New Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched for his entire career up until this point for the Boston Red Sox, caused a bit of a Spring Training stir last week when he made some comments comparing the fans of his old city with his new one.
In an interview with WIP, Papelbon said that fans in Philadelphia “tend to know the game a little better,” whereas Red Sox fans are “a little bit more hysterical when it comes to the game of baseball.” Reports of the comments, in both cities, led to the usual hand-wringing and finger-pointing over whether Boston or Philly has the most knowledgeable, most devoted, and/or the “best” fans.
Wide generalizations about whole cities and fanbases are always dicey, of course, especially when stereotyping becomes part of the equation. But as someone who has lived in both cities and has a lot of family and friends in them, I can say confidently: the Red Sox and Phillies’ fan communities have way more in common than either would probably like to admit. In fact, it’s hard to think of two fan bases in American sports that are more alike.
Papelbon may have described the fans from one city as “knowledgeable” and the other as “hysterical,” but in actuality, both descriptions can be true of the fans from both. In both Boston and Philadelphia, sports are a huge, huge part of cultural and civic life, and fans approach the games with passion, obsession and yes, sometimes even hysteria. In either city, if you walk downtown at 9 a.m. on the day of a big playoff game, you can feel the atmosphere already, in a way that you can’t in, say, Miami or Atlanta or Los Angeles.
And the similarities don’t end there. Both teams are in big Northeastern cities that aren’t New York—a place neither town particularly cares for either. Both fan bases regularly fill their own stadium and often, those of other cities when their team goes to play there. We all know about Phillies fans and their propensity to take over Nationals Park when the team plays in Washington; it’s always a similar story in Baltimore when the Red Sox play the Orioles.
Both the Red Sox and Phillies spent most of the 20th century losing, before evolving into reliable winners and champions in the last 10 years; however, that history of losing created a stubborn air of pessimism that has survived among fans. That proved well-founded for both clubs last year, when the Red Sox collapsed at the end of the regular season and the Phils in the first round of the playoffs.
The media feeds this in both places, in sometimes ridiculous ways. When the Patriots lost the Super Bowl this year, Dan Shaughnessy wondered in the Boston Globe (after a seven-championship decade!) if Boston’s teams were still cursed. Closer to home, one of the rare points of agreement in WIP’s farcical recent “4 for 4 Debate” was that Charlie Manuel should be ashamed of himself for only having won one title.
Both Red Sox and Phillies fans are loud and passionate, not afraid to boo or otherwise show vocal hostility to either opposing players or their own, and fistfights in the stands between inebriated toughs are far from a rare sight in either ballpark. And of course, there’s always the everlasting cold war in both fan bases between longtime diehards and the legions of “bandwagon jumpers” who showed little interest before the team started winning.
Both cities love Curt Schilling and hate J.D. Drew, and both drove manager Terry Francona out of town, albeit under very different circumstances.
When I’ve discussed this topic with fans in both cities, the Philly contingent has derided their Sox-fan counterparts as elitist snobs, forever favored by ESPN, who are too busy wearing suits and pink hats to be a true fan. Red Sox fans I know see Philly supporters as thugs and hooligans who booed Santa Claus and Michael Irvin. The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle.
The differences? Boston, of course, has won many more titles lately in other sports, and has produced many more tiresome national media personalities to forever extol its teams. And, the accents are very different.
Sox and Phillies fans have quite a rivalry, considering the teams rarely play one another. But what’s so great about both fan bases, and about both cities, is just how much people care. Perhaps we’ll get a more apt, side-by-side comparison this year, should the teams meet in the World Series.