Thursday, January 3, 2019

GUEST COLUMN: Ellen Adair’s 'Complex Flow-Chart of Baseball Allegiances'

(Photo: Ambe J. Williams)
by Ellen Adair

I imagine the readers of this site are familiar with the t-shirt that reads, “I root for two teams: the RED SOX and anyone who beats the YANKEES.” I like this shirt; I love the Sox and, not coincidentally, I was raised on a fundamentalist hatred of the Yankees, so I can get behind its message. But I’ve always joked that I would need a shirt that says, “I root for several teams: the PHILLIES, and then the RED SOX, and anyone who beats the Yankees, and then the METS are okay if they’re not playing the PHILLIES because I’ve lived in Queens for ten years but I’m not about to root for the YANKEES, and right now I’m crushing on _________ and _________.” [with space for me to add teams using those peel-and-stick name tags].

You can probably see why I don’t make that shirt.

If you have a desire to accost me on Twitter about how this is illegitimate baseball fandom, you will not be the first, or the one-hundred-and-first. I get a lot of flak for my polyamorous baseball lifestyle, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that baseball fandom is the union of one fan and one team. I just have so much baseball love to go around. When someone says to me, “How can you support multiple teams?” it makes about as much sense to me as someone saying, “How can you like different sports?” or “How can you watch different TV shows?”

The key here is what I call my Complex Flow-Chart of Baseball Allegiances, basically outlined in the physically impossible t-shirt to which I alluded, above. The sticking point for people who are confused is usually something along the lines of “What do you do if the Phillies are playing the Red Sox?” I am rooting for the Phillies. Sorry, Red Sox fan page, the Phillies always come first. The Phillies and I are indissoluble life partners. In the recent past and probably the near future, the Phillies are going to probably lose when they face the Sox, but I don’t hate them losing to the Red Sox as much as I hate them losing to another team. But since they’re both in different leagues, this is rarely an issue.

I agree that a stickier problem is having added an affection for the Mets, being in the same division as the Phillies. But when the Phillies were sweeping up the peanut shells at the bottom of the NL East in 2015, I was very happy to take joy in the success of the World Series taking place five train stops from where I live. I had already claimed some allegiance to the Mets before that year, in case I will face additional accusations of bandwagonism; basically, I liked the Mets because they seem like the opposite of everything the Yankees stand for. And because Citi Field is in essence my home stadium, it’s nice to go and cheer along with everyone else rather than sit stoically silent in situations where the Mets aren’t playing the Phillies.

But, a naysayer wonders, what if the Mets and the Phillies are in a pennant race? This could certainly happen this year, given that the NL East has gone from looking like a horse race with four mules in it, to one with four horses and a donkey. But in this case, I would wish for the Mets to lose games to non-Phillies teams so that the Phillies could, let us hope, emerge victorious. Phillies first, always. It’s not actually that hard.

Now, you may be wondering how I got to this bizarre game of baseball-fan Twister. You’re probably wondering some other things, too, but I’m going to let you put words to those yourself in your well-crafted tweet to me. You can even go do it now and come back. My verbiage will still be here on your return.

So. Welcome back. There are three basic principles that both lead and enable a totally hypothetical human being to root for more than one team:

1. Love of root, root, rooting for some team, if they don’t win it’s a shame
2. Love of baseball above all
3. Construction of a flow-chart of baseball allegiances

Let’s look at these individually.

1.  Love of Root, Root, Rooting 

This is pretty simple. I love to cheer. You’re about to learn how much I love to cheer and how seriously I take it in follow up article(s), provided that our beloved Editor-in-Chief still thinks it’s a wise idea to publish my cockamamie ideas. [EDITOR'S NOTE: He does].

I enjoy having a stake in the game no matter who is playing. This is why after years of going to games at Citi Field I finally decided to stand up and high-five everyone in the vicinity, given that a Mets batter hit that home run against someone other than a Phillies pitcher.

