A funny thing is happening in Red Sox Nation. Some of the people who were “real fans” prior to 2004 – who attest to having experienced the frustration, the agony, the exasperation of at least some of the 86 years of futility – are getting irritated with the consequences of the Sox becoming a winning franchise. The effect most discussed is the explosion of new Red Sox fans. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “pink hats.” Naturally, the team is irresistible, so new fans have been drawn to the Bosox like a magnet over the past three years. (I call these people “Stage 1 Fans” in my article about the 4 stages of being a Red Sox fan.) And I think it’s great. Come on down and join the Nation. We’ve been waiting for you.
But I find it fascinating that some Red Sox fans consider themselves “more worthy” than other Red Sox fans because they’ve been paying attention longer, or because they were fans when the Sox always found a way to lose, or because they know more trivia answers about 1967, 1975, and 1986. It’s so interesting that a Red Sox fan walking down the street would scoff at another Red Sox fan walking down the street because of the Sox shirt he/she chooses to wear, or the color of the baseball hat he/she chooses to wear. I mean, come on, aren’t we all pulling for the same group of guys?
I do agree that most “new” Sox fans are easy to spot, and even easier to identify when they open their mouths. But why do so many long-term die-hards loathe them so much? Is it because, deep down, they liked it better when the Sox were trying to break the “curse” and the cameraderie we all felt revolved around a shared masochistic obsession? Is it because they feel a person must “pay his dues” before he can be called a Red Sox fan? Or is it just because they find it sickening when people flock to the winner?
Legendary sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy wrote an article in today’s Boston Globe that expresses this “I’m a real fan, and you’re not” mentality well. Read the article here.
It’s ironic — all the “real fans” of the Red Sox crave another World Series victory, but many of them feel a sense of loss about our identity as valiant, perennial losers. (See an interesting article about this concept here.) Some harbor an unusual longing for the good ol’ days when the Sox were on an endless quest for a world title, and new, naive Sox fans were welcomed with open arms and admired for their willingness to join the fellowship of the miserable.
Prior to 2004, it never occurred to many “real fans” of the Red Sox that winning it all would fundamentally change the meaning of Red Sox Nation and alter forever the message that a “B” hat sends to others about the cap’s wearer (we didn’t dare to dream about such outrageous notions). And as we become the best team of this century (which is also what we were at the beginning of the 20th Century), many long-term fans want the world to know, “Yeah, we’re the best now, but we weren’t for a long time and I was loyal during the tough times too.” Can you imagine how popular a cap or t-shirt would be that communicated unequivocally about it’s owner, “I was a Sox fan during the painful years”?
Of course, one option for these people would be to wear a Cubs cap. There’s something familiar and strangely appealing to many “real” Red Sox fans about the image at right….