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What is “metafandom?”

Feb 18, 2011, 8:15 AM EDT

1932 poster

A long time ago I made up a word: “metafan.”  I only had a vague idea of what it meant, but I liked the sound of it.  Recently I’ve come to think that the word was too good to just sit by itself, undefined, so I decided to build a concept around it. That concept is laid out in a guest column I wrote for Baseball Prospectus.  Unlike the bulk of BP’s content it’s free for all to read with or without a subscription.

Roughly speaking, the word “metafan” refers to a person who gets into the superfluous stuff surrounding baseball to the extent that, at some point, it starts to crowd out the consumption of actual baseball games.  I’m talking about playing fantasy baseball, collecting memorabilia, writing about it, doing sabermetric analysis, going nuts on hot stove league things, whatever.  I’m a metafan. Many of you are. Most people who truly go nuts about baseball are, I believe anyway, metafans. And that’s not bad.  It just … is.

At any rate, I don’t do longish form columny things very often, so writing this was kind of fun. Let me know what you think of it. I’m actually not sure that it’s good — I really did think up the word first and built a concept around it afterwards, so it may be total bunk — but you can be the judge of that.

  1. woodenulykteneau - Feb 18, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Unfortunately, the line between metafan and pseudofan is thin. I’ve long found that the litmus test is whether or not someone will go to an independent baseball game. The metafan will (“It’s still baseball”) the pseudofan won’t: (“They’re never going to make it to the majors”).

    • Alex K - Feb 18, 2011 at 8:51 AM

      I don’t agree. The line should be minor league baseball. I have been to one independent baseball game, and the first HALF of an inning lasted 45 minutes becase the pitcher was awful. Yeah, it was baseball, but it was bad to the point of unwatchable.

      • woodenulykteneau - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:04 AM

        I would agree with you if were that simple, but pseudofans can be talked into a minor-league baseball… as long as it involves an affiliate of their team. Hence, the distinction. Besides, a metafan would have gone to more than one independent baseball game, understanding that that can (and does) happen in affiliated baseball, too.

      • Alex K - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:42 AM

        Am I just a pseudofan, then? I only went to the one independent game. I mean, I could have been talked in to going to more, but no one ever really tried.

        Thinking about it more, why do we even have to have a line? It’s about how you consume baseball, not what level of baseball you choose to watch.

    • ThatGuy - Feb 18, 2011 at 8:59 AM

      Hm, what do you call the third fan option at minor league games (“There’s still beer there”).

      • woodenulykteneau - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:11 AM

        Someone who only shows up on Thursdays

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:12 AM

      What about dragging the wife and kid to an Atlantic league double header to bake in the sun all day? I dealt with all that (complaining) just to catch a game, umm two games.. Of River sharks…. Man is that park beautiful though…… And fire works every friday night too with the Ben Franklin bridge as the back drop. It’s a baseball experience…

    • larryhockett - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:59 AM

      There’s an Atlantic League team in my hometown and the baseball experience is fantastic. Nice ballpark, reasonable prices, great family outing. I’m not sure that going to a game there qualifies one as a metafan although I see your point. I think even casual baseball fans can appreciate a day at the ballpark if all the factors lend themselves to a good experience even if there is no real consequence to the games.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 10:34 AM

        Absolutely. I’m not a meta fan. I’m just crazy about baseball. The game itself.

  2. dodger88 - Feb 18, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    I think age may play a part. When I was younger, say an adolecent and into my early teens, I was a “metafan” for baseball and also began to follow the other major team sports closely and with fervor. As I entered my adult years, my interest in most sports declined substantially with only MLB and the NFL (sorry Craig) surviving. In the case of the latter, I am more a Browns fan (yes, sucker for punishment) than a football fan. In the case of MLB, I will follow all of baseball not just my beloved Dodgers, but I can’t say that I do so like I once did when I was young.

    Good article by the way.

  3. Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    Good article. I don’t think I’m a Metafan. Baseball is an escape for me. The games, not the details behind it all. That other stuff is just mental fodder for me that doesn’t get in the way of my craving to watch baseball being played. I sit there and watch little league games and enjoy every second of it (weather permitting, cold rain sucks).

