The Failure of Yankees Fans (and Mets Fans Too)

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I took the family to last night’s Yankees-Mets game at the new Citi Field. We had a great time despite the very late hour. (More on that later.) This was the final game of the season between the crosstown rivals. Interleague play means that lots of away-team fans are present in home-team stadiums, and that was very much the case last night — a scenario that produced at least one interesting result that would disappoint anyone who thinks that game theory always prevails.

First, a few background observations:

1. Having now taken the family to the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ new ballpark, I find it hard to believe that any neutral observer wouldn’t agree that Citi Field is a far, far more pleasant place to spend a few hours. It is well-designed and handsome, and fan-friendly in many ways that Yankee Stadium is not. Yankee Stadium is full of pride and tradition and all that, but it is essentially a vast concrete bowl with chairs. Fill in your own blanks: Citi is to Yankee as ______ is to ______. (What comes to my mind is Google is to Microsoft.)

2. We bought our tickets on StubHub and paid a monstrous premium because of the premium lure: the last Yankees-Mets game of the season, on a Sunday, at a family-friendly 1:00 p.m. Within 24 hours of having bought the tickets, the game was changed to 8:00 p.m. for an ESPN broadcast. Not much to do but ply the kids with coffee all day long in hopes they’d make it to the end — which, being a Yankees-Mets game, would surely be late. And it was … but they made it.

Now, here’s what I really wanted to write about. Because interleague play puts fans from two teams in close proximity, you can expect a lot of fan interaction. In the section where we sat — right above the Modell’s sign in right field — the yapping between Yankees and Mets was loud but generally friendly.

A pattern quickly emerged. The many Yankees fans regularly broke into their thunderous cheer: “Let’s go Yankees!” (clap-clap-clap-clap … clap-clap). If you are a Yankees fan (we are; but we do not hate the Mets), this was a sign of what might be called prideful hubris, or maybe hubristic pride: we can come into your stadium and rock it very, very hard.

How’d the Mets fans respond? Succinctly. In the space where the Yankees fans did their rhythmic clapping, Mets fans shouted “Yankees suck!”

The first 13 times or so, this was pretty funny. The two cheers fitted together nicely, like a married couple who know their comebacks well. Yes, we told the kids, it’s too bad “suck” is so commonplace and yes, it’s too bad the Mets fans can’t come up with something more clever or (God forbid) more positive, but hey …

This pattern was repeated all night. What surprised me is that neither side found a way to improve their effort. I kept waiting for the Yankees fans to fill in their clapping with some chanting that couldn’t be hijacked by the Mets fans, and I kept waiting for the Mets fans to either be proactive in their chanting or to move beyond “Yankees suck!” But neither side budged. By the end of the game, the only people chanting were the kids in the stands, all of them up way past their bedtimes, their voices ragged and high-pitched.

I fear not that we are teaching our children to be coarse (as these things go, suck isn’t the worst word they’ll encounter in a given day) but that we are teaching them to be uncreative and unskilled in the use of game theory.

I’m sure there are many, many counterexamples of clever fans moving the ball forward in ways that neither the Yankees fans nor Mets fans last night could not. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments section below.


Rock

A few years ago, I went to a bar with a friend from Philly and D.C. to watch the Eagles-Redskins game. Unfortunetly for my Philly friend, not only were the Eagles down, the place we were seating was mostly Redskins fans. After another poor showing of 'You sucks!', I yelled back 'Get a senator!'

There's creative sports fans out there, but they're dwarfed by the drunk ones.

Another David

I remember at an Oriole's game when I was a kid a very drunk Yankee's fan ripping up a poster of Cal Ripken after a (not entirely unexpected) slaughter. I'd call that moving the ball forward.

What intruiged me then and continues to intruige me now is that that guy clearly wasn't an Oriole's or Ripken fan, which means he must have bought that poster with the intent of ripping it up. He might as well have ripped up a 20 and said "This is how much I hate the Orioles!"