But my Complex Flow-Chart also enables me to turn on a game at home and decide who I’m rooting for, no matter what the match-up. Are the Padres playing the Cardinals? Are the Twins playing the Blue Jays? Awesome. I am all in on SOMEBODY. (Wondering who? Keep reading and you might be able to figure it out.)

2. Love of Baseball Above All 

I was raised on a love of baseball even more fundamentalist than hatred of the Yankees (but are they separable, really?). I was born in Philadelphia, but my parents hailed from Oregon and Virginia, originally, by way of a lot of other states, so the Phillies were a team that they themselves adopted, having already supported other players and other teams. In naming his favorite baseball players of all time, my dad will name as many non-Phillies as Phillies players. And to the extent that we often (although not always) adopt our parents’ worldview, I was raised to believe that I could appreciate the game played well, no matter the team.

On the one hand, since my parents brought me to Phillies games since before I could walk, there is something about the crack of the bat and the less-elegized thock of the glove that is simply, to me, like the sound of my mother’s womb. The first man I ever loved was Von Hayes, since I apparently demanded that my mom sew a number nine on the back of my toddler-sized Phillies shirt, back in the days when you couldn’t buy player-specific jerseys for like, cats, and when I still thought that part of the alphabet song was “elemento-pea.” But I love baseball more than I love laundry, to borrow the phrase from Mr. Jerry Seinfeld, and more than I love a front office or a Twitter account (although please do spend that “stupid money,” John Middleton, and the Phillies’ Twitter account is on point).

But long before I truly supported any other team than the Phillies, I allowed myself to love other players on other teams. Stranded in Indiana—which should be the name of a rom-com if isn’t already—for many formative years of my youth without a major league team in the state, I had a poster of Frank Thomas on my door. I wasn’t a White Sox fan, and I still idolized Darren Daulton—I just didn’t see why I couldn’t like the Big Hurt too.

Those were simpler, girlish, pre-Complex Flow-chart days, when the Phillies were still my only team. These days, liking a number of players on a team may lead to me generally rooting for that team, or ‘crushing on’ a team, to borrow the phrase from my physically impossible t-shirt. This isn’t an allegiance to a franchise so much as to a group of guys.

For example, I joke that I have a special relationship with Alex Bregman. I saw the Astros play at Camden Yards not long after Bregman came up in 2016, and though he was batting below the Mendoza Line at the time—now we know that Bregman is just always a bit of a slow-starter—he was still, obviously, going to be an incredible player given his minor-league track record and prospect pedigree. I was not far from home plate, and at his second or third at-bat, I yelled out in a relatively silent Orioles-fan crowd, “ALEX! I BELIEVE IN YOU!” And he hit a home run on the very next pitch. It was only his second major league home run, the first one having come a couple of days earlier. I stood up and cheered, just happy for his success, weathering some confused boos, and in that moment, I became a Bregman fan, probably for life.

And when Bregman’s team also includes Altuve, Springer, Correa, Keuchel, McCullers, not-at-that-time-but-eventually Verlander, oh my goodness Chris DEVENSKI I love Devo, hey Brad Peacock is awesome, Charlie Morton became a hero—these are very lovable guys. So I love the Astros. Another example is that I’ve been a big fan of the Mariners for a number of years, but I don’t know that I will be now that they’ve dismantled their team. At present, I’m really crushing on the A’s, predominantly for the Matts in their corner infield positions. If Matt Chapman’s defense doesn’t make you hot under the collar, you don’t have eyes or a heart. Or a collar.

Loving a player doesn’t always lead to loving a team, however. I’ve been crushing on J.T. Realmuto since 2015; I was type-yelling “Guys, he’s a catcher WHO STEALS BASES” long before he had 17 teams in on acquiring him via trade. This led to my now more-than-yearlong Twitter campaign to #saveJT from the Marlins, and this has led to me owning a J.T. Realmuto t-shirt, but it has not led me to root for the Marlins. The NL East waters are muddied enough for me, as it is. And they’re the Marlins. And they’re owned by Jeter.

