Over the past decade, the Mariners have been really, really, really good at spawning anger and dissent amongst their fan base. Really good. I can’t tell you how good they’ve been at this. To the credit of the affected population, rather than commit crimes or go on villainous rampages, fans have taken to the world wide web to voice their displeasure for the organization, because frankly, what else is this online environment good for, anyway?
You’d think that people would be relatively unified in their angst over a team that hasn’t been to the postseason in twelve years, but that’s not the case at all. So what if we all agree that the team sucks? Some people out there don’t agree enough. Some people out there show signs of occasional optimism, others show too much pessimism, some aren’t as critical as we’d like them to be, others are far too critical. We can agree that the Mariners are bad, but we can’t agree on the way in which we all agree about that very thing we originally agreed upon. If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.
The internet tells me that Albert Einstein once defined insanity as the act of doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results. If that definition holds true, then Mariner fans have literally gone insane over the better part of this millennium. Since Y2K hit (Remember Y2K? That was a fun time…), the M’s have finished dead last in their division seven times in thirteen tries. By the same token, they have finished first just once. Four of those last place finishes have come in the past five years, including three straight heading into 2013. As the team has done the same thing over and over again, fans have expected different results. And in expecting otherwise, we’ve driven ourselves mad.
The craziest of the crazy aren’t so much fanatics as they are trolls. For the uninitiated, a troll is defined by Urban Dictionary as “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” In the case of today’s trolls, the act of trolling is frequently taken off message boards and brought to the forefront of public consciousness through social media. Twitter, especially, has become a breeding ground for the troll community. Unlike message boards, Twitter provides trolls a distinct following in the form of, well, followers. Whereas on the boards it can often be hard to gauge how many people are paying close attention to the “deliberately provocative” messages one happens to be spewing, Twitter ensures that there is always a dedicated group of people devoted to the “maximum disruption” being caused.
On another level, Twitter gives trolls access to the people they most want to argue with. Fans, media, and the team itself are targets for the disruption and argument trolls seek to cause. Beyond simply ejaculating non-sensical ire to the masses, trolls can direct their attacks to specific individuals or groups and needle the shit out of them for any reason they desire. This isn’t anything new, of course. This sort of thing has happened since Twitter was invented, and likewise has occurred for generations in other formats: letter writing to a media outlet, phone calls to the newspaper, emails to TV stations, etc. And we all know that voicing displeasure is much easier when a certain level of anonymity is secured. Trolls have always existed, however it’s the internet — and to another degree, Twitter — that grants them more anonymity with greater impact than any other forum.
While every sports team has its trolls, the Mariners and their losing ways seem to breed more trolls than most ball clubs. For the antithesis of this, we need look no further than right across the street from Safeco Field. If the Mariners are your typical Seattle sports fan’s most acute pain point, then the Seahawks are surely the foil to that.
The Seahawks win, they’re fun to watch, they’ve been relatively successful for over a decade now, and they breed positivity moreso than troll-dom. Where the Seahawks are concerned, there is very little in the way of fan dissent. Contrary to the Mariners, we all agree that the Seahawks are great. And in being great, we don’t have a whole heckuva lot to argue about. When it comes to our football team, we rarely argue. Sure, Seahawk trolls exist. But with each passing victory, their voices are squelched beneath the tenor of jubilation. We celebrate wins and the trolls can’t help but join in and be happy. Winning, it appears, cures all ills.
The Mariners could certainly eliminate fan antipathy by winning games, there’s no doubt about that. But after so many years of futility, the sentiment they’re most in danger of treading upon is fan apathy. People don’t care that the M’s suck anymore. They’ve stopped coming to games, they’re not tuning into increasingly-frequent blowout losses, they really do have more important things to worry about than a last-place baseball team. This is where the trolls intervene…in a positive way.
The one good thing about those looney bastard trolls is that they prevent apathy from spreading to the entire fan base. Their lives revolve around the Mariners (or, more accurately, revolve around criticizing the Mariners) and so they continue to vomit Mariner vitriol upon all who will listen, willingly or otherwise. With each message they send the team, with each tweet they direct towards a media member, with each reasonable fan they drag into their cesspool of stupidity, they actually keep the team relevant. Again, I’ll go back to a statement I made earlier: if this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. For all the conspiracy theories they passionately believe in, for all the hate they hold in their heart, for all the trouble they cause and havoc they create, these trolls are pivotal to keeping a flailing franchise afloat. Were it not for the trolls, would anyone be tuning in to watch a game? Who knows for sure. All we really know is that the team is struggling, many people couldn’t care less, and the few times those who consider ourselves sound of mind are compelled to talk about the squad is when some nutjob goes on a rampage about trading Felix Hernandez for a bag of crap, promoting a prospect from Single-A, or berating Ryan Divish for drinking Kool-Aid (if you were on Twitter on Monday night, you might know a little bit about that last bit of craziness).
Fact is, there are three common truths about trolls that we can all agree upon: 1) most of us despise trolls, 2) most of the time, trolls perform their due diligence in earning our loathing, and 3) the Mariners have spawned more trolls than any other professional team in Seattle sports history.
Until success finds its way to this organization, expect more of the same silly behavior from everyone driven insane by a ball club that can’t separate itself from failure. Losing and trolls go hand-in-hand, which in turn means the Mariners and trolls go hand-in-hand. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the trolls need this team to not win and the team, for relevance’s sake, needs its trolls.