Brian

I thought maybe this article would be how both teams have helped ruin baseball and paradoxically acheived a sub-optimal performance record by having a strategy of purchasing the best individual players instead of trying to cultivate a superior team.

And perhaps that would influencye how both teams

Spencer in SF

Mr. Dubner, I recently completed a MLB tour of 7 ballparks in 9 nights. The last 2 were Yankee Stadium & Citi Field. I'm not a New Yorker but a Californian. I have no bias regarding the 2 new NYC ballparks. To your first point, I will refute your claim that Citi Field is "far, far more pleasant." I found both equally pleasant experiences, but Citi Field has some poor visibility. The game can't be seen on the main concourse behind home plate; a long wall blocks the view. At concession areas behind the center field scoreboard and on the top level behind home plate the game on the field is a mystery. Yankee Stadium offers excellent views regardless of where in the ballpark you roam. As for 'pleasantness', I think people in the stands help determine that. Human interaction. On that second point I agree with you. Mets fans can be rude.

On my trip to those 7 ballparks, I encountered Mets fans 3 times: in Pittsburgh (June 1), in Washington (June 6), and at Citi Field (June 9). Not my plan, it just happened that way. At each park, especially before the game, Mets fans were obnoxious, barking out their love of their team and shouting out how the Pirates or the Nats "suck." In both of those games, the Mets fans had to swallow their comments: the Pirates & the Nats beat the Mets those nights, and that quieted the visiting fans. Let me also point out that I rarely encountered that sort of arrogant boasting for a visiting team at an opponent's park anywhere else I've traveled. Only with Mets fans and Red Sox fans.

Even so, your point is well taken. The ambiance of any sporting event, no matter how 'pleasant' the physical surroundings, can be blunted by boorish fans.

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David in Toronto

As a Jays fan and frequent attendee when the Yankees/Red Sox come to town, I take pride in my ability to drown out entire sections of visiting fans (my father's pedigree as a Naval Petty Officer influenced my ability to project).

I've personally been able to humble a chorus of "Let's Go Yankees" with "GO JAYS GO!". Nothing like that satisfaction even though it may not be very creative.

Although I'm always willing to engage in some baseball chatter with the opposing fans as well - those who tend to make the trek up to Toronto are usually pretty knowledgeable about the game in general. I make sure to thank them for spending money in our park rather than their own team's.

Don't get me started on local Torontonians that have caught the dreaded Yankee/Red Sox fan flu!

Jess

For truly amazing banter between teams, you need to come to the British football leagues.

There are tons on the web - a couple of links below.
http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/2007/10/pies_top_50_fav_1.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/funny_old_game/6937495.stm

For years, a popular supportive chant has been sung to the tune of a Latin song whose title I can't remember. It goeas like this. 'One Steven Gerrard! There's only one Steven Gerrard! One Steven Geeeeerrraaaaaard!" You get the idea.

The cruellest and perhaps most innovative came literally the day after Rangers and Scotland keeper was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The following day, Celtic fans stood behind the goal singing, "Two Andy Gorams! There's only two Andy Gorams! Two Andy Gooooraaaamsss..."

ScotterOtter

I'm not really sure how the author expects the fans (as a whole) to improve on their chanting during the course of a game. Are they all supposed to Twitter each other and get a consensus of opinion? Chants have to be simple and easily identifiable for the masses to take part. Each team has their support chant. And, let's face it, every crowd knows the "........ suck" one. Too much variation on that and the fans will end up scratching their head, wondering what people are yelling. It's all about repetition, repetition, repetition

Kathy A.

Seems to me the point of going to a rival ballpark and starting to chant is to rile up the opposing fans. If you do things that don't allow them to respond to you, you thwart your ends.

Personally, I don't understand that type of personality. I'm more the type of fan who roots hard for my team, but will applaud a good play (and especially good sportsmanship) by the other side. Tearing down the other fans doesn't add to my enjoyment or ego.

Cara

Creative cheering, heckling and general team support requires keen observational skills, awareness of context and current events, and the ability to think on your feet.

