Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Culture of Sports


Baseball thrives on local cultures in a way no other sport does. -  Will Leitch
This statement more than anything is what makes me a fan of the game of baseball.  You can go to any baseball stadium and find a major difference in the people that are at the games, the food at the games, etc. where the fans hang out and do before games, but on the field the game is literally played the same The exception is baseball is played different in American League Parks vs. National League Parks because of the DH.  The culture of one league vs. the other.  There are also running teams, power teams, etc. but the core of the game is the same. 
Go back to the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants and New York Yankees.  It was as much about culture as it was about geographic location as to why you pulled for one team or the other (if you were in the South or the West there were really no teams so if you were a fan of a pro baseball team culture of a team was likely what influenced you). 
I am sure a Yankee or Giants fan in Brooklyn was hard to find but my guess is there was a scattering of Brooklyn Dodgers fans who lived in Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx or Long Island (before all the Dodgers fan moved to Long Island and caused the Dodgers to shift west).  
You were a Yankees fan because they were the Yankees, dominant and likable characters year in and year out who would just simply win.  They started out in Manhattan, the center of the cultural universe, as the Highlanders (moving from Baltimore) and were in the limelight not just for their success on the field but their antics or performance off the field over the years (they moved to the Bronx in 1923). 
Dodger Fans, my guess were polar opposites.  I say this because my grandfather was a lifelong Dodgers fan, why?  I think it was because he could relate to that team in a more realistic way and because it was easy to be a Yankee fan or Giants fan.  I believe the Dodgers were viewed as the working class guys, the guys that lived in the neighborhood and rode the subway to work like most Brooklynites did and still do today. 
I know it is documented that the Dodgers of Brooklyn were very much a fan friendly team who interacted well with the fan base during and after the season.  They were a community and my grandfather, although the son of a sharecropper, spent allot of time in the East End of my hometown in what was very much a strong community at that time, a mix of many different cultures, who all came together and took care of each other. 
For many years, per stories that have been passed on by my late grandfather RJ, his wife Cym and my late father in law Dutch Herzog they had a common bond, the East End came together on Sunday's around the site of the old Hosiery Mill in Henderson for the adults to play baseball (my grandmother says RJ loved the game but was just not very good something I am sure he would dispute if he were still alive).  Those stories include characters, like a first basemen named Harpole who was a star despite missing some fingers on a hand and Old Monk Norman who had the best drop ball my grandmother said was the best she had ever seen. It is obvious Baseball was a big part of their culture and it is a shame that culture, in this way, has been lost and is gone forever. 
In today's world geography and pedigree play a major role in which baseball team you choose as your favorite but is less regionalized than it has been with TV and media coverage.  I am a Louisville Bats fan even though they are the AAA team of the Reds because I am in Louisville.  In the mid 80's I pulled for Duke basketball because I was on the East Coast and TV there was dominated by the ACC and they were the team that most closely resembled Kentucky basketball at the time. 
If you live in  Missouri outside of KC, Western Kentucky, Western Tennessee, Parts of Illinois, Northern Mississippi, Oklahoma or Arkansas you are very likely a fan of the Redbirds from St Louis because of your geographic location (until the late 50's this was the team located the farthest west) and family pedigree.  For me it is a little geographic location but it is mainly the culture the St Louis Cardinals fans enjoy.  They have a small town feel and the Redbird organization operates the team with this culture in mind. 

The states I mentioned are built on small town feel so it is not surprise to me that when you talk baseball in these areas you are talking predominantly of the St Louis Cardinals.  No doubt Budweiser and the previous ownership of the Busch family has had an impact on the culture of the Redbirds and the fan base of the St Louis franchise something that was unique. 
I am a Navy Football Fan because I served in the Navy, a fan of the culture of Navy Football of maximum effort, respect, etc.  I like Bama because of the mystique of the Bear and those great wishbone teams of the 70's and their winning culture.  I am a Kentucky fan because that is in my DNA no matter what the culture (although the current changing culture for football and the basketball culture of Coach Cal are major pluses).  I started out as a Pirates fan, loved the A's of the early 70's, 75 Red Sox's, the Dodgers for a bit before finally settling (much to the dismay of my grandfather) in as St Louis Cardinal Fan (to note my mother is a longtime Reds Fan). 
I think Will Leitch nails it for baseball.  His article during the World Series represents the baseball culture of teams on much more an expanded level. 
Baseball, because of how long it has been played, is still influenced by culture and the players are influenced by the local culture.   College football teams are deeply rooted in local culture and tradition and that sport is likely more localized than any other (for example if you did not grow up in Mississippi or attend a Mississippi school or ever reside in the state the likelihood you are a fan of a Mississippi school is very slim). 
You can find Cubs fans everywhere, why is beyond me (that is a humorous statement because I get it), a Braves fan all through the South because of TBS (although they know longer carry the games like they used to) a Yankees fan anywhere (I know several and some have never even been to New York) or a Red Sox Fan anywhere because of the culture and coverage of those teams.

Do all the teams have that culture I am talking about?  I would say that St Louis, New York, Cincy, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago and Philly have long standing baseball cultures and that culture still influences those teams today.  I would even say that the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, LA Dodgers and SF Giants have that level of culture also even though they are not in their original cities.  The others are building that culture or may never even really capture that culture because they are new cities in the grand scheme of things. 

For Pro Football I think for the long-time professional football teams of the Giants, Eagles, Browns, Redskins, Bears, Packers, Lions, Steelers and 49er's culture within the fan-base still plays a large role because of the team history and influence of the local cultures.  A team like the Indy Colts is not really influenced by the culture of the fans in my opinion.  Dallas has it and you could say the New England Patriots and New York Jets have it also.
Sports = culture and to me it is positive culture in general (everything has it's flaws that can be picked out).  I know that my life benefits from participating in, watching and listening to games and most of all attending games.  Find a team, support that team and better yet find a local team (like at the high school level) to follow for Friday Night Football (something my wife and I have done for the past couple of years). 

If you want to experience what baseball culture was like before a game in the past go to a day game during the week at Wrigley field and you will experience that moment. 

There are still Giants Fans in New York:

Read about the Culture of the Brooklyn Dodgers from Don Zimmer and Vin Scully during Dodger Hey Day:

Kentucky Football - From Coach Stoops

''As you look at the season I never hid from the fact that it was important to win one of these games down the stretch and we didn't get that done,''

Agree 100%.  With the stadium improvements and now the practice facility upgrades scheduled all of these things can help add to the success.  The offense went backwards, due to play calling, but they have playmakers and a new OC will help (as long as it is someone who runs the true Air Raid attack).