  4. okobojicat - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Craig, your metafandom of baseball is kind of similar to NFL fandom (stick with me here, its going to take a while). Football fans have only one game a week, but attached to football is all kinds of other stuff that fans follow so closely. The injury report. The scouting report. The breakdown of the Tampa-2 vs. a vertical passing game. The great defensive end matching up against the rookie Left Tackle, but the team is planning on leaving the full back in the backfield. (and that doesn’t include all the college Football and recruiting analysis and coaching hires, my god)

    NFL fans eat that stuff up, while when watching an NFL game, we realize that the schemes and alignments are kind of silly. Things don’t simply play out like they do in the film room. Stuff happens too fast and players make plays, not coaches analyzing the week before.

    But you follow all the other stuff around a baseball game. The minor leagues, the jersey’s, the interaction between the GM and coach, and his players. The glorious headbands of Brian Cashman. Its similar.

    I’m similar. I’m a metafan. I plan in a ridiculous fantasy league NL only 10-team, with keepers and 6 minor leaguers. I have to know the dodgers system better than most dodgers fans just to get out of last place. And I honestly don’t care about the Dodgers from an emotional standpoint. They could win 90 games, they could lose 120, and I wouldn’t be better or worse off.

    Gahh, off topic.

    But your metafandom of baseball and of particular, your Braves, is similar to much Metafandom of football fans. Maybe their only third degree football nerds, and you’re a twelth-degree baseball nerd (as are most of us here), but it is still comparable.

  5. Lukehart80 - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Craig, I really enjoyed the article. I know I certainly fall into the category of “Metafan.” I grew up and have lived most of my life in Chicago or a near suburb, but when I was 6 years old, I was put on a t-ball team, the Indians. I’ve been a fan of the big league version ever since. When I was a teenager, I got to enjoy a lot of success, but the last decade was pretty rough. At a certain point, I don’t think I could have maintained much interest in major league baseball if it was only about watching Indians’ games (especially because not many are broadcast in Chicago, surprise, surprise). But I really do love baseball, so I’ve found a lot of otherwise to engage myself with the game and I spend about as much time engaging with it in January as I do in July. It’s too great a game to limit myself to just the actual games.

  6. xmatt0926x - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    If I have a handle on what Craig says makes a “metafan” than I think I’m not one…I think. I think some people are thinking if they are obsessed with baseball and their teams than they are a metafan. I think Craigs definition says that you have to take it much deeper than that to the point that the elegant and slow-paced game itself starts to become obscured. I know people like that. They obsess over all the sabermetrics stuff, do the fantasy leagues and become obsessed with the side stuff to the point that I dont know if they still have their love that they developed for just their team back when they were kids. I love baseball, my team, and I still care about the basic stats. I’m not going to change. I love HR’s, RBI’s, and BA, OBP and the rest of the basics. I dont play fantasy baseball and I still love the elegance of a well pitched game on a warm summer night. Thats it! Im 38 years old and you damn kids get off my lawn!!!

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 10:44 AM

      I refuse to play fantasy baseball for these reasons. I got into fantasy football, and I think it ruined it in ways for me. When I found myself upset when guys facing my home team had bad days it dawned on me there was a problem. There had to something wrong, here I am rooting against my own team in a way. I have since given it up swearing to never let my fandom be interfered with in such ways. Even though it’s fun to try and play owner, just because…

  7. sdelmonte - Feb 18, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    I guess I am halfway to metafandom in that I am here every day, and at Neyer’s column every day, and still love Strat despite not having played it in ages, and that I try to learn about the new metrics. But I don’t do fantasy baseball, don’t collect much of anything, and get a bit bored with some of the hot stove league noise by now.

    I think the best way to define how I approach sports in general is that I am annoyed in how much people are talking about a potential trade in basketball instead of what’s actually going in the games, and was even more annoyed when the world seemed to ignore the playoffs to talk endlessly about LeBron’s decision. If that happened in baseball, I might be a little more tolerant, but not by much. The things surrounding the game are important, but in the end should serve the game.

  8. larryhockett - Feb 18, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    “Metafandom” naturally grows out the very things that make baseball such a compelling sport. The game experience itself has a myriad of fascinating intersections, decisions and turning points. But baseball’s appeal goes far beyond the actual gameplay. For almost everyone who’s been bit by the baseball bug it’s the history, the statistics, the ballparks, the storylines or any of an infinite number of other related sidelines that truly captured our interest and imaginations.

