Saturday, February 23, 2013

Is Your City a Baseball Town Or a Football Town?

Josh Hamilton, the slugger known for having overcome booze and drugs -- more than once -- has left the Texas Rangers, and signed a big contract with the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Year Angels of Anaheim.

And he fired a parting shot at the team that gave him his chance to come back... more than one chance:

It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town.  So the good with the bad is they’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town — and there are true baseball fans in Texas – but it’s not a true baseball town.

Is he right? Yes.  Observe:

2012: Following back-to-back American League Pennants, the first 2 in franchise history, the Rangers had an average home crowd of 42,719.

2008: Hamilton's first big season with the Rangers.  They finished 79-83.  Per game home attendance: 24,320.

1999: Ending a string of 3 seasons in 4 having won the AL Western Division, their first full-season postseason appearances.  Per game home attendance: 34,253.

1993: Last season at Arlington Stadium, capacity 43,598, having never finished 1st in franchise history, per game home attendance: 27,711.

1978: Won 87 games, finishing 2nd in the AL West, the 2nd year in a row they'd done that, 3rd time in a span of 5 years.  Per game home attendance: 17,876.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, a.k.a. "The Metroplex," is not a baseball town.


For this list, I'm taking only those cities in the U.S. that have teams in at least 3 of the 4 major sports, with 1 of them being Major League Baseball; or 2 of the 4, provided that they are Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

I'm not saying that making a city a "baseball town" means it's not good for football, or vice versa.  Only that, in said town, that's the most popular team sport.

Baseball Towns
Boston.  In the last 11 years, since February 2002, the Patriots have won 3 World Championships, the Red Sox 2 -- and the Celtics and Bruins 1 each.  But you would think, having become for a while the best team in the NFL, and for long-term excellence (for now) the defining NFL team of the last few years, the Pats would have exceeded the Red Sox in the minds and hearts of New England fans.  Riiiiiiight.

New York.  As much hype as the local NFL teams have gotten the last few years, ask yourself this: Which comparison would you rather argue, Yankees vs. Mets or Giants vs. Jets?

True, the hockey teams have had their moments, the Nets have a new arena and have awakened a sleeping giant in Brooklyn, and the Knicks, in spite of not having won a title in 40 years, are a cultural icon.  But New York is the greatest baseball town of them all.

St. Louis.  Despite 2 Super Bowls, winning one and nearly winning the other, the Rams are kind of an afterthought.  And the Blues, while usually doing well both on the ice and at the box office, are 2nd at best in St. Lou.  While the Cardinals are the centerpiece of the entire region.  St. Louis likes to call itself the best baseball city in America.  Per capita, that may be true.

Football Towns
Atlanta.  It's Georgia.  In spite of a great deal of success for both the Braves and Georgia Tech, but Tech, the University of Georgia and the Falcons together, and it's no contest.

Baltimore.  In 1987, when the O's were in a down period that would get much worse (1988) before it would briefly get better (1989), Frank Deford, the great Sports Illustrated writer from Charm City, compared Oriole fandom unfavorably with that for the departed Colts:

Baltimore could love the Colts easily enough, because football is only played on weekends, and is more like a holiday or a night out. But baseball is everyday, like grocery shopping and traffic jams, marriage, school and that sort of stuff. It was very intimidating to Baltimoreans that the Orioles won most every day and were hopelessly accomplished.

After 1997, the O's crashed, and the Ravens had newly arrived.  Now, the O's are back, but the worst thing that could have happened to this rising ballclub is that the local football side won the whole thing.  Throw in the love of the University of Maryland (albeit a school closer to D.C. than to the Inner Harbor), and football is well ahead of baseball in Baltimore.

Chicago.  Put the Cubs and the White Sox together, and they wouldn't be above the Bears.  The Bears remain the most popular team in town, even though they haven't won a title in 27 years.  Since then, the White Sox have ended an 88-year drought, the Blackhawks have ended a 49-year drought, and the Bulls, who had previously not won a title in 24 years, won 6 in 8.  The Cubs have had Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa, and Ernie Banks is still alive.  The White Sox have had Frank Thomas and the scrappy Sox of 2005.  The Bulls have had Michael Jordan and now have Derrick Rose.  The Blackhawks have had Denis Savard and now have Patrick Kane, and Bobby Hull is still alive.

Does anybody think a party for the first Bears Super Bowl win since Ditka, Sweetness & the Fridge wouldn't be celebrated far more than the '05 ChiSox, the '10 Hawks, and any of the Bulls' 6? Forever, the most popular sports team in Chicago will be a certain team which is known as... Da Bears!

Cincinnati.  The Bengals are a joke franchise, while the Reds are a team laden with tradition.  And still, the Bengals have great attendance.  Throw in the University of Cincinnati, high school football, and the relatively close Ohio State University, and this one is no contest.

Cleveland.  The Indians almost moved about 3 times between 1960 and 1990.  Do you think the people of Northern Ohio would have raised nearly the stink that they did when the Browns were stolen from them in 1995? They raised so much of a stink that they got their team back! It hasn't done well, but they got it back. Throw in Ohio State (keeping in mind that Columbus is closer to Cincinnati), and Cleveland is easily a football town.

