lower bowl could easily maintain the illusion of a sellout streak, private boxes and pavilion level seating were unseasonably empty. Neither the high billing of the pitching matchup nor the offensive potency of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, was enough to hold the interest of those in attendance, save a few frustrated diehards sitting around us; the rest began doing “the wave” in the third inning and did not stop until the seventh inning, as most people had begun their exodus by that point.

While waiting for the train after the game, Tom – who had now viewed American sports culture in the form of a trip to Fenway and a New England Patriots’ preseason game earlier in the week – said to me, “I probably wouldn’t take my girlfriend to a soccer game in Amsterdam, but I would definitely take her to Fenway; it’s more like going out to an event than going to a sporting event.”

The innocence of his comment was scathing. Such a proud tradition of sport and fandom encapsulated in those brick confines over the past 100 years had been reduced to a caricature of charlatan “pink hats” born from the entitlement of multiple championships and a large wallet, both on the part of the fan and the ownership.

Buzzwords and phrases like “change of culture,” “unlikeable team” and “build around [insert player name]” are useless without the knowledge of where they are stemming from in specific regard to this team. The 2012 Red Sox are “unlikeable” in part because of the hangover from 2011, but also because they have a manager publicly calling out players in press conferences and star players complaining midseason about being disrespected by the arbitration process. They need to “build around” hardworking players Dustin Pedroia with energetic players like Cody Ross, and not treat the latter as a commodity because he doesn’t hit for the kind of numbers management expected to see from Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But most importantly, the “change of culture” has to come from all sides, not just the Powers That Be.

Red Sox fans have become the antithesis of themselves. While overspending on talent, regardless of chemistry, was once the calling card of rival New York, the Boston has followed suit and fans have adopted the culture change seamlessly and without question.

There is rumor of a small (probably microscopic) faction of Chicago Cubs fans that root for the boys on the North Side with the hopes that they never win a title, for fear that it will tarnish a bond that has been built from generations of failure. That was once the “Red Sox Nation,” but how soon we forget what it was like to cheer a team that could not win. To go to Fenway today and witness fans there, you would be hard pressed to imagine they might have the tolerance, zeal and faith to rally and withstand a four-game comeback in the ALCS.

Perhaps the catalyst for change would come from moving on from the manufactured nostalgia that is Fenway Park – with plaques commemorating the area in section 3 that was set aside as an overflow space for surplus media during the 2004 World Series – or maybe it means building a team for 2015 that is nurtured in Pawtucket. Regardless, the onus is on the fan in both conversation and attitude.

On Boston-area sports radio, the phrase of the season has been “the fish stinks from the head down,” and it’s true; this team has had its problems in the clubhouse and in the front office, but the “fish” is bigger than that. Media and fans alike have failed to uphold the integrity of a city. Fans have been irresponsible at games, and while the productivity of booing a player remains an age-old debate, at least booing illustrates attention. Today, Red Sox fans at the park appear wholly disinterested in the game. Media, in turn, has become lazy and seems to take their journalistic cues from the annals of these fans, particularly in their questioning of manager Bobby Valentine. Despite answers given in press conferences prior, as well as numerous votes of confidence from ownership, the same questions of the future remain. That is not to say they are unwarranted and without reason, but rather they are loaded and redundant.

The “Fenway Faithful” showed its true colors this season, but that is not to say all Red Sox fans are at fault. Enough have started to shift baseball conversation in local media outlets toward next season. Nevertheless, so long as disinterest and fleeting support continues to be the norm at Fenway, it seems unlikely that a true culture change can occur and flourish. Should the Red Sox organization return to success in 2013, it is likely that Fenway fans, too, will revert to being the most excited and faithful in major league baseball, but that only goes to further epitomize their uninformed fraudulence.

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  1. As a Red Sox fan, this was not a comfortable read, and the premise was a dangerous one, as we know every team’s fans run the gamut from well-informed students of the game to those looking for a day at the park and a chance to tell Josh Beckett he’s lazy. Where I disagree with J is that I think it was very well written, honest, and as thorough as an opinion piece can be expected to be.
    I’m not sure the fans have as much influence over the team’s rebuilding as you suggest toward the end, but it’s true that Fenway will not be a great place to be again until fans realize what they have and act accordingly.

  2. Quite honestly, you’re right. I spent three days trying to edit this into a place that didn’t feel like I was “fan writing” and I thought I got it to that point, but you touch on some of the concerns I thought I had worked out, so apparently not. Thanks for reading and, more importantly, thanks for responding. I mean that genuinely. As far as the point I was trying to make, however, I’m not one to be disillusioned by a “few” misinformed fans, but what I’m saying is the majority (not ALL, but a majority) of the fanbase now has shifted to fair-weather tendencies, particularly at the park (a trend that has been growing for a number of years, but again, I can get over it). My biggest problem is that there is no loyalty; tough times and no loyalty. I think that stems from what Pap was talking about. If you disagree with me, read Joe McDonald’s article yesterday (http://espn.go.com/boston/mlb/story/_/id/8363196/red-sox-pitcher-jon-lester-talks-life-josh-beckett) read the article then read the comments and tell me that there isn’t a predisposed disparity there. I’m not saying I didn’t raise my eyebrows now and then, too, but no one gives this team the time of day and that’s just tedious

  3. Rambling and incoherent. The article begins with the Papelbon quote – implying Red Sox fans are overzealous and care too much – and awkwardly morphs into an argument that they “don’t know baseball.” These are different ideas. You’re an English major; examine your thesis.

    Is there a pink hat contingent? Sure. However, a few bandwagon fans should not be an indictment of the fan base generally. True Red Sox fans are among the best-informed fans in baseball; this is actually conventional wisdom, and is so for good reason.

    – Not a Red Sox Fan

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