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On fanbases and rooting interests....

I have a strong dislike for a certain local city. I won’t name names because I’m a crowd-pleasing weenie (and the people who live there are potential TicketSquid customers!), but it’s not important which city it is. My opinion is mostly colored by anecdotal evidence and subjective experiences, so it isn’t something I’d attempt to defend. It’s probably just me experiencing some serious confirmation bias.

But the part of me that searches for an order in the chaos wants to quantify this feeling. Can the inhabitants of one city really be noticeably different? I came up with an analogy:

The difference between Neifi Perez and Tony Gwynn over their careers: about eight hits for every 100 at-bats. That’s a gross oversimplification, of course. Gwynn had a slightly better ISO and walk rate, and this doesn’t take into account home parks, position, et cetera. But the larger point still stands. If Neifi Perez had hit safely in eight more at-bats out of every hundred, he would have a statue in front of a major league ballpark too. The same theory applies with large groups of people. An additional eight freaks out of every 100 people in a town or city might seem slight, but they would be very, very noticeable.

So it goes. If you were to watch every Neifi and Gwynn game without any statistics at all -- no batting average, even -- you would know that something was different between the two players You would have an intuitive feeling that Gwynn was better, but there wouldn’t be a way to prove it without batting average, OBP, or whatever the closest stat happened to be.

For a while, I was convinced that this was true about my least favorite cities. And this eventually bled over into my feelings about fanbases. Maybe the difference between Phillies fans and other fans was about eight jackasses for every hundred out there. Sure, there might be 60% of the fanbase that’s just as normal as you are. Well, not you, but maybe the guy next to you. But that additional 8%...oh, man.

Makes sense. But don’t go down that road. You might be experiencing some unusual FAMIP -- "freak average on meeting in person." You aren’t meeting thousands of people in a city, or every single fan in a stadium. You’re just meeting (so to speak) a small sample, and you can’t possibly be able to discern what is noise and what is truth. The media can’t, either, so you can’t rely on how they portray a particular fanbase. Whether it’s a Phillies fan acting with indigestive abandon in the stands, or Yankees fans telling Cliff Lee’s wife that they do not respect her husband’s talents, you can’t assume they’re indicative of a larger group of people.

You also can’t just assume that people are people are people, and every region or fanbase will always contain the same ratio of normals to abnormals. Try sneaking into the Liverpool side at a EPL match with an Everton jersey if you want to test that theory. Some people take their rivalries just a wee bit more seriously than others. So maybe there’s something to the idea that the outfield pavilions at Dodger Stadium are more raucous than they used to be, that the crowds are increasingly hostile to opposing fans. Maybe.

But I’m not going to assume that’s true. In fact, I’m going to assume that the biggest difference between the Giants and Dodgers fanbase -- or any other fanbase for that matter -- is that they were born down there, and we were born up here. Or their grandpappys liked the way Duke Snider’s name sounded when they were 5, and ours liked the look of Willie Mays’ 1959 Topps card. There are thousands of different reasons why a person would pick one rooting interest over another, and almost all of them say nothing about the rest of the people who chose the same rooting interest.

Whenever I think, "Oh, those wacky fans of (Team X). They are so (description)," I remember that I might be looking at the Mike Benjamin-like streak of fan samples. Some crazy FAMIP. This goes for cities, fanbases, readers and commentors of different SBN websites -- everything. So while it’s tempting to look at something like this...


...and think it’s representative of a larger group of people -- I mean, really, really, really, really tempting -- it’s not worth it. It’s sports. It’s supposed to be fun. Stop taking things so seriously, and try to enjoy sports with as many different people as possible. It’s pretty useless to pretend that you can tell the Neifis from the Gwynns in what might be the equivalent of a month of at-bats.

And stop looking at that Yankees .gif. It’s corrupting the message of this entire post.