The Red Sox and Mariners playing a series this week hit particularly close to home for me as a New England native and Sox fan who now lives in Seattle. I found myself desperately needing to get an answer to a question that’s been nagging me for the 10+ years I’ve lived here:
Why does Seattle dislike the Red Sox so much?
I’ve been surprised many times at the level of vitriol that I’ve encountered as a Red Sox fan here. I haven’t seen anything like this outside of New York City, pre-2004, but that hatred always felt understandable, born of a direct rivalry and constant contact.
All of my evidence is anecdotal: simply that there have been a number of times that I’ve been stopped while wearing a Sox cap or shirt and quietly going about my business. I’ve been hissed at, heckled, and had comments tossed in my direction (sort of out loud, but not really out loud). I started work for a new client and went into their office, and not one but two people told me immediately upon meeting me that they hated the Red Sox. Just like that. They weren’t even standing next to each other; they both volunteered that independently to the new person on their first day. I’ve been taken aback and also genuinely curious about this for years now.
Except for Yankee Stadium, where Sox fans once wore disguises to avoid getting beaten, this has never happened to me, anywhere.
The one possible exception is once upon a time in Baltimore, when I wore a Red Sox jersey to Camden Yards and the Oriole Bird picked me up and pretended to throw me over the railing of the upper deck. I played along for a bit but at some point I felt my body weight approaching the tipping point on the railing and I actually got worried. But no hard feelings. We all have our job to do in this world. And we made it onto the Jumbotron and everything.
So except for that, I’ve never had any trouble. And please understand, I’m not a person who looks for trouble. Most people seem to find me pretty mild-mannered and easy to approach.
Other Sox fans in Seattle have shared stories with me. One fan was sitting behind the Mariners dugout in the seats that her company offers to her every year when the Sox come to town. She was wearing Sox gear and a Mariners fan approached and told her that she “had no right to be in those seats.” Thinking he was kidding, she returned some light-hearted banter – but he wasn’t joking.
Why is this happening here in Seattle? Seattle may be known for what’s called the Seattle Freeze (whether you believe in it or not) or bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder due to the extra-long nights during the wintertime, but not outright anger and confrontation.
Please take this questioning and analysis in the spirit in which it’s intended. I’m not trying to have fun at anyone else’s expense. At heart I’m driven by a gentle curiosity. And, the Mariners have always been my AL West team; I really am a fan. (In fact, I just realized that I have way more Mariners hats than I do Sox hats now.)
My first question was to establish whether my perception — that Seattle hates the Red Sox with a special level of hatred — was accurate. Let me cut to the chase and say that everyone but one person agreed that it was.
Right. But why?
I really appreciated the folks who reflected along with me and tried to ascertain where the feelings originated. Quite a few writers from Lookout Landing — a great site for Mariners coverage, which is also Over the Monster’s “sibling site” — were very kind and spent time with me to give their hot takes…er, explain some finer points. [LL gang, consider that my first inside joke.] It turns out, there were several main theories advanced by Mariners fans. Although everyone didn’t agree completely, some common threads certainly emerged.
Main theories advanced by Mariners fans:
There are too many Red Sox fans who come to T-Mobile Park and they’re too vocal. Evette was the first one to say so and plenty of others agreed. John, a Seattle native and lifelong Mariners fan who even spent part of his honeymoon at Fenway Park said, “Half the damn stadium is the Sox and they’re loud.”
John Trupin of Lookout Landing said: “Seattle’s population is increasingly transplant-heavy and [T-Mobile Park] is the closest MLB stadium for half of Canada and like four states, so any time any East Coast team comes here it is packed to the gills at the park with their fans. It is incredibly unpleasant to attend the game here because it’s basically a non-home game.”
It’s the fans, not the team or any one player or play. David, a Seattle native and fan since the Seattle Mariners franchise was born in 1977, said: “The [Sox] fanbase is collectively arrogant and condescending,” and there was strong agreement on that point. I received a text that used almost those exact words, and kept hearing similar feelings time after time.
Here’s David again: “When you have one narrative to get close or to never win, you feel bad for the fanbase. Generations go by. But [once they win] the narrative goes away immediately. The fanbase now expects to win.”
Bee Everfolly of Lookout Landing pointed out that many Bostonians seem “proud of being opinionated/obnoxious. While I recognize that my opinion is skewed by what is likely the most vocal, and worst offending minority, it’s still a hard impression to shake. In particular about Red Sox fans, having to interact with baseball Twitter and other online spaces rises the worst voices of each fan base to the top.”
But maybe just once it was the team and not the fans: the Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb trade. David found this trade “wounding” and said it’s the only time where he hated the team, as opposed to the fanbase.
Cross-sport rivalry [read: Seahawks vs. Patriots]. There is trauma in Seattle over the Super Bowl defeat that Pete Carroll manufactured out of victory. The folks at Lookout Landing seemed pretty united in their opinion that it would likely have been Seahawks fans, not Mariners fans, who have been confronting Sox fans all this time. They maintain there’s actually a divide between the football and baseball fanbases here in Seattle, and I find this fascinating.
