Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

The politics of fandom

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Photos by Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

It’s easy, even conventional, to think of a team’s rooters as something like a singular, cohesive voting bloc, which is why we have terms like “Dodger fans” or “Red Sox Nation.”  And fundamentally, Dodger fans do share a common goal, a common dream. We are Dodger fans, they are Giants fans — over there are Angels fans and Padres fans, and so on from one side of the continent to the other, all of us wearing our colors and our pride in an annual baseball Olympics.

But within a fanbase, just like within a city, state or country, there are deep divisions, with different politics, different attitudes and often a real struggle to connect, whether played out in ballpark conversations or on social media. We’re factionalized and entrenched in our beliefs, and our common passion seems at times only to intensify the divisions rather than bridge them.

After the Dodgers serpentined through an 8-5, 14-inning, 51-player, 334-minute, 467-pitch loss to the Washington Nationals on September 3, I found myself frustrated more by these inner conflicts than by the Dodgers’ inability to come out on top. The loss was painful, the anger more so.

Not everyone feels this way. Depending how you follow the Dodgers, depending on what you read, how much you interact on Twitter or comment rooms or how like-minded you and your friends are, these divisions might barely exist for you, if at all. Depending on your personality, they might not even matter.

But if you navigate the different, conflicting worlds, a day like September 3 rubbed the edges raw.


I wrote most of this piece on the evening of September 3, then put it aside for a quieter day. Five months ago, emotions were running very high.

The Dodgers entered play against Washington having spent the previous 38 days in first place in the National League West. At the end of each of the first 13 innings against the Nationals, the Dodgers never trailed.

On the previous night, it was not the Dodgers, but rather Washington — the only team in the NL with a better record than the Dodgers — that had looked foolish, and not just because of Clayton Kershaw. The Nationals were Keystone Cops on defense September 2, offering unmistakable proof that at any given moment, the elite can look ridiculous.

The starting pitchers September 3 formed a mismatch. Carlos Frias, with 14 1/3 innings, a 5.65 ERA and no Major League starts, against Jordan Zimmermann, with a 2.93 ERA and a 3.08 ERA in 117 previous starts over the past four years. On this day, the Nationals should have crushed the Dodgers.

They didn’t. The teams were scoreless after six innings. Frias matched zeroes with Zimmermann, stymieing Washington.

United we celebrated the magic of Frias, divided we contemplated what was to come.

Most everyone has one kind of complaint or another with the Dodgers — even in first place, because not even a first-place team is perfect. As in politics, even within the same party, some will find one issue more frightening than another: It’s the pitching, it’s the fielding, it’s the leadership, it’s the karma. That’s before we even travel the Old School-New School, sabermetrics vs. intangibles road.

Throughout it all, you can find a line that divides Dodger fans into two parties: pessimists and optimists. It’s not only about seeing the glass half-empty or half-full. It’s far more pronounced. A glass that some see filled with possibilities, others can find barely a drop of redemption. Some took the Dodgers being in first place at the start of September at face value, some found the standings irrelevant because, as sure as the sun will come up every morning, the Dodgers will fall short.

And so after Frias’ triumphant 77 pitches, while some looked ahead with anticipation, grateful to be in the game, others assumed that the offense, impotent in a way not to be excused, not even against the No. 2 pitcher in the NL behind Kershaw in WAR, would never come through.


Then in the seventh, Zimmermann slipped. After Nationals center fielder Denard Span seemingly rode in on snowmobile to rob Hanley Ramirez of a double near the wall in left center, Carl Crawford sneaked a naughty two-bagger just beyond first base. The next batter, Justin Turner, claimed he was hit by a pitch, then had his claim laughed out of court. Then, Turner blasted a home run. It was an amazing moment in an amazing season for an infielder who had become so integral to the Dodgers that it was hard to continue calling him a backup.

Before the glow from that moment had barely had time to recede, a cadre on Twitter waited for the Dodger bullpen to blow the game.

