The Ultimate Fan Question

I posed this in the comments thread of the Appreciating Pat Burrell article but feel it is an important enough question to merit its own post. In an NPR interview, author Dan Gordon discusses the psychology of die-hard fans in an effort to promote his new book, Your Brain on Cubs. Towards the 31-minute mark of that interview Gordon says something interesting: He essentially says that Cubs fans are able to stay dedicated because they have come close many times to the World Series and so the fans know how sweet it will be when the team eventually wins a championship.

I want to combine this thought with something I heard last year on the radio and bring forth a question. Quite simply, would you rather be a fan of a team like the Marlins or the Giants? Not necessarily the specific teams or how they look in 2007 and 2008, but would you rather be a fan of a perennial contender for eight years or a team that would win two world series in that span and be below average the other six years?

The Giants had a winning record every season between 1997 and 2004, finishing in either first or second place; their average record in that span was 92-70. They made the playoffs four times and were within two games of either the division or the wild card in three of the other four seasons. The Giants made the playoffs or fell just short in seven of the eight years in that span. The Marlins, on the other hand, had winning records in just three of those eight years. In 1997 and 2003, when they won the world series, they won 92 and 91 games respectively; in 2004, a year removed from their second championship, they went 83-79, just barely breaking .500. Their average W-L in that span is 77-85.

Now let’s revisit the question posed at the start of the post. Strip away what we currently know about the Giants and Marlins: The actual teams are irrelevant and we need to focus on the type of team each is to answer properly. Would you rather be a fan of a team that would go 92-70 each year and give you a shot at the playoffs and/or world series, but not necessarily win a championship? Or would you rather be a fan of a team that would go 77-85 every year, but would step it up to 90+ wins just twice and win the world series in both of those seasons?

On the one hand you have the idea of winning two championships which, I’ll admit, I’ve never felt as a Phillies fan. Then again, on the other hand, you have the idea of whether or not you would even watch your team if they went 77-85 or worse in several consecutive seasons. For instance, I know that last year, I cared less about what the Phillies did in the playoffs than I did that they simply got into the playoffs. I’m curious to hear thoughts on which team would have a bigger Web-fandom.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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David Appelman

As a fan, I’d at least want to know my team is on the right track. It gives me hope. And if my team is going to be in constant rebuilding mode, it’s going to frustrate me. The Marlins are almost in constant rebuilding mode and I’m sure that’s partly why they have trouble with their fan base and have to do stuff like this: