Through thin and thin
Every night you'll hear a local broadcaster praise his audience for being "the best fans in baseball." From New York to both sides of Chicago, in Los Angeles, St. Louis and even places like Detroit and Houston, the distinction is thrown around cheaply.
But the fans who truly deserve the distinction are the ones who still show up at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are on pace to finish 54-108, their 18th consecutive losing season and second-worst in franchise history, yet they still average 20,070, more than the Marlins, Athletics and Indians. That's impressive.
This is a small market that has had a challenging economic situation, but somehow they're on pace to have their attendance slip by only a little more than 200,000 from 1992, when Barry Bonds helped them win 96 games and finish a Francisco Cabrera single away from the World Series. Give it up for the Pittsburgh fans! They're the best in baseball — and, yes, they deserve a lot better.
Baseball's best fans are in Chicago — particularly Cubs fans. This is a team that has not won a World Series in more than 100 years, yet the fans pack historic Wrigley Field on a regular basis. No, they don't have a sellout streak going like the Red Sox or even the Phillies, but that ballpark, even when the Cubs are also-rans, has fans cheering on their team.
And they are knowledgeable about baseball, much like the fans of the Cardinals, Phillies and Yankees. Fans don't stroll in around the third or fourth inning as they do at Dodger Stadium, and the Cubs' attendance isn't dependent on the team filling its roster with stars. Cubs fans are in it for the long haul.
Nerves of Steeltown
I'm going with Pittsburgh. Crazy? The Pirates draw well below the MLB average each year to their beautiful new stadium, so how can Pittsburgh have the greatest fans? Easy. Because it isn't easy being a baseball fan in Pittsburgh, not like it is in New York, Boston or even the North Side of Chicago.
This is not about small markets and payroll. Over the last 15 years, there has been ample evidence that such teams can win -- with good management. The Bucs have put their fans through 18 consecutive losing seasons. They have unloaded popular players and gotten little in return.
And yet, the fans in Pittsburgh, having faithfully supported their franchise since 1882, haven't disappeared. The Pirates continue to draw about 1.5 million each year, and those folks come out in all kinds of weather, hoping against hope that this will be the year. The city may not have the most or the loudest, but if baseball fans could earn a medal for enduring hardship, I'd pin it on Pittsburghers.
Twins for the win
Los Angeles Times
I haven't been in National League stadiums enough over the years to rank their fans, but in the American League I'd have to go with Minnesota. The fans there are enthusiastic, cheer at the right time and know the game without being pretentious about it.
Twins fans are extremely supportive, but they appreciate good baseball, whether it's played by the home or visiting team. It's fairly standard in Minnesota to see a standing ovation for an opponent who makes an outstanding defensive play.
And now, after decades of playing indoor baseball in the Metrodome, the Twins and their fans have taken their act outdoors to Target Field, a beautiful facility where, not surprisingly, the Twins have sold out all but one game this season.