It was one movie, or it was several movies. It's Doris Kearns Goodwin chirping and twinkly in a pool of light in an otherwise dim mahogany study. Or it's some chattering, pleasant nebbish taking you through his meticulous basement reliquary of Red Sox memento mori, the ball that Scott Cooper threw him during batting practice, a splinter of Rich Gedman's broken bat, Mike Greenwell's rookie card sneering out of an unnecessary lucite sleeve. That or it's Ben Affleck in voiceover, or it's Bill Simmons over the course of thousands of words, all his digressions down the usual basic-cable cul de sacs merging back, honking, into the main flow of traffic. All of it, in the years before the Boston Red Sox finally won their first World Series in 2004 and then in the years after, was meant to communicate this one single feeling.
The thing that all these people believed, and which they expressed in a series of effectively indistinguishable documentaries that were first about how the Red Sox had made them sad and then about how the Red Sox made them happy, was that they believed their experience of being a fan was different—that their suffering had been deeper, and that their joy had been greater, than anyone else's. It's easy to choose that grandiosity—not just the belief that their pain was more painful than anyone else's, but the certainty of that belief, and the attendant faith that this is something you might want to hear about—as the reason that Boston sports fans are the most universally beloved fan community in American life. But while it remains a hilariously awful way to be even by the standards of fandom, and while the ubiquity of all that alternately pinched and bellowing sublimation still feels criminal in retrospect, I don't think that's it at all.
I don't even think the Red Sox fans are wrong about the depth and uniqueness of their suffering, really. I think they're just forgetting that pretty much all sports-related suffering, because we call it down on ourselves by choice and because of how helpless we are to stop it, is painful and unique to the sufferers. The Milwaukee Brewers organization is in its 48th season, and the team has sent four teams to the playoffs during that time; 26 seasons passed between the second and third. The Houston Astros are in their 55th year of existence, and their record in World Series games over that time is 0-4. This is not to say that the poor dummies who have entrusted those teams with some portion of their emotional well-being during the warm weather months have suffered more or less than Red Sox fans did during the World Series drought that began when the parade ended in 1918 and ended with Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn doing ludicrous happy dances on the dirt in 2004. We can't know the answer to that.
It's just to say that it will vary from person to person. What sets Red Sox fans—or at least the broader weepy/brawly Masshole diaspora, if not from my experience the individual people—apart, really, is not the degree of suffering, or even the duration, but their unabashed eagerness to give you a very specific question that you were not necessarily going to ask. Ask a Brewers fan or an Astros fan or anyone unwise enough to commit to this thing over which they have no control, and you will likely get an answer that is broadly similar, if inevitably also individuated to their particular sufferings and their particular reasons for enduring them. In the end, the difference between someone's tormented, wistful, heartbroken memories of Gorman Thomas and another person's tormented, wistful, etc. memories of Dwight Evans mostly comes down to the shape of their respective mustaches.
This is a lot of words to say that everyone's life and experience is distinct, even within the broader communities of people who have decided to really and truly give a shit about galooty goofballs like Adam Duvall and frankly punitive pitching staffs like Baltimore's. Everyone comes to caring about this because they're looking for an escape of some kind, a thing to study and scream about and a place to be together with other people, but it's safe to say that no one gets there quite the same way or stays for quite the same reasons, at least beyond the fact that all this suffering is, somehow, extremely cool and good to us.
In covering the New York Mets' run through the last postseason, I kept notes on all the different ways I heard people say "Let's Go Mets," beyond the familiar communal chant, and while I won't subject you to the extra "e"'s and italics-connoting-emphasis, I can say that there were many—that it was woofed as a drunken challenge to out-of-towners and swapped sotto voce in retail situations as a substitute for "have a nice day" and that it erupted tunelessly and from the very bottom of otherwise normal-looking people at seemingly random moments, normal people just screaming it into the concrete echo chamber of the Willets Point subway station or the night sky as a sort of primal scream. Whatever people wanted to shout about, whatever shit they carried from their daily lives to the ballpark—there were words for it, and a place to shout it out.
I can't tell you whether Mets fans have suffered more or less than fans of other teams, but because I have suffered as one of them—and been thrilled and transported and taken fully out of my body, too, as a Mets fan—I could tell you something about it. I will not, because there's nothing about the team's callow, cheap, profoundly mediocre owners that is new, or even really very interesting. In the near term, the Wilpons are unique because of how petty and weird and fucking confusing they are, but in the game's long history they are just a variation upon a type. Sports owners tend towards the defective on balance, and the only thing that makes the Mets' owners unique is that, in an age of smuggo tech triumphalists and militant steak aficionados, the Mets owners are still whispering their gossip to somebody from the Daily News.
But I also don't need to tell you about being a Mets fan because of how profoundly hard the Mets Mets-ed this week. The roster is shredded by injuries, and the team's ever-mysterious payroll remains shredded by the disastrous anti-acumen and self-dealing shamelessness of the team's owners, which means that the Mets' lineup has lately been a collection of banjo-hitting baseball refugees and professionals grimacing through grinding joints and various impacted strains and sprains. The team's decision to jump headlong into the dumpster to pull out ex-hero Jose Reyes at the end of his domestic violence suspension was less about sentimentality than it was day-to-day need and a combination of cheapness and poverty. The starting pitchers can still make a claim on being the best in the majors, but they lose a lot of 3-1 games and at least one is pitching with a bone spur that will eventually require surgery. A spunky Thursday night comeback against the Cubs notwithstanding, they're pretty bad right now. But this is just the baseball stuff.
The Mets-ing, or the part of this badness that is distinctly Mets, is in the details. It is one thing when a promising young pitcher or two has bone spurs; it is a Mets thing when someone in the front office (fans generally assume that it's Jeff Wilpon, failson of owner Fred) is making the impossible-to-parse decision to leak to the media about it, repeatedly, to the point where it drove one of the pitchers to start tweeting memes. It is one thing for a cash-strapped team to take a buy-low shot on a veteran; it is a Mets thing when the buy-low candidate is a once-beloved homegrown star who has lately been revealed as a violent domestic abuser. The Mets are not the only dysfunctional organization in baseball, or the most dysfunctional. And while they're dysfunctional enough, and in a sufficiently tacky/inexplicable way, for everyone to share a laugh at their Metsiness, what's frustrating about them is going to seem most distinct and most frustrating to the people who decided, or had it decided for them at some time before their birth, to somehow keep caring about this mess.
But if the specifics are unique to the Mets, the broader trouble is universal. It is not the specific logistic and ethical complications that the Mets relentlessly pile on from one season to the next, but the way in which all of this intrudes upon the bigger and more sacred thing. For their fans, the Mets present a complicated sort of escapism, and an especially convoluted escape plan; if the idea of watching a game is to unplug from the broader world, there's something almost rude about the way that the Mets keep introducing classic broader-world shittinesses like Upper Management Is Extremely Petty And Quite Possibly Also Drunk and There Is No Truly Ethical Way To Enjoy Anything At All into the story. This, again, is the way it works for every fan, of every team. There is no bright line between the world and the games that happen in it, and no way that the latter could exist totally untouched by the former. This is part of what makes the escape so necessary, but also part of why we shout what we shout; sports are not as safe a space as we might wish them to be. Ingenuous as we are, we tend to make this reality part of the escape, if not necessarily the brightest part of it. I complain about my owners, and you complain about yours. No one wants to be owned, after all, let alone be reminded of it every damn time the game is on.
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