Which sport reigns supreme in each major league city?

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Because I’m bored, let’s follow-up that Josh Hamilton post with a survey of each Major League Baseball city to see what sport — using my totally subjective There Can Only Be One criteria — reigns supreme in each city. Which team, if the city could vote and only keep one, would stay:

  • New York: High school hoops has a rich history, but professionally I think baseball. Specifically Yankees. Anyone really disagree?
  • Boston: Probably the most “all sports” town on the list, but I’d have to say Sox.
  • Toronto: Leafs, Leafs, Leafs, Leafs.
  • Baltimore: For a long time baseball, but I do a lot of sports radio in Baltimore and it seems like the Ravens have dominated for years. And really, before the 80s, the Colts probably did too.
  • Tampa Bay: Who knows? Anyone? Not the Rays, that’s for sure. Probably the Bucs. More probably shuffleboard and bocce ball.
  • Detroit: Great baseball town, but they seem to live and die with the Wings more. My relatives who live there all do anyway. I could be persuaded that Detroit is primarily a baseball town, though.
  • Cleveland: Browns. By far. Even when they didn’t exist for a few years.
  • Chicago: This is an interesting one. I feel like it’s a Bears city, but I’d like to hear arguments on it. Walking around there in the summer and the city just reeks baseball, so it’s probably closer than I imagine.
  • Kansas City: They don’t tailgate for the Royals like they do for the Chiefs and that’s not for lack of a parking lot.
  • Minneapolis: I assume the Vikings. Gleeman should weigh in, though. Youth hockey may trump it all.
  • Seattle: I really don’t know, but given that they’ve sent away a baseball team and a basketball team to other cities in the past, the Seahawks probably by default.
  • Oakland: Kind of weird because (a) they’re so close to San Francisco; and (b) the people who dress up and act insane for Raiders games all probably live outside of Oakland, but based just on what you see, the Raiders.
  • Houston: Texas = football. Even with the Oilers leaving.
  • Los Angeles: It’s a status city and good Lakers tickets have to be pretty high up there as far as status symbols go.
  • Dallas: Cowboys could go 1-15 and the Rangers could win the series and it’s still a Cowboys city.
  • Atlanta: Probably college football more than anything, but the Falcons pretty obviously trump the Braves. I think, as far as local support goes, it’s probably more of a front-running town than anything.
  • Philadelphia: I really don’t know. All sports, to be sure. But it may very well be a baseball town more. There are no shortage of Philly people here, so you tell me. Gun to my head I say the Phillies and Eagels are close, but I don’t know if that’s been the case for all that long a time.
  • Washington: It begins and ends with the Redskins and anyone who tells you differently is an insane person.
  • Miami: Well, I don’t think it’s controversial to say it’s not the Marlins. Dolphins all the time, the Heat are a big deal when they’re good.
  • St. Louis: Maybe the most baseball town of them all, even if I think that Best Fans in Baseball Thing is silly.
  • Cincinnati: I think it’s a Reds town. I don’t know too many people here in Ohio who disagree.
  • Milwaukee: It’s over 100 miles to Green Bay, but I bet it’s still more Packers than Brewers. If you disqualify the Packers for distance it’s the Brewers by default. Still a great baseball town, though. It’s not the Brewers fault that people go Packers crazy.
  • Pittsburgh: A good baseball town to be sure, but it’s the Steelers by far. They’ve become a regional thing, even. It stretches well into Ohio and many points north, south and east as well.
  • San Francisco: I think the Giants have to be it, at least since they moved to AT&T Park. And now the 49ers are moving out of the city, so it’ll probably become more pronounced.
  • San Diego: My brother isn’t the most reliable narrator in the world but he’s lived in San Diego for almost 20 years and says the Chargers are it. Having gone to a lot of Padres games I have to agree with him.
  • Denver: Broncos, Broncos, Broncos.
  • Phoenix: I really have no idea. Like, no sense at all. The Suns have tenure, obviously, but I’m not sure what that means. Spring training makes the whole city basebally for a while. I know people get behind the Dbacks when they win.  Man, I’m rather stumped on Phoenix.

So that’s my take. Talk amongst yourselves.

Sports teams do not “heal” cities or nations

Associated Press
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story today in which he talks to Cleon Jones, Ken Harrelson, Art Shamsky and others from the 1969 Mets about their Amazin’ World Series title run. The story is tied to the upcoming commemorations of the 50th anniversary of that phenomenally unexpected and improbable season.