And hey, they were right. They were right this time, and as we know, they’d be right other times. Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen each walked a man in the eighth. Jansen got out of the jam, but could not find shelter in the ninth, when not only did Adam LaRoche hit a home run, but a third, go-ahead run scored on a single, a groundout, a stolen base and another single.

The pessimists were vindicated, and without a doubt emboldened to predict future disasters.

Should it have mattered that the Dodger bullpen, as vulnerable as it was, succeeded far more often than it failed? This is not opinion, this is not wishcasting — this is fact. It succeeded far more often than it failed. The postseason was the ultimate aberration.

Should it have mattered that even though the Dodgers were diseased when batting with the bases loaded, they led the National League in the exponentially more common situation of runners on base and runners in scoring position?

Should it have mattered that Don Mattingly, castigated across large swaths of the Internet for one set of moves, pulls the right lever in countless other ways?

Should it have mattered that the Dodgers rallied two more times in the game, once with another reminder that other great teams make blunders (Jayson Werth with the biggest drop of a ninth-inning fly in the Dodger outfield since Matt Holliday in the 2009 National League Division Series), once by a moment of pure, dramatic heroism: Crawford’s two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th after the Dodgers gave up two in the top of the inning.

Should it have mattered that other teams lose games too?

Should any of this offer hope, a reminder that we are not defined by our very worst any more than we are defined by our very best?

One party says yes. The other says no.


I understand the value of lowered expectations. I understand pessimism as a defense mechanism. There’s safety in pessimism.

I understand disproportionate reactions — on the drive home from that long day from Dodger Stadium, I shouted curses in my car (windows up) while in traffic. There’s release in anger. We don’t always mean what we shout.

I also understand the kind of myopia that focuses inordinate attention on the shortcomings that surround you and doesn’t notice the shortcomings that plague others.

But I can’t pretend to understand those who go claim to know the future, who don’t merely fear future disappointment but rather are convinced they have proof of it. Because that flies in the face of everything sports and life have taught us, that in the world of human beings, the unexpected happens. And yes, the odds are worse for some than others, but certainly it didn’t make sense to plant the flag of hopelessness on a first-place team.

I don’t believe in blind faith — I disavow it. But blind cynicism is no better. I believe in weighing possibilities, and then watching the dice roll and seeing if they come up seven, as you might expect, or snake eyes.

It’s not my place, nor my desire, to unite Dodger fans in one way of thinking or diminishing anyone’s fervor. Wouldn’t dream of it. But with 2014 receding more and more behind us, I do dream of a more meaningful and rewarding day, where passion can walk alongside humility. None of us know as much as we’d like to think we do.


In case you missed it: The smokejumper quest continues


Highlight reel: Jimmy Rollins’ top 20 moments in 2014


  1. jpavko

    Whether I’m watching a Dodger game at home on television or at the park,I’m om the edge of my seat on every pitch, practically jumping as the ball nears the batter.I live and die with my team, even good humoredly, joking with fans of other teams as to whos beetter

  2. Nice piece Jon! We couldn’t agree more.

  3. First of all the Holiday play was the NLDS. Second that game was painful in that we were chasing Washington for the best record and couldn’t score the winning run when it was in scoring position, twice if I remember correctly. And your bullpen “fact” wasn’t enough to convince the new regime to keep it together.

    Across the pond Atletico 4-0 Real Madrid. Christiano Ronaldo went ahead with his party afterward. The banner hung in front of the stadium for the president to see said “Your laughter is our embarrassment.” That’s passion and there’s nothing wrong with that. Humility is for winning. For losing it borders on humiliation and who wants that?

    • Jon Weisman

      The game was incredibly painful, for many reasons.

      The point of my bullpen “fact” isn’t that you should never try to improve your team. The point is that it doesn’t make sense to assume the worst as a matter of rule.

      Where you got the idea that I said “passion” was wrong, I have no idea. Where you think I’m advocating “humiliation,” I also have no idea.

      My post is about the problem with arrogance and chronic pessimism.

