It’s summertime, which means it’s the season of not only swimming, baseball, and trips to get soft serve to stay cool but also the season of summer blockbusters. Dedicated fans rejoice as whatever internal property they’re dedicated to is likely to get a monumental sequel or follow-up season to add to the lore of whatever it is they’ve dedicated themselves to.
We’re getting everything from superheroes to dragons to lightsabers in what is appointment-viewing.

There’s a special kind of parallel between sports franchises and the rise of fandoms all across pop culture. To some extent, there’s an unfortunate specific kind of toxicity when it comes to dedication, be it from the unrest with the direction or the way one interacts with others.

It’s because when you experience the highs or endure the lows with characters or, in sports’ case, players with those who have also endured those similar feelings, it’s sentimental and pulls at your emotions where rationality is thrown out the window.

With those parallels, we’re going to look at the state of certain MLB franchises and evaluate where they are by drawing some comparisons to specific pop culture fandoms.

They all behave differently, make different decisions, and feel a certain way about the past and present, and those highs and lows are what drive us all together to truly become “fanatics.”

Los Angeles Dodgers // Marvel Cinematic Universe

For two decades, Marvel movies accomplished a cinematic achievement like we’ve never seen before: they strung together connected films that worked seamlessly together to create crossovers and continue stories that dominated the box office from assembling the Avengers and eventually beating Thanos. The model of consistency peaked in 2019 with Avengers: Endgame ended Phase 3 with the second-highest-grossing film in movie history to bring a conclusive end to fans waiting through end credit scenes and crafting conspiracy theories online about Thanos, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Chris Evans as Captain America.

Despite that model of consistency, ever since 2019, dedicated MCU fans have criticized state of the franchise as being watered-down, vanilla to where it always has to work together, or giving too much quantity rather than quality in straying away from making bold swings that are necessary to try something new.

The same could be said about the Los Angeles Dodgers. The model of consistency with the most wins over the last 10 years and 13 NL West Pennants since 2008. They consistently develop their talent while simultaneously making moves and spending money to better their organization.

However, does this model of consistency and regular season success actually work? The Dodgers have one ring during this stretch, and it came from within a COVID-shortened 2020 season the uneducated skeptics will tell you is a “Mickey Mouse ring.” They’ve also had some inexcusable flameouts during postseason play in the Dave Roberts era, with sweeps to the Diamondbacks and a 3-1 series loss to the Padres in the NLDS after winning over 100 games the last four seasons.

Marvel is trying to find their footing and taking a big swing by trying something new: they’re only releasing one film this calendar year: a rated R Deadpool & Wolverine after acquiring the X-Men from Sony. The Dodgers needed to take a big swing to absolutely own the NL, and in their case, that meant spending a billion dollars in one offseason to acquire the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, and Teoscar Hernandez. If either of these swings doesn’t work out again, the fans who have been so loyal will feel like they’re having deja vu.

St. Louis Cardinals // Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones dominated appointment-viewing television for years as people who had zero interest in dragons or beasts were intent on finding out who would be on the throne in the final season. As George R.R. Martin was simultaneously trying to write the novels, the speculation of how it would end concluded with fans claiming the final season as one of the worst endings in television history, and the highs of the previous six seasons of great TV ultimately amounted to nothing. The revolted reactions online after it went out with a crash landing were something to behold.

St. Louis is considered a “baseball town” and “the classiest fans in sports!” With the second-most rings in history, it has a beautiful Busch Stadium with fans that are cordial, present, and knowledgeable about the sport and iconic figures ranging from Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith to the era of Pujols, Yadi, and Wainwright. They also plain don’t lose, with only 4 seasons below .500 from 2022 to 1995.

With Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina gone last season, it certainly felt like 2023 was their season 7 of Game of Thrones, where suddenly the machine of greatness had a year from hell. The team with the top two NL MVP vote recipients the year prior, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, and World Series aspirations made embarrassing mistakes and errors that were unheard of, and first-year manager Oli Marmol alienated the locker room essentially in his first month by publicly calling out Tyler O’Neill for his hustle. They were out of it from the very beginning.

With a new season of House of the Dragon, the prequel series of Game of Thrones, set to come out this summer, they’re looking to right the wrongs of a catastrophe. The Cardinals are in that same boat with their rebuilt rotation of Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson, along with calling up promising prospect Masyn Wynn, who looks like a potential all-star. It’s early, and they’re below .500, but with a hot month, they could right the ship in their attempt to prove that the disaster year of transition was an outlier.

Chicago Cubs // DC

DC has long been seen as Marvel’s little brother, largely aside from a few successes such as the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and the most recent Matt Reeves film. The studio rushed the plan to try and replicate exactly what Marvel