Boycott Meets World

In August of 2002, as Major League Baseball appeared headed for a strike, Bill Simmons had a solution: a boycott.

“Fans have to take matters into their own hands. And there’s only one thing to do. Yup. Strike. Turn our backs and walk away,” he wrote. “And couldn’t you? Couldn’t we all? Isn’t there enough happening in our lives where we could collectively say, ‘Screw it, we’re not buying tickets anymore’?”

He wasn’t alone: angry at the prospect of another debilitating strike, only eight years after a labor stoppage had forced Major League Baseball to cancel a postseason for the first time since 1904, thousands of fans had taken up arms to avert a similar result. Heather Holdridge organized a one-day boycott of baseball on July 11th. Don Wadewitz created http://www.mlbfanstrike.com, cited by Simmons in his column, and a similar website, http://www.wethefans.com, was created by an internet personality nicknamed Commando Dave.

And the idea of boycotting to save baseball was nothing new. Rob Godfrey, founder of the National Baseball Fan Association, organized a walkout from Veteran’s Stadium in 1985, just as the prospect of a strike loomed. Eric Yaverbaum, founder of the anti-strike organization Strike Back, organized a letter-writing campaign, urging fans to promise that for every game canceled, they would skip a game once the strike ended. The 1985 strike ended in only two days.

In 1990, as a strike once again loomed and Spring Training was canceled, boycotts once again came to the fore. Robert Johnson, an accountant from Huntington Beach, California, started the “Orange County Fan Revolt.” Yaverbaum’s organization gathered more than 10,000 letters. Godfrey announced his support for any group that boycotted baseball, and collected letters urging the game to resume, which he planned to dump on then-commissioner Fay Vincent’s porch. In 1990, crisis was averted, but just barely: the lockout didn’t end until March 19th, which forced the cancellation of Spring Training and moved Opening Day back by a week.

In all of these cases, of course, there were dissenting voices. Often, the argument was that boycotts simply weren’t effective: in 1990, the Los Angeles Times reported that “fan unrest has had little effect,” and in 2002, ABC News cited Bruce Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College in Kentucky, in reporting that “A July 11 baseball boycott might give angry fans a way to blow off steam, but probably won’t achieve much more.” Even Bill Simmons found the idea far-fetched, at first: in a column announcing his support for a boycott, he asked, rhetorically, “A baseball strike by fans? That would never work. Something like 20 million fans attend baseball games every season … how could you get them all on the same page?”

But there was another, related issue as well: people didn’t want to boycott. Angry as they were, it didn’t seem right to give up on baseball. “One thing stops us from making that fateful leap off the bandwagon, a collective forcefield of memories and affection,” Bill Simmons wrote. “There’s too much history here. You can’t turn your back on baseball. It’s sacrilege.”

But nevertheless, Simmons thought the necessity of the boycott could trump fans’ desire for baseball. For one, he wrote, they could still follow the game through TV, radio, and newspaper reporting, only stopping short of giving money to the teams. And for another, baseball wasn’t such a big part of life anyway. “I only attend eight to 10 Red Sox games per season, partly because it’s impossible to find tickets, partly because of the price ($55 and up for good seats), partly because the allure of Fenway Park has faded for me over the years (when a baseball park doubles as an insufferable, uncomfortable dump, that tends to happen),” he wrote. “So what’s that? Eight nights a year where I have to find something else to do? I could handle that, couldn’t I?”

Maybe he could have, or maybe not. We never got to find out. On August 30th, 2002, a strike was averted, and the game could go on, boycott free. Everyone was happy, fans came back to the seats, and two years later, Bill Simmons’ Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

***

Calls to boycott are nothing new to Mets fans. We’re a team that’s usually bad, with an internet presence that is volatile, reactive, and highly invested, with owners who couldn’t appear more malevolent or downright villainous if they tried. It’s almost the perfect storm.

Looking around google, I found calls for boycott in 2009, 2010, and 2012, and I’m sure I’m missing more than a few. There are certainly others: my memory isn’t fanciful enough to conjure up all the calls for boycott I’m sure I remember in the last few years. Even in 2015, Mike Vaccaro was writing about Mets fans, “so many of them angry at the owners, angry at the GM, angry at the manager, angry at just about everything, so many of them calling for boycotts…” A change.org petition calls on Mets fans to boycott the team next season until the Mets reach the top five in payroll.

On Twitter, the calls for a boycott come daily, or more. They’ve gained steam recently: with Marc Carig’s recent column in Newsday possibly serving as a catalyst, the #MetsBoycott movement, also attached to #MetsFansUnited, has reportedly gained more than 300 members in less than two days.

Maybe you’re waiting for my thesis; in a way, I am too. But here it is, as best I can phrase it, and as best I understand it in its current form: a boycott is a difficult process, and a sincerely honorable one for fans willing to go to great lengths to express their displeasure — their correct displeasure — with the way the Mets are being run. But as important a process as it is, there is simply no way I could ever take part.

I love the Mets more than just about anything. Sitting here, on this cold December night, any thought of baseball, any passing thought of anything like it at all, brings a temporary rush of happiness, and evokes memories of sitting in the upper deck on a warm August evening, the sun setting as the Mets play down on the field. I can’t and won’t give that up, not even if it might make my team better. I love the Mets with all my heart no matter how many games they win, and honestly, that seems like the end of it. I’m too much of a Mets fan to boycott, because I can’t help but think that watching a bad team is better than not watching a team at all. It may seem overly simplistic, but that’s just the truth.

It’s incredibly easy to hate everything the Wilpons have done; they’ve left us broke and barren, unable to afford the players we desperately need, all but the laughingstock of a league we once routinely ruled. But the Mets aren’t the Wilpons. The Wilpons are temporary obstacles, who will be gone eventually, and that day can’t come soon enough. I’m not willing to let them keep me from my team.

I don’t claim to know Bill Simmons particularly well, but I do think I know this: he doesn’t really believe himself when he says that the allure of Fenway Park has faded, or when he writes that it “doubles as an insufferable, uncomfortable dump.” I’m not even a Red Sox fan, and I know that that’s not Fenway. And Citi Field is no Fenway Park — but its allure still hasn’t worn off on me. It’s easy to be angry; as a Mets fan, I’m angry most days, for one reason or another. But it’s not nearly as easy to boycott the team I love.

Boycott with my blessing, not that you need it; the Wilpons should certainly be exposed to the anger Mets fans hold towards them, and a boycott is a fine way to accomplish that. But I can’t join you. I’m a Mets fan, so I go to Mets games, and much as I’d like to express my displeasure with the way things are run, I can’t, and won’t, stop going to games to do so. Putting on the orange and blue, taking the seven to Citi, and eating a hot dog in the stands is as close to perfect as life can be, and that’s what I’ll do, even if the Mets aren’t as good as I’d like.

It’s not a rational decision; nothing about being a Mets fan is. It’s strictly emotional, borne of the simple realization that nothing accomplished by any boycott, whether the sale of the team or a World Series title, would be worth isolating myself from the Mets. Some people may feel differently; I’m not here to call them wrong. But my opinion stands.

Would Bill Simmons have gone through with his threat to boycott the Red Sox, if the players had gone on strike? I don’t know, but I do know this: I have appreciated every Mets game I’ve ever been to, and they all play into the lifelong, constantly-evolving story of what makes me a fan. And I’m not willing to give that up, not even for a necessary boycott. You call it irrational; I call it loving the Mets, the most ineptly-managed wonderful team I know. It doesn’t make much sense to love such a team so much, especially when ownership drives us into a ditch and doesn’t seem intent on moving forward any time soon. But that won’t stop me from giving it my best shot.

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