The bandwagon effect, which is particularly distasteful to Mariners fans. This was noted by Zach Gottschalk and Eric Sanford of Lookout Landing, as well as David. Jumping on a bandwagon is most definitely not okay with Mariners fans, who have “never had a day in the sun,” as David put it. Eric mentioned that “the bandwagon ‘oh my grandma is from Boston!!’ factor exploded after 2004.” I can attest that I’ve had several people say this to me but I didn’t think anything of it because, well, my family is from Massachusetts so that didn’t sound odd to me. But consider my eyes opened.
Everyone agrees that they hate the Yankees as much as (or more than) the Sox. I never brought this up, but many people volunteered this information. That made me kind of happy. I like common ground and I’m including it here.
It’s nothing more than an East Coast/West Coast thing. Wendy, a lifelong Mariners fan who buys a new pair of Mariners sneakers at the start of every season, told me this. She attends games and hasn’t been bothered by the number of Sox fans; she thinks there aren’t enough of them around to make a difference. Her take was pretty neutral, but that was by far the most favorable light that New England was cast in. (The Midwest, interestingly, received a couple of compliments, but that’s out of scope here.)
The Mariners are in a different place than any other MLB team right now. Seattle is the only MLB team to have never been to a World Series, let alone won it. They had a gap of 21 years between tastes of postseason baseball. John, the fan who honeymooned at Fenway, said, “We live in a different universe.” David admitted to perhaps “a little bit of inferiority complex” and “built-in insecurity” within the Mariners fanbase that might make Mariners fans prone to pouncing on other fanbases.
Bee explained that media coverage has often seemed “dismissive of our success and our potential” over the years. She likened the Mariners to the underdog David with the Red Sox cast as Goliath. That’s a burden to carry for sure, until you slay the giant.
New England sucks. This was the shared opinion of multiple folks at an old-school bar called Teddy’s near the University of Washington. But I picked the wrong night to try to discuss baseball in Seattle because the first game of the recent Mariners/Sox series happened to coincide with Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference Finals that featured the Seattle Kraken (contenders in only their second year in existence).
Teddy’s was showing baseball with no sound, and on only two TVs (out of seven). Also, it was the middle of a heat wave, which isn’t good here in Seattle. All of that is on me for coming out on an afternoon like that and trying to engage over baseball. During commercials for the hockey game, I asked around. Steven, a Seattle native and University of Washington alum was most forthright: “Because they suck. All of them. All of New England.”
As I chatted with Steven and his friend Hung and another friend of theirs at the bar, a voice behind us floated above the din: “Speaking of failures in Boston…”
I turned around. This coincided with the M’s (silently) scoring their eighth run of the game; someone had finally tuned in.
Then there was shouting. “Go home! Go home! Go home!” three times really fast.
Matt Bloch, a Mariners fan who came to watch the hockey game but happened to look up at a celebratory moment for the Mariners, in what would finish as a 10-1 rout of the Sox, held his phone up in the air to take a picture of Cal Raleigh scoring. Cal had already had an incredible night — a historic night — but no one saw it at Teddy’s except me. Cal, of course, is a local hero for hitting the home run that sent the Mariners to the 2022 postseason, ending a playoff drought of 21 years. On Monday, he hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate, which no catcher had ever done before in the 112-year history of Fenway Park. I’m very partial to Cal Raleigh who seems to be a great guy.
Obviously Matt would have something for me, so I switched over to sit at his table with him and his three friends.
One of Matt’s friends didn’t wish to be identified but said that the “transitive properties” of all of New England were to blame for the way Seattle feels about the Sox and their fans. Matt explained that “snotty” New England things like Harvard and the Hamptons were problematic for him. He attempted a Boston accent on the first syllable of Harvard but then reverted to normal diction: “Hah-verd.” That made me laugh. I appreciated the levity. I didn’t tell him that the Hamptons aren’t located in New England [should I have? I was lightly attempting to go undercover in a Mariners hat and no one knew at this point that I’m New England born and bred. AITA?]. I really wanted to tell Matt that just about everybody has a problem with the Hamptons scene but felt it better to stay neutral there.
Jackson D. was concise: “The Celtics are the worst. Racist.” I took this as more evidence of the transitive properties of New England fandom. And I didn’t directly comment on this then, but I happen to think that the Sox are the worst in terms of racism. For a deeper dive on this topic, read Dan Secatore’s article that addresses racism in Boston and Boston sports.
Cameron L. felt that Sox fans were hanging onto history from the 1940s and 60s. I didn’t get to ask him exactly what he meant (Ted Williams? Yaz?) because the commercial break ended and I went back to my own seat to let them watch hockey in peace.
While I’d been talking, a flood of messages had come in about the Sox and their fans. David was taking a poll and sending me results which indicated folks were firmly on the side of Sox fans being entitled. Wendy checked in a couple of times. I had texted a childhood friend from New England to see if he’d heard anything about this rivalry that hadn’t existed in the 1980s when we attended games together at Fenway.
His reply: A GIF of Don Draper informing Ginsburg on a loop that “I don’t think about you at all.”