Because for many years, I simply admired players without any corresponding fuzzy feelings for their teams. But as soon as you find yourself rooting for more than one team, suddenly a world of possibilities opens up to you…

3. Construction of Flow-Chart of Baseball Allegiances 

Basically, I blame the Red Sox for getting me into this mess. I came to Boston to go to college, and there, in the cradle of Fenway, I fell in love with another team. Raised as I was on the belief that the Yankees are the Evil Empire because clearly they are, I found myself easily aligning with the Red Sox’ cause. When Tek shoved his glove into ARod’s face, it was love. I don’t have to tell you, dear readers, how lovable the Red Sox were, and are. I was there in ’04, ’07, and was back in Boston to do a couple of shows in ’13, but by that time, I had long since bought the gear and tried to imitate Youk’s batting stance using an empty wine bottle at a party and convinced myself that it was okay, I could have an NL team and an AL team. Their moments of conflict were so rare.

I admit I was wading into deeper if not necessarily dirtier waters (reference intended) when I finally decided to wear a Mets cap—strictly speaking, I accepted the Mets cap purchased for me by my Mets-fan husband. But by that time, I’d lived in Queens for longer than I’d lived in Boston, had been to more games at Citi Field than I had at Fenway when I was a poor college student (and if I’m writing this for Boston fans, let me tell you: you can see about four games at Citi Field for the price of one at Fenway). It felt strange to stay quiet when the Mets were playing, say, the Dodgers. In that case for god’s sake, put on a Mets cap! Root for the Mets!

Especially since, by that time, I was always picking a team to back in the postseason no matter who was playing, often a more random team than the Mets. Who was I to root for the Texas Rangers of 2010 (see: undying love of Cliff Lee) and 2011 (see: 2010) and not the club in my backyard?

As to the rest of the Flow-Chart, how do I determine who to root for if the Phillies, Sox, or Mets are not involved? I could rank all 30 MLB clubs according to my current affections, but that’s probably boring for everyone but me and I don’t want to lose all two readers who have made it this far. Here are factors to consider in filling in the gaps between the Mets, and, twenty-seven spots later, the Yankees, or deciding who to root for in any random match-up:

1. Are there players I really like on either team? If there are players I like on both, which team has more? Or, which team has the player I like the most? Or, which team has the more beautiful, beautiful defense?

2. Which team is the franchise underdog? Who has had fewer postseason appearances recently, or Championships won? NOTE: This rule effectively translates to always rooting for the Yankees to lose, even if I didn’t, already.

3. Will this win or loss affect the standings for the Phillies? Red Sox? Depending upon the time of the year and the fate of those teams, this can easily become the most important factor.

4. Do I have any personal historical dislike of either franchise? Ie.: Did they once clobber the Phillies in a World Series that I personally watched?

5. Tiebreaker to be used in desperation: do I have a friend or loved one who really loves one of these teams?

My guess is, any number of people could actually get behind this logic, provided that you stay true to whomever your life-partner team is. And I argue that anyone who agrees that they root for the Red Sox and any team that beats the Yankees actually has started a Flow-Chart of Baseball Allegiances, even if it’s not very complex. And I bet you can find there are teams, even if it’s just a current group of guys, which you like better than others. And if you can admit that to yourself that there are even degrees of hatefulness or likability in the enemy teams that face your team…well, maybe the way I love baseball isn’t so foreign to you, after all.

But you can still @ me on Twitter.

Ellen Adair is probably best known as Janet Bayne in “Homeland,” Bess McTeer in “The Sinner,” and Bridget Saltire in “The Slap,” although she has also had recurring roles on “Billions,” “Veep,” “The Family,” and “As the World Turns.” Additional TV credits include “Chicago Fire,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Brotherhood,” “The Blacklist,” “Shades of Blue,” “God in America,” the pilots “Compliance” and “Codes of Conduct,” and numerous PBS films. She is the author of Curtain Speech, from Pen & Anvil Press, and is working on bringing to life a TV series about baseball writers. Visit her website at, or connect with her on Twitter at @ellen_adair or Instagram at @ellenadairg.