Dallas.  It's Texas.  Next.

Denver.  The University of Colorado and Colorado State add to Colorado being a football State, but it was the Broncos who made Denver, from 1977 onward, a football city.

Houston.  It's Texas.  Next.

Kansas City.  When you go to a Chiefs game, you smell the parking lot before you see Arrowhead Stadium. And that's a good thing.  K.C. has the best tailgating in the NFL.  The Royals? This is not 1976 to 1985.  They are barely even there.

Miami.  The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl in almost 40 years -- and you forgot they'd even been around for more than 40 years, didn't you? Meanwhile, the University of Miami football program is once again mired in controversy.  The Heat are defending NBA Champions, have another relatively recent title, could win another this year, and are easily the glamour team of South Florida.  Meanwhile, the Marlins have a new ballpark.

No matter: Florida is a football State, and Miami is a football city.  The Marlins probably would have moved if that new ballpark wasn't approved.  Ask South Floridians if they would trade no longer having Major League Baseball, ever again, for another Dolphin Super Bowl win.  Most would.

Milwaukee.  Brewtown has re-embraced the Brewers, and the Packers are 120 miles away in Green Bay, while the University of Wisconsin is 75 miles away in Madison.  No matter: It's Big Ten Country.  It's football land.

Minneapolis.  The Twins have a nice new ballpark and 2 World Series wins.  The Vikings are 0-for-4 in Super Bowls and haven't even been in one since Gerald Ford was President.  Plus, the State of Minnesota is hockey-mad.  No matter: It's Big Ten Country.  It's football land.

Pittsburgh.  Between the Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and high school ball, this should even have been in question.

San Diego.  A tough call, since the Chargers are in danger of moving if they can't get a new stadium built, while the Padres have a nice new downtown ballpark and have usually been competitive since 1996.  But the Chargers are still more popular than the Padres.

San Francisco.  This was a tough call, especially with the Giants having won 2 of the last 3 World Series and having sold nearly every seat since what's now named AT&T Park opened in 2000.  But the A's hurt the perception that the Bay Area is a "baseball town." Both the 49ers and the Raiders are more popular than their baseball counterparts.  And while the Warriors and Sharks have lots of fans, they're not even in this discussion.

Seattle.  Even when the Mariners were romping their way to 116 wins and a "sure thing" World Series win in 2001 (How'd that work out, by the way?), the Seahawks were the more popular team.

Tampa.  I realize that Florida is a football State, and that the Tampa Bay region has a good baseball history. But the Rays don't draw flies, and, aside from the A's, are the MLB team most likely to move in the next few years.

Washington.  The Nationals have caught the local imagination.  Between the Wizards, Georgetown, George Washington, George Mason, the University of Maryland and high school ball, basketball is wildly popular in the Capital region.  But President Richard Nixon, in a rare moment of honesty, said something 40 years ago that is still true: All anybody in Washington gives a damn about is the Redskins.

Basketball Towns
Detroit.  Red Wings fans call the Motor City "Hockeytown," but I don't think any city outside Canada is a hockey town.  Not Boston, not Chicago, and not Detroit.  If you throw Michigan and Michigan State in with the Lions, there's no question that Michigan is a football State.  But neither of those universities is actually in Detroit, and the Lions haven't won a title since the Ike Age and haven't even been decent since the Clinton years (or, from their perspective, the Barry Sanders years).  The Tigers have had a renaissance.  And the Pistons are way out in the suburb of Auburn Hills.  But with Detroit having a huge black influence, and being one of the nation's great high school basketball areas, the Pistons put bee-ball on top here.

Los Angeles.  Between the tradition of the Lakers, the recent rise of the Clippers, and the tradition of UCLA, it doesn't matter that the Kings are the holders of the Stanley Cup, or that the Ducks have also won it, or if the NFL ever returns, or if there's ever a Dodgers-Angels World Series, or if USC or UCLA gets back to the National Championship of college football.  L.A. is about show business, and no franchise in all of North American sports is showier than the Lakers.  Although, at the moment, they're once again kind of a soap opera.

Philadelphia.  Pennsylvania is a football State, and the Eagles usually sell out, even when (like now) they're awful.  The Phillies have sold nearly every seat since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004.  The Flyers are icons.

But look at Philly's basketball legacy.  From the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team that evolved into the Warriors, to the 76ers, to the Big 5 college teams, to lots of great high school programs, basketball is still the Quaker City's top sport.

Phoenix.  Despite financial difficulties, the Diamondbacks have done very well since their founding in 1998.  But between the Cardinals, the UA Wildcats and the ASU Sun Devils, Arizona remains a football State.  That doesn't necessarily mean that Phoenix is a football city.  The Suns are the oldest team in town, and while the D-backs' title means the Suns are no longer the most successful team in town, they are still the most consistently successful.


JBsptfn said...

I totally agree with you about Boston. If they didn't win in 04 and 07, those fans would still be complaining about curses.

city said...

thanks for share..

Icadore Feldknocker said...

You make some good points. I am guessing you've never been to Cincinnati thought. It's a baseball town and it's not even close. Bengals may be on people's minds sometimes, but Reds are in their blood.