Wednesday, October 9, 2002
The best fans, from Red Sea to Redlegs
By Jim Caple ESPN.com
The simple truth is most cities are pretty much the same when it comes to supporting the local team. When the team wins, the fans crowd the park. When the team loses, the fans decide there are better ways to spend their hard-earned money than on some expensive tickets for a last-place team. And both reactions are entirely logical.
There are precious few cities that support their team no matter the record. And even that's hard to say definitively because some of those cities have been fortunate enough to never really be tested by years of losing, as Chicago has.
How then do you rank the best baseball cities? Obviously, fan support is a very important part of the criteria but this isn't just about attendance this year or this decade. It's about historic fan support, when times were good and when times were bad. It's about attendance totals compared to population bases. It's also about passion for the team and knowledge of the game. It's about the community's baseball interest apart from the major league team, its legacy in local players, lore and traditions.
With all that in mind, here is my list of the 10 best baseball cities in the country and brief descriptions why.
1. St. Louis -- The Red Sea is 1,450 miles long and 205 miles wide, covers 175,000 square miles and has an average depth of more than 1,700 feet. The largest red sea, however, is during a St. Louis home game when the entire crowd is wearing Cardinals garb. From the days of the Gashouse Gang through the great powerhouses of the '60s and '80s to today, St. Louis has loyally supported its beloved Cardinals. Raised on Harry Caray and Jack Buck, St. Louis fans are knowledgeable, appreciative and always supportive. Despite the town's size, the Cardinals have drawn more than three million fans five years in a row and have drawn fewer than the league average only once in the past two decades.
2. Cincinnati -- How good a baseball town is this? The city throws a parade on opening day. It drew 40,000 for a softball game two weeks ago. Not even Marge Schott could destroy the city's interest in baseball. And when you consider the players the city has given baseball -- Pete Rose, the Griffeys, the Bells and Barry Larkin, just to name a few -- it's clear that the Reds mascot deserves his swelled head.
No matter what happens between the lines, the Fenway Faithful are there.
3. Boston -- We would say baseball is a religion here but that would be shorting baseball. Fenway is a cathedral, and unlike most churches, it's always full. People here live and die by the Red Sox. In other words, they mostly die. But what passionate deaths.
4. New York -- Gotham fans are among the loudest, most passionate and knowledgeable in baseball. The bleacher fans' Roll Call continues a great tradition of vocal, in-your-face loyal fans (remember Brooklyn's cowbell-ringing Hilda Chester?). Even if these aren't the greatest fans in baseball, you'll never convince them they aren't. So why don't we rank NYC higher? Because this city also lost two teams, and until very recently the Yankees' attendance was disappointing for the most successful team in history playing in the largest city in the country -- from 1989-98, the Yankees' total attendance was below the league average.
5. Baltimore -- Babe Ruth was born here and Boog Powell barbecues here, and if that wasn't enough to give Baltimore a prominent chapter in the baseball catechism, its fans do. The Orioles have drawn three million fans to Camden Yards every year (except the 1994 strike season and this year), and before that Memorial Stadium was usually as crowded as a street of the city's row houses.
6. Chicago -- The only city proven to consistently support a losing team (if only because no other city so consistently produces losers). Win or lose, Cubs fans fill the Friendly Confines. The most knowledgeable fans, however, reside on the south side.
7. Los Angeles -- Granted, terrible traffic and public transportation means fans arrive late and leave early. But they show up. Boy, do they ever. Since moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers have always drawn more fans than the league average, and usually a million more fans than the average. And do we really need to bring up all the great players who grew up around here? Didn't think so.
8. San Francisco Bay Area -- O.K. So they had trouble selling out the playoffs in Oakland. But that was partly because the Giants were playing as well, and they've sold out for nearly three seasons. But what sets this area apart is all the players it has produced. Joe DiMaggio, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, and Dave Stewart are just a few who called this home.
From the noise to the Homer Hanky, the Twins wrote the book on home field advantage.
9. St. Paul -- The Twins' old logo shows two goofy cartoon figures shaking hands across the Mississippi, one representing Minneapolis, the other representing St. Paul. But if you want baseball fans, look on the east side of the river. Drive around St. Paul and you can see sandlots where Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Charles Schulz once played (the legendary cartoonist and passionate baseball fan threw a no-hitter as kid here), as well as the park where a minor-league team with a pig mascot has sold out almost every game for the past decade.
10. Cleveland/Seattle (tie) -- Both have had some dreadful stretches of bad teams, but give these cities a halfway decent team and the fans fall so passionately in love the local courts practically need to issue restraining orders.