    I’m a metafan for sure. Now I’ll watch just about any game that I’m lucky enough to have the luxury of seeing (what my wife and two young kids will allow, that is). And I still thrill when seeing the shortstop range far into the hole, backhand it, jump and gun the runner out. But the vast part of my baseball experience in my life (since my playing days ended as a teenager) has involved forming my own Strat-O-Matic leagues, the fantasy league I’ve been in for the past 19 years, reading baseball history, collecting baseball cards (too bad that hobby is long-since ruined), and generally following all things baseball.

    The concept of “metafandom” is valid. But there need not be any judgment over whether one is a metafan or some other form of baseball fan. One can be a metafan and “real” baseball fan or a casual baseball fan all at once. And the fact that each of labels exists is part of baseball’s great allure.

  9. BC - Feb 18, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    What’s the difference between a Metafan and an Überfan?

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM

      Well a metafan is described in the article. An “Uberfan” is an insult. Uber is a word that needs to be used much less imo. It’s a word that should be destroyed and never used again. I don’t like how it looks, and I don’t like how it sounds. Yes I’m a terrible person for being a word bigot, but everyone has their flaws don’t they?

      • BC - Feb 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM

        Yes, but Überfan has umlaut. Fear the umlaut.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 18, 2011 at 12:47 PM

        kinda like Motorhead does. I see…. Fear the Umlaut, yes fear it.

  10. nyetjones - Feb 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Qualifier: I really enjoyed the article, and I think the observation is spot on – easy to get so caught up in the externals to the point that the original topic/object gets obscured. And I agree wholeheartedly that baseball periphery does this to people routinely.

    Two thoughts, though. One is that what you call meta-fandom seems also integral to fandom itself. Maybe not the world series posters, baseball cards and strat-o-matic playing, but certainly things outside the game itself – e.g. DUI stories, contract disputes, hall-of-fame arguments – imbue the sport with meaning. I think the game in abstract, absent these external stories, would be way less enjoyable for a lot of people. If you pay attention, it’s amazing how much of the coverage of sports could be construed as so much sewing circle gossip. It gets dressed in terms of “distractions” or “affecting team chemistry,” but ultimately it seems to point to a required interest in the players-as-people and not just baseball machines. How much of the commentary about Milton Bradley is strictly worried with how much his off-field troubles affect the games in which he plays, and how much is just a buzzing, tantalizing tale that gives him sone humanity, however flawed? I think it’s a lot of the latter, and we’re not always that aware of it and/or willing to admit it.

    The second thought is in the potentially obnoxious domain, and probably doesn’t matter at all, but this really seems to be more of an instance of “meta-(baseball)-fandom” than “metafandom.” Metafandom is interesting in and of itself – the concept of being a fan of being a fan, choosing to participate in sports fan culture at all as opposed to whether you should be a fan of a particular team – but I think what you’ve very successfully described is the notion of fandom of metabaseball. If that makes sense at all…

  11. ta192 - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    A lot of people are “ceilingfans”, they mostly go round in circles and blow a lot of hot air…

  12. spudchukar - Feb 18, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    Confession time. I am not a Metafan. The periphery is a substitution. Now that MLB allows me to watch multiple games, at various times, any form of productive life is essentially over. Maybe I am the opposite of a fair-weather Metafan. Once, games begin to be broadcasted, any behavior, outside of the involuntary ones necessary for life, is relegated to the back burner. I guess I just don’t get it. There is so much going on during the game. I am glued. No one will watch with me, which is of course perfect. I doubt seriously if my girlfriend will last another year. If she leaves me I hope it is on a Monday, or I won’t know it until the final out on the West Coast.
    I used to do other things, back when games were mostly on radio, I could multi-task. But now, even between innings I can click on other games. I have developed more affinity for other teams than my Cards due the broad viewing choices. I can honestly say that I am now a Rays fan too. I route for the Jays, Braves, Marlins, Twins, Mariners, Rangers (only the players, not the community). And I still pull for the Yanks on most days.
    I guess my real question is, Where to you find the time?

  13. mvd513 - Feb 19, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    Sliding guy on gray team is safe.

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