      • You seem to akin passion to “blind faith”, “myopia”, and now arrogance. And I don’t agree with that.

        For all of us who said the bullpen stunk (despite the saber metric facts) for some strange reason the manager agreed, because he refused to go to it when it mattered. The post season wasn’t an aberration just an extension of what us myopic fans had been seeing the entire season, or hearing on the radio at least. No one knows as much as they think they do, fine, but just because we don’t run to a cool website to spout some cool figures doesn’t mean we know less and it doesn’t make us blind.

  4. oldbrooklynfan

    Thanks Jon, I really enjoyed reading this article. Words like “the pessimist were vindicated”. It almost feels like the pessimist were relieved that they were right. I doubt it was a relief, but I do believe I suffer less when I don’t expect good things to happen and expect the worst. It hurts much more to lose, when I expect to win.
    I was very hurt by Bobby Thomson’s HR, heard around the world (because I didn’t expect it) and I’ve always set myself for disappoint after that.
    I’ve even gotten to the point where I almost fear thinking positive. You’re right, I agree, pessimism is a defense mechanism. One good thing is, we’re all happy when we win.

  5. Jon Weisman

    Artieboy, you’re the one equating passion to myopia and arrogance. I’m not. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to distinguish between them.

    Let’s take the bullpen. It wasn’t a good bullpen relative to other playoff bullpens. I was the one defending Mattingly all through October for leaving Kershaw in the seventh innings of the NLDS. The myopia and pessimism that I’m talking about sets in when the Dodgers would go to the bullpen and people would assume failure. Passion operates independent of being cocksure that something will go wrong. The postseason performance of the bullpen was extreme. It was an aberration. If it wasn’t, the Dodgers would have lost about 120 games in 2014. You’re a smart guy: You know the bullpen didn’t blow every game it was in. Is it so hard to acknowledge that? My saying that does not mean it was a great bullpen, that it wasn’t worthy of improvement, or that the 2014 season didn’t end extremely painfully.

    You seem to have taken this article as me saying I know more about the Dodgers’ future than the reader does. Not sure why. I mean, maybe I do, maybe I don’t, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that people being more sure about something than they have the right to be, and about people (willfully or not) not seeing the big picture, and then using that as a license to be angry. If you read my writing, as I think you do, you’ll see I make very few predictions about the future. It’s far more reflective than it is forward looking. I do have hopes but I long ago stopped claiming to any idea that I have a firm grasp on the future.

    So truly, I’m not sure where your snark comes from in your last sentence. All I’m advocating is for people — all people — to acknowledge that they don’t know *everything* and not to assume the worst, especially when there’s a reasonable hope to avoid the worst. Is that so offensive? You can root just as hard and be just as elated or disappointed.

  6. To tell the truth, this was the main reason I stopped my small foray into the world of blogging and commenting five years ago (not that anyone remembers, or should care). Never had a problem with pessimism itself, just those who derive a perverse satisfaction of watching something “blowed-up good”, especially when said exploded object is the team we’re supposed to love. Had a great dislike for the culture that just about rooted for the team to fumble so their point about the manager or GM would be proven, a culture I once chalked up to our past ownership’s foibles, but has thrived in the wake of the new owners as well.

    Not that I can’t sympathize with the eternally disgruntled. I’ve had my bouts of unflinching optimism built upon a foundation of predetermined pessimism that makes the leaning tower of Pisa’s foundation look like solid bedrock. Just that I got tired of peering into comment sections and being dragged down every time a little light peeks out in the midst of a now-26 year long cave-in. So I stopped looking, the same way no matter how funny I find George Costanza or Luther (Jerry van Dyke from “Coach”), I have to walk away from the tv once they do “that” thing that you know they’re gonna do, find that needle-in-the-haystack that sets off the train wreck.

    I regret just up and walking away. Oftentimes, I sit watching the cursor blink on WordPress, stuck at what I would even post after so long. You’re a better man than me, Jon, for being able to work within the bedlam.

    (Also, sorry for dropping a small novel in your comment section)

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