Face the Nation

9780252079146Pitchers and catchers continue to report to their Grapefruit and Cactus League destinations. Back in the snowy east, an uneasy leviathan stirs from its winter slumber. Months of singing a song of Ice and Fire, mostly ice, segues into the lilt of “Sweet Caroline” as Red Sox Nation comes to life.

Passionate, incurably tribal, often defensive, the vast Medias Rojas diaspora boomed in the aftermath of the team’s 2004 World Series triumph. The Nation maintains as the Carmines have enjoyed a period of frequent contention that now seems to have settled into a cycle of boom (odd-number years) and bust (even-numbered years). A perfect combination, really, as it gives Sox fans the elation we all crave and the misery they seem to need.

What lies at the core of this contemporary sports phenomenon and, possibly, the greatest manifestation of mass psychosis since the Dancing Plague of 1518? The answer, like all matters of anthropology, requires long form study. Fortunately, the UIP is there for you. Edited by David A. Nathan, Rooting for the Home Team ponders the mysteries of why and how communities build a sense of collective identity around their teams. Amy Bass, for example, fearlessly delves into the massive psychological construct that is Red Sox Nation:

After the Red Sox dominated the American League from 1912 through 1918, the championship drought that followed, as well as the furious rivalry with the Yankees, created a subculture based on the torment of not winning. Red Sox fans created a symbolic culture beyond hats, tying together a disparate geographical region with the imagined identity that came from the burden of being a Red Sox fan and, perhaps in a more codified manner, the burden of not being a Yankee fan: Red Sox fans defined themselves by what they were not—champions. “It’s bad enough we haven’t won since 1918,” says one fan. “It’s worse that they’ve won twenty-six times since then. Much worse. It’s New York. Goddamned New York.” The end result, Red Sox pitching great Dennis Eckersley once said, is “the ultimate manic-depressive fan base.”