For example, in college sports, if the opposing school's academic integrity has (always) been questioned - or worse, if they have been sanctioned because of it - call them on it, whether individually in the case of one particular player, or collectively in reference to the whole team, or the entire opposing gallery.

If an opposing player has a bad haircut or bears a marked resemblance to a celebrity not known for his/her good looks, call them on it. You might even be doing that person a service if s/he decides to get a makeover after hearing about it from you!

In my years of watching sporting events, I've heard many interesting things that later became staples among my fellow fans. As long as the world keeps changing, there will always be new material, you just need to know how to use it!

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David Rasmussen

@27 During a rain delay at Pittsburgh, they posted an hours worth of Twitter comments. Some were clever and literate. I may live in Minnesota, but if I had to choose a team based on the fan base, I would choose the Pirates.

I also went to a game this summer in DC. If such a thing as Nationals fans existed, I would comment about them.

AMB

As a European soccer fan, I remember encountering a group of Giants fans who'd made the pilgrimage to London to follow their team in their Wembley Stadium regular season game. The day before that they came down to Chelsea FC and ended up in the noisiest part of the stadium. Speaking to them at half-time they professed admiration at how many songs we had (at least 40, plus variants of whatever's in the charts) and wondered how we came up with them.

It does leave me perplexed that American fans cannot seem to escape the "Let's go XXXX" template...

G Jeffery

I heard a good one once. In your case it would be a Yankees fan shouting:

Go Mets Go! Go Mets Go! Off the field, on the bus Go Mets Go!

jim

I am a Red Sox fan and was at all three games this weekend. I loved being part of the away crowd's chant that was just about as loud as the home team's "chop", but without the support of the stadium organ. Chants in the first two games were met by gamely attempted to boo us down, and I was relieved to hear the alternating "Let's go Braves" chants in the third games. Much more fun than competing with boo-ing.

Not sure if it's much better but my son, instructed to not use the "suck" cheer, instead will go on and on about how the yankees (and braves) stink. They smell like... poop, pee and lots of dirty diapers (and with a 20 month old brother, he knows a lot about that!)

Caliphilosopher

"I fear not that we are teaching our children to be coarse (as these things go, suck isn't the worst word they'll encounter in a given day) but that we are teaching them to be uncreative and unskilled in the use of game theory. "

Better yet, you should be fearful of worrying too much about the chanting than the actual game itself. Why listen to the toilet flush when you could be teaching them about how to draw a walk and how to handle pressure situations (like the Sandman did in the 9th inning)?

Ari

At Yanks-Mets games, I used to hear "Let's Go Yankees" followed by "Let's Go Mets" rather than "Yankees Suck." Same three syllables, but more positive.

Eric

How does this post relate to game theory?

Avram

US sports in general do not provide any sort of creativity in terms of fans/cheers etc. In basketball games, all we hear is "Let's go ______" or "DEFENSE!". I suggest that you take a look at European soccer and you'll find a lot of smart and creative cheering both planned and spontaneous.

goethe

I agree with Erin, who rightfully suggests NYers are in fact the more likely group of Neanderthals, as evidenced by NY Rangers fans, in the main. With the neverending "Beat your wife Potvin" refrain, this is prima facie evidence of NY fandumb behavior.
Standards are low here. Pay up; show up; shut up except for banal crudities. This can be blamed on incessant "entertainment" during games, as well. There are NO quiet moments anymore.

Jon in SF

English soccer stars are often serenaded by this chant, sung to Guantanamera: (Using Michael Owen as an example) "One Michael Owen! There's only one Michael Owen!"

When fellow Brit Andy Goram was rumored to be schizophrenic, fans of opposing teams in the Scottish Premier League chanted "Two Andy Gorams! There's only two Andy Gorams!"

pharmboy

Just be glad you not a Brewers fan. Not only is Chicago closed enough for Cubs fans to overrun Miller Stadium (with similar crude behavior), the two teams are in the same league and play 15-20 games a season.