And that’s fine as far as it goes, but as so often is the case with nostalgic remembrances, it goes too far:

They will gather together in New York later in June, rehashing stories from 50 years ago, reminiscing about the year they turned the baseball world upside down, becoming perhaps the most beloved team in history.

The 1969 Mets.

The team that helped revitalize a city in ruins and heal a nation in turmoil, showing the world you can turn the inconceivable to the improbable to the possible to the incredible, in a way only sports can possibly do.

Now would be a good time to remember that the city the Mets allegedly revitalized found itself on the brink of bankruptcy in the early-to-mid-70s and experienced urban decay and spiking crime rates for the next 20+ years. It would also be a good time to remember that the nation the Mets allegedly healed witnessed the Kent State shootings a few months later, among other bits of strife for the next, oh, 50 years and counting.

Yes, I am being flip and superficial here, but I do so simply to illustrate how flip and superficial “[Sports Team] healed [City/Nation]” narratives invariably are.

We see these sorts of things whenever a team from a down-on-its-luck place has a title run. Detroit. Cleveland. New Orleans. The idea is generally a broad-brush paint job in which the source of strife — poverty, crime, economic strife, natural disaster, terrorism, etc. —  is detailed with the local sports team’s subsequent title run cast as a spiritual balm. The words “heal” and “uplift” are pretty common in these stories. Back in 2002 I wrote about a classic of the genre, a documentary about the 1968 Detroit Tigers, who allegedly healed Detroit following he 1967 riots. Anyone familiar with Detroit from 1968-on may understand that the claims of healing asserted therein were . . . somewhat overstated.

Whatever the details, most of these narratives have the same sorts of flaws. At best they overstate the significance of sports in society, presuming that happiness among ticket-buying sports fans — who are usually better off than your average city resident who may be the one in need of healing — means broad-based happiness among the populace. More commonly they simply ignore the actual city or society beyond anything but its most superficial markers. The pattern:

  • Montage of the strife in whatever its form (bonus if it’s from the 1960s and you can re-use some existing “turbulent 60s” b-roll;
  • A chronicling of the sports team’s run; and
  • A declaration that everything was better after that.

It’s not even a matter of correlation and causation being confused. There’s very rarely ever any evidence presented that the sports made the underlying problems any better. All one usually gets from these things is a sense that, at least to the sports commentator/documentarian telling the story and to the people who closely followed the sports team, things were good. Unless, of course, I missed the part about how LeBron James solved Cleveland’s declining population problems and how the 2010 New Orleans Saints solved the ongoing mental, economic and medical trauma of those displaced by Katrina.

Which is not to say that sports mean nothing in this context. Sports success can certainly make a lot of people happy, even people hit hard by adversity, temporarily speaking. People only tangentially-connected to the strife in question may, also, decide that a sporting event “healed” a city. For example, if something bad happened in your city but didn’t affect you directly, you may believe that the trophy-hoisting put a nice bookend on the trauma that was more directly felt by others. And, of course, individuals directly connected with the sporting events in question, like Cleon Jones in the Mets piece, can experience a more lasting change in their lives as a result of this sort of success that they might see as general uplift.

That’s not the same thing as healing, though. Because while you or I can close that chapter on it all when the game is over, survivors of traumatic events and victims of systematic oppression or chronic strife cannot and do not do so that easily. There were people still hurting in Detroit after 1968, in New York (and the nation) after 1969, in New Orleans after the Saints won the Super Bowl, and in Cleveland after the Cavs won their title. The very best that can be said of sports triumph amid civic adversity is that it’s a pleasant, albeit temporary distraction. But not everyone had the luxury of enjoying that temporary distraction and a distraction is not the same thing as a cure.

Why do sports writers and commentators do this? I suppose it’s a function of people believing that the world in which they operate is, well, the world. The entertainment writer sees everything as a Hollywood story, the political writer sees everything as a Washington story and the sports writer sees everything as a sports story. It’s an understandable loss of perspective and we all fall prey to it sometimes.

It’d be better, though, if we spent more time appreciating that our perspective on the world is not the only one. I won’t speak for the entertainment or political people, and I won’t speak for the way in which any other person may prioritize the world as they observe it. But in my world — sports — I think it’d be better if we did not ascribe outsized significance to the beat we cover. Doing so asks far more of sports than sports is capable of delivering and erases the ongoing pain and suffering of people for whom sports is no sort of cure.