Monday, August 19, 2013

Characterizing the Fanbases #7: New York Mets

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! Perhaps some of my long-time readers remember this series from last summer that kind of fell by the wayside! I was attempting to do each team in alphabetical order, but right now I'm a bit stumped on what to say about the Reds, which should've been the next team. Since there were a few teams for whom I already had my writeups done in advance, I figured I'd go ahead and post them now. Forget alphabetical order!

In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

I think to understand Met fans you have to examine their connection to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodger Narrative (TM) has become part of baseball lore, despite some disputable elements. While entire books have been written on the subject, here's the simplified version:

Brooklyn was once an independent city before it was annexed by New York City in the late 19th Century. In opposition to the regal, wealthy, self-important image we associate with NYC, Brooklyn was quirky, working-class and diverse. For many years the Dodgers were a laughingstock, but they exemplified the grit and character of this now-borough connected to a larger metropolis it didn't necessarily feel a part of. Yes, Brooklyn was a true underdog, and when the Dodgers finally started winning in the late 1930's, it was nothing less than the Brooklynites deserved. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the Dodgers in 1947, it only confirmed the moral superiority of this franchise, essentially making them America's Team.

Of course, the Dodgers had a problem: they always came up short in the World Series. The big, bad, rich Yankees were usually the team to deny them, which was especially gut-wrenching, as it only underscored the cosmic unfairness of life that no good liberal should stand for. Unfortunately, such things were the cross every underdog must bear.

All that changed in 1955. Once again, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the Fall Classic and finally, after seven games and seven previous World Series losses, the Brooklyn Dodgers were at long last World Champions! How grand! How fitting! What a great moment not only for baseball, but all humanity! Since that oppressive unfairness inherent in life still existed though, it couldn't allow those loyal fans who lived and died with the team to enjoy it for long. Led by Walter O'Malley, the team's avaricious villain of an owner, the Dodgers moved west for the greener pastures of Los Angeles after the 1957 season, devastating a community and taking America's innocence with it.

Now, this narrative has some holes in it (too many to discuss, really), but it's more or less the story you get fed. Understandably, Dodger fans were heartbroken when their team moved, and even felt a sense of betrayal. After more than half a century they've never really let it go, despite getting a new team. Why? I can't say for sure. It's possibly due to their own obstinacy, but more likely it's because there's a big market for Brooklyn Dodger nostalgia. The Brooklyn Dodger Narrative (TM) is a poignant story that'll sell well, and due to the New York connection, it'll never hurt for media interest. Perhaps the fans have never let it go because writers, journalists and filmmakers constantly play up the importance of their team's place in baseball history, thereby leaving them with the impression that they were grievously wronged and owe it to the Dodgers' memory to hold a lifelong grudge.

All that said, how does it relate to the Mets? Well, after the Dodgers moved west with the Giants in '57, the National League had no team in New York for the next four seasons. It wasn't until the Mets were added as an expansion team in 1962 that the Senior Circuit returned to the Big Apple. The Mets attempted to create a fanbase from the old Giant and Dodger fans who didn't want to switch their allegiances to the Yankees, and for the most part, it seems that's what they did.

Since we can see that old Dodger fans are given to self-pity, and that many of them and their children (who probably grew up listening to their parents’ stories) make up the Mets' fanbase, what you have is a group that constantly feels unparalleled in its suffering. The Yankees are still the Yankees, and the Mets are stuck playing in their shadow, which only reinforces feelings that their team is underachieving.

If one looks at the evidence objectively, the Mets are probably MLB's most successful expansion franchise. They haven't won the World Series since 1986, but in baseball time, 27 years isn't very long. I mean, consider the fact that there are 30 MLB teams, and only half of them have won titles in the period since the Mets last won it, and you realize their championship drought is really nothing remarkable. Listening to them though, you'd think their plight was on par with the Cubs'.

Most teams go through lean periods, which aren’t fun once you’ve tasted the honey of success, as Met fans have at various times in the past. Having Brooklyn Dodger fans as their forebears, however, has instilled in them the mentality of an oppressed underdog, and they always feel as though their team is somehow screwing them over.

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