Are Yankees fans "the best in the world?"

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Not my words.  They’re Lupica’s:

There aren’t fans better than this anywhere in the world. This isn’t about whether or not you love the Yankees. This is about Yankee fans.

There are other baseball fans in other cities, of course, Mets fans in this one. There are fans who come out strong for teams who haven’t won the way the Yankees won, who don’t make the playoffs just about every year the way the Yankees have since Joe Torre first came to town 13 years ago and the winning came back to the Yankees and the Bronx.

But no fans have ever supported a baseball team, the most famous team in this world, the way Yankee fans support theirs.

Saying that any team’s fans are “the best” is obviously an exercise in biases, and there’s no better chance that people are going to agree on this question than they’d agree on religion.  Lupica is a New York guy who writes for a New York paper that is purchased by New York fans.  I have no doubt that he sincerely believes that Yankees fans are the best. But even if he didn’t, it’s not like he’d write that, say, the fans in Minnesota or Milwaukee or (shudder) Boston were better.  Assuming he was even proposing a way to measure it.

I’ll throw this out there though: wouldn’t one way to measure how great a teams’ fans are be to see how well they draw when the team isn’t winning?  Whether the fan base is of the fair weather variety?  If so, is it worth considering the following:

  • The Yankees were 1st in the American League in attendance from 1976-1981, when the team was winning a lot.
  • The Yankees fell out of the top spot in 1982 — to third — and didn’t lead the league again until 2003, finishing as low as 11th a couple of times when the team wasn’t playing well.  This despite the fact that they had one of the larger seating capacities in baseball over that time.
  • Contrast this with the Dodgers, who have only been out of the top 5 in NL attendance once in the last 90 years.  Or the Red Sox who have only been as low as 9th once in their history, despite having the smallest seating capacity in the game for almost all of that history. The Cardinals ranking has been more consistent than the Yankees too.

    I’ll grant that Yankees fans are pretty darn good — and it’s hard to find more knowledgeable fans than Yankees fans — but they’re not necessarily diehards.  Like the fans of most teams, they’ll stay home if the team isn’t winning.

    I’m not saying that disqualifies them from being the best fans in the world, but if I were Mike Lupica, I’d find a way to account for that before making the claim.

    Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

    Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
    AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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    There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

    Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

    Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

    First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

    What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

    Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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    The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

    The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

    This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

    What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

    The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

    It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

    The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

    Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

    The rest of Thursday’s action…

    Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

    New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

    Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

    Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

    Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

    Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

    Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

    New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

    Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

    The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

    Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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    For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

    As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

    The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

    “We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

     

    That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

    Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

    The Natural
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    Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

    There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

    Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.