Transitive properties. We actually are assholes! Right? I admit that I laughed. A lot.
I turned my attention back to Steven and Hung. Hung, like Steven, is a Seattle native and UW alum. (He’s also the only person who volunteered anything nice about Tom Brady; he actually said he was a fan.) Steven and Hung provided a new theory:
Boston teams are too good and people hate on greatness. That’s a quote and so is this: “It’s not the fans, really.” [Oh, thank god.] Then Hung asked me if I was from Seattle. I wasn’t about to outright lie so I admitted the truth.
After he exclaimed, “This is awkward!” our conversation drifted to safer topics: the Seahawks and Pete Carroll’s bad play calling at that crucial moment. I’m not even a football fan, but I know that much.
I was still thinking about the Hamptons and whether I should have said something to Matt. I recalled an old boss who’d lived his whole life on the West Coast, in various places between LA and King County, Washington (where Seattle is located). He complained to me once that no one knew where New England was, that it was an amorphous area with no boundaries.
“No one knows where it begins or ends.” -My former boss opines on New England
At the time, my eyes just about fell out of my head and I listed the six New England states for him. I may have even ticked them off on my fingers [AITA?]. But this day, maybe I was feeling a little more generous. (To Matt, not to my former boss.) New England is tiny and we certainly weren’t educated on the ins and outs of West Coast geography, either.
I’d had many conversations by this point, some pretty humorous, but also some emotions had been laid bare and I was feeling extra thoughtful, with eyes opened, by the time I spoke to John.
Since so many of my questions had already been addressed in one way or another, I asked him the one that had perhaps been most on my mind for these 10+ years:
Since Seattle isn’t particularly known for being confrontational, why would multiple folks feel so free to confront me on the street with negative comments about what I’m wearing?
John gave me a really thoughtful answer that seems important to me:
The existential reason.
John painted a picture of a city that has changed dramatically. This is something you can read or hear just about any day of the week, as people blame the local corporate giants for rising prices, housing crunches, ploughing over entire neighborhoods, and more. Although I have known this, and have seen it, even in the relatively short time I’ve lived here, John put it more poignantly and personally than I’d ever heard.
He talked about the city skyline changing dramatically in the 1980s, and how in the 2010s, another big wave of change came through that rivaled the 80s. Now there were more swaths of the city left unrecognizable to him. He talked about trying to give directions to childhood friends and having to rely on old landmarks that hadn’t existed in years because between them, they didn’t have a complete handle on all the multiple changes.
“There’s a sense of frustration that you don’t know Seattle anymore, of being a stranger in your own town. It has grown so fast and changed so much in the last 30 years. The new people in town – yeah, there’s better food now and they’ve made good contributions but still…It’s not a deep-seated rage, but it catches up on you. Who are all these people who keep coming here and why can’t they root for my team?”
There’s a rich and deep expression of this kind of loss — the loss of your home — in art, music, and literature. The circumstances may be different — war, changes in the society around you, a pandemic, emigration for hope of a better life, the need to flee to save your life — but the essential story is similar. We’ve just collectively lived through a sea change and are still tending, in many ways, to the emotional, spiritual, and psychological rawness that can be left in the wake of profound change.
How many people want to go back to the way things were…but those things simply aren’t there anymore? Homesickness and nostalgia, which were once entwined more closely together than they are today, used to be considered physical maladies because they had such pronounced effects on the body and mind. The word nostalgia, which we use fairly lightly nowadays, comes from the Greek nostos (for homecoming) and algos (for pain). During the French Revolution, soldiers could go on leave for only one reason: being diagnosed with nostalgia for home. It was taken very seriously.
Some cultures are shaped by their nostalgia for what was. Both the Welsh and Portuguese languages have words which don’t translate directly into English, but touch on this idea of a painful, poignant nostalgia. The Welsh hiraeth is specifically an aching for home as a place. Culturally, Wales understands this as a form of grief on the part of emigrants and a desire to travel back home to their roots. The Portuguese saudade doesn’t always refer to home; it can also be expressed (especially in music) as a sadness over a person who has left, or a way of life that’s gone. It also contains traces of happiness, in remembrance of those cherished times, alongside the grief.
I’m not sure that either of these are the equivalent of Seattle’s ache. And taken to its logical conclusion, I suppose the idea would presume on some level that every person who is dissatisfied with my hat, who is moved enough to say something about it, must necessarily be a Seattle native, and of a certain age to have before-and-after snapshots in their head of their hometown.
I’m not saying that and I don’t think John is, either. But this resonated with me. I do think there’s something collective going on under the surface. Never mind locating a landmark — where are any of us going to be able to afford to live in a few years? Tent cities pop up everywhere around here, like freckles on an Irish kid from Massachusetts. We talk about it and we worry about it. You don’t need to have lived in Seattle for 40 years to feel that anxiety. In that light, I don’t have to make too much of a leap to see how an ache on the inside can make its way to the outside.
I’m grateful to everyone who shared their insight with me. I look forward to seeing you again, Boston. Good night, Seattle.