The Metrics of Met Fans

As I’ve noted before, the MLB Network has done a pretty good job so far, particularly with their Hot Stove show. But that program annoyed and disappointed me last night when host Matt Vasgersian brought up the subject of the Mets and how they can’t “buy a headline” right now and how the Yankees have been dominating the back pages.

He queried ex-Met-and-Yankee Al Leiter on the subject, and the ol’ lefty insisted that New York is a National League town. This brought stunned, laugh-filled reactions from the assembled host: Vasgersian, Harold Reynolds, and recently retired first baseman/molasses imitator Sean Casey.

The other guys on the show had no counter-argument. They probably didn’t think they needed one. Just the notion that NY was an NL town, to them, was so ridiculous that it didn’t warrant a rebuttal.

jacket.jpgI don’t agree with Mr. Leiter that NY is an NL town. It’s a baseball town. And within that universe, there is enough room for large, rabid fan bases for two teams. There are more Yankee fans than Mets fans (26 championships and a 60-year head start will do that), but to paint the Mets as some poor widdle stepsister is ludicrous.

It’s especially ridiculous when you consider the Mets drew over 4 million people to Shea last year. Even accounting for the vagaries of MLB attendance figures, that’s astounding. And yes, it was the last year at Shea, but everyone kept telling me how much of a dump Shea was and how it couldn’t come down fast enough. So surely, Shea’s demise was no draw at all.

Therefore, I have to assume that the 4+ million people who went to Shea were there to watch baseball games played by a team they care about. In fact, I would say that Shea’s overall crappiness depressed fan attendance by at least several thousand per game. Because the overall fan experience at Shea was so dreadful that the Mets basically dared you to go there. And 4+ million defied those barriers to sports enjoyment and did so–more than any other team in baseball other than (drum roll) the Yankees.

Mets fans don’t care about who dominates the headlines. I don’t think Yankees fans do, either. The Yankees have dominated local sports back pages for the last month, but it’s all because of Joe Torre’s book and the A-Rod mess. Is that kind of non-stop coverage preferable to being ignored?

* Speaking of which, the guys at Faith and Fear in Flushing hit it out of the park (as they always do) with their take on the NY sports’ media’s “Met angle” for the Alex Rodriguez-Steroids Saga.

What trips up National Sports Media types is the large, amorphous group of truly unaffiliated NY Sports Fans who root for whichever team is Top Dog at the moment. Right now, these people say they’re Yankees fans. But in the 1980s, these same people would have called themselves Mets fans. And in the late 1970s, they would have been Yankees fans. And in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Mets fans. They’re the kind of people who would have been huge Ancient Roman fans up until 400 AD or so, and then really started rooting for those Visigoths.

These people don’t like baseball. They don’t even really like sports. They like winning.
They like drinking beer at a game, or in a bar, and “cheering” for a team that has a good chance of coming out on top. This includes the Wall Street douche whose firm has a luxury box, the attention-whore actor/actress who must be seen at The Hot Spot, and The Average Schmoe who wants to succeed in one area of his life, even if only by proxy.

These people will continue to be Yankees fans because of their big free agent signings and their new billion (tax and bond) dollar monument to themselves, which will be The Hot Ticket in town until the Knicks get good again (so, in perpetuity, I guess). But if the winds ever change and the Yankees finish last while the Mets compete for a playoff spot, they will switch sides so fast it’ll make your head spin.

The National Sports Media doesn’t get this because this dynamic doesn’t exist in other cities, where there’s only one team. Even in Chicago, the battle lines are pretty well demarcated: North Side = Cubs, South Side = White Sox, never the twain shall meet.*

* LA doesn’t count. I’ve had more than one person from that area tell me that you
root for the Dodgers if you’re actually from the city, and you root for the Angels if you’re from the suburbs. If there’s any Angelenos out there to dispute this, speak up.

Elsewhere, there’s no second team to divide fanbases, so rooting for a team is more a matter of civic pride than it is actual fandom. When the Phillies won the World Series, the entire town went nuts. There were people setting fires and flipping cars on Broad Street who couldn’t pick Chase Utley out of a lineup.

Meanwhile, if a NY team wins a championship, it delights that team’s fans–and no one else. When the Giants won the Super Bowl, millions of their fans lined the streets of Lower Manhattan. And millions of Jets fans cursed them out while they tried to get to work that morning.

People who have middle of the road tastes tend to resent people who like obscure things. They think people who like esoterica do so “just to be different.” They get all of their cultural needs fulfilled by top 40 radio, network TV, and Hollywood movies. So why, they say, can’t everybody? Obviously someone who goes anywhere else for entertainment must be doing it just to prove some crazy point!

I believe most National Sports Media Types look at Mets fans the same way: they like the Mets just because they’re not the Yankees. That’s an insult to both fan bases. It assumes that being a Yankees fan is some Default Setting, and that liking the Mets is akin to being a fan of Captain Beefheart or Dogme films.

Here’s the bottom line: There are Yankees fans, and there are Mets fans. They each love their respective teams, and will continue to do so despite what is said (or isn’t) in the media, or what the players on those teams do (or don’t do). If Derek Jeter machine-gunned an orphanage tomorrow, not one Yankees fan would change their fan affiliation. Substitute “David Wright” and “Mets” in the appropriate spots, and that statement would be just as true.

The only real question is, which team attracts the most fair-weather fans at any given moment? The answer is clearly the Yankees. That is a crown they can gladly keep.