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August 22, 2011

Changing Speeds

Ethical Bandwagon Jumping

by Ken Funck

It’s late August, and if the team you root for is already out of contention, you’re not alone. According to our Playoff Odds Report, only 12 teams currently have even a 5 percent chance of making the postseason, meaning that fully 60 percent of teams are realistically playing out the string with more than a month to go. If you follow one of those teams and are the sort of fan who finds that having a heart-felt rooting interest greatly adds to your baseball enjoyment, what are you to do with the rest of the season? My recommendation is to become a bandwagon jumper, or more specifically, an Ethical Bandwagon Jumper (EBJ).

To describe what it means to be an EBJ, I’ll need to define a few terms. A “Bandwagon Jumper” is not the same thing as a “Fair-Weather Fan.” The latter is someone who is nominally a fan of a given team but is only active at certain times. For example, this year’s crop of late-summer Brewers apparel looks to be larger than I’ve seen in years, since local growing conditions—hot team, cold division, the fertilizer of ugly politics—have caused once-dormant Brewers fans to resume paying attention to and bonding around the local nine. This can actually be a wonderful thing to witness, akin to wildflowers blooming in the desert after a rainstorm.

A “Bandwagon Jumper,” however, starts rooting for a contending or front-running team in mid-season or later. Such behavior is often derided among hardcore fans as shallow and self-serving, much like making your pick for the Sausage Race while Frankie Furter and Stosh are casing-to-casing down the stretch. Don’t let this negative connotation deter you, though. If you follow the Ten Commandments of Ethical Bandwagon Jumping, you can find a new team to root for whole-heartedly, if temporarily, while maintaining long-term interest in your long-time favorite—avoiding guilt and recrimination, while enjoying the pleasures (and pains) of rooting for a contender down the stretch.

I. Thou shalt not ignore your original team. Unlike the traditional bandwagon jumper, you have a team waiting up for you at home, and you’re not about to forget that. This isn’t a trial separation—you’ve been through a lot together, and you both know you’ll be back soon. You and your team have a mature relationship built on years of trust and a lifetime of shared experience, but you both understand and accept that, right now, circumstances have kept your short-term fan needs from being met. Don’t take advantage of this, however—your future continues to be with your old team. Give them the attention they deserve, even if they’re playing out the string.

II. Thou shalt not shop around. Similarly, don’t demean the entire fan/team relationship by half-heartedly groping your way through a number of possible teams before settling on one to follow. Pick one team quickly and stick with it. Shopping for a temporary team is like shopping for underwear—you can’t try it on, you just have to find what you’re looking for on the shelf, buy it, and take it home.

III. Thou shalt not root for the Yankees. This is self-evident, no? Jump onto the always-crowded Yankees bandwagon, and the tires are liable to explode. Moreover, part of the idea here is to immerse yourself in the season of a team you generally don’t follow closely. If you pay attention to baseball media at all, you can no more avoid in-depth Yankees coverage than Hollywood can avoid misguided superhero origin scripts. You’re already following the Yankees whether you like it or not. Try another flavor.

IV. Thou shalt not root for the Red Sox. See above. This would have been acceptable prior to 2004, however.

V. Thou shalt not root for a divisional or traditional rival. Don’t shop your fandom around your own neighborhood—it’s unseemly and can lead to logical and emotional complications once your rooting interest has flown home. Moreover… ick.

VI. Thou shalt not pretend to be a long-timer. When long-suffering fans finally have something to celebrate, few things annoy them as much as having to share their joy with unworthy latecomers, especially those who don’t realize they’re unworthy. No matter how much you know, embrace the fact that you’re a tourist, not a local, and don’t act as though you’ve already been down all the franchise’s back roads. You may remember Kent Tekulve, you may have seen Kent Tekulve, but the Pirates fans on the barstools around you lived Kent Tekulve. Give them their due.

VII. Thou shalt not choose again. One mulligan per round. Once your EBJ team falls out of contention, be grateful you were at least able to keep some skin in the game a little longer.

VIII. Thou shalt not root ironically. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to ironic appreciation: one of my favorite pieces of clothing is a baby blue t-shirt with a drawing of Sherman Hemsley amid the words “Shut up, honky!” EBJ, however, requires a genuine respect for your newfound rooting interest—otherwise, you risk demeaning yourself and, by extension, your normal team. Don’t use irony in selecting your team or in the way you express your single-serving fandom. Especially out of bounds is acting beyond any stereotype of your new team’s fan base, e.g., wearing a foam Brewers cheesehead hat to work, throwing a cheesesteak wiz wit at the your TV when Ryan Madson blows a save, or politely clapping the Twins’ effort after a loss. There’s no winking in baseball.

IX. Thou shalt not be more obnoxious than the team’s normal fans. Similarly, don’t be even more blindly supportive of your short-term team than long-time fans—you might enjoy lighting off fireworks at the party, but it’s their living room you’re trashing. First-person example: the 1985 Chicago Bears, who were the first team in which I had a primary rooting interest to ever win a championship. They were also one of the most obnoxious teams in history, and every loud-mouthed, unethical bandwagon jumper in the country flocked to their banner. As a result, the primary emotion I felt when they won the Super Bowl wasn’t so much joy as relief, and the backlash against that team and their boastful fans, many of them squatters, has yet to fully abate—many Packers fans still can’t take joy in their own team’s success without tossing in “the Bears still suck.”

So… don’t do that.

X. Thou shalt not become a serial front-runner. If you find yourself transferring allegiance every summer from your own crummy team to whomever leads the league at the All-Star break, perhaps you’re just not wired for monogamy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if this describes you, why even bother calling yourself a fan of your crummy team? You don’t qualify as an Ethical Bandwagon Jumper, but no worries. Embrace the variety, allowing that you may be trading joy quality for joy quantity, and root for whomever strikes your fancy.

Or, just give in and root for the Yankees full-time already. Bandwagon jumper.

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

Related Content:  Fans,  Kent Tekulve,  Yankees Fans,  Team,  Rooting

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