That bond is such an essential part of all sports that it brings up the question: Can a true sports fan root for two teams in the same sport? I believe that the answer is yes, given very special circumstances.
I was 14 when my dad died, and when the Giants moved to San Francisco. I mentioned both in the same sentence because rooting for the Giants was something very special that my dad and I shared. When I was 5, he would take delight in having me show his friends that I could name the Giants' starting lineup and pitching rotation. Six decades later, I can close my eyes and still picture the three of us at the Polo Grounds watching our heroes battle our crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
So the Giants' abandoning us was a traumatic event for me. I loved baseball and I loved going to the park to watch the game, but the only team left in New York was the Yankees (the Mets weren't born for another 4 years). If you were a Giants or Dodgers fan, you instinctively hated the Yankees. They won too much, they were the aristocrats of baseball and their fans looked down at the rest of us as a bunch of mangy mutts. Limousines rolled up to Yankee Stadium - we took the subway to the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field.
I simply couldn't root for the Yankees, but I wanted to root for a team I could see in person. So I adopted the Chicago White Sox, who played the Yankees in New York 11 times each season. The Sox had a colorful roster - Nellie Fox, Jungle Jim Rivera, Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce - that had a chance to challenge the Yankees. Unbelievably, the Sox rewarded me by winning the pennant in 1959, my second year of fandom. I thought, "This is great!" Little did I know that I would suffer through 46 years before they would win again in 2005. In 2000 when I was chairman of the Democratic Party, I got to know Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Sox, and we became friends. Often, he and I will text each other 10 or more times during a Sox game.
I thought I would be exclusively a Sox fan until I went to college in Philadelphia and saw a city die a thousand slow deaths as its 1964 Phillies blew a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games to go.
The agony was so real and palpable and so widespread that I fell in love with both the city and the Fightins'. I also did a little research and found out that the Phillies' fans had stuck with their team despite going through arguably the 8 worst years in baseball history (1938-45) when the Phils won fewer than 47 games five times and finished 62 1/2 games behind 1 year, and 50 or more games out four other times. My bond with the Phils also was strengthened when one of my best friends, Dave Montgomery, went to work with the Phils as a management trainee in 1971.
So there it was! I was a two-team fan, but since they were in different leagues I felt very little conflict. There was no interleague play for a while and only twice - in 1983 and 1993 - did the prospect of a Phillies-White Sox World Series seem possible. The Sox collapsed in both years, but what would I do if it did happen? Isn't that the reason you don't root for two teams? No, it would be a clear choice for me. Notwithstanding my friendship with Jerry, the Phils' management contains some of my closest, lifelong friends - David, Mike Stiles, Richard Deats, Jerry Clothier and Dan Goroff. Also, my mayoral instincts would take over - a World Series championship means a whole lot to a city in terms of revenue and positive exposure.
But some fans would disagree with me and say it violates the "unwritten rules of sports" to root passionately for two teams. In fact, Mike Missanelli, host of the afternoon radio show on 97.5-The Fanatic and known to many Philadelphians as "The Commissioner" of the rules of fandom, is one of them. According to Missanelli, it is kosher to root for two teams as long as a fan has one main team and merely takes a secondary interest in another team's success or failure.
Missanelli's rulebook focuses on the origin of a fan's affiliation with a team, which Mike says must have some sort of geographical basis. My options, according to Missanelli, were either to root for the Yankees or wait for another team to come to New York, which the Mets eventually did. But baseball was my favorite thing in the world and as such a rabid fan there was no way I was ever going to root for the Yankees, and the thought of going through even one season without a rooting interest was unthinkable. So even though "The Commissioner says thumbs down to the Gov" and he is declaring my affiliation with the Sox a "violation," the options I was left with at the time were unreasonable. Besides, does anyone really have a problem with me picking a team solely based on my hatred for the Yankees? Really, don't we all hate the Yankees?
So here's hoping for a White Sox-Phillies World Series, with the Phils taking it in seven games, clinching it, 1-0, as Roy Halladay outduels Mark Buehrle and Chase Utley hits the game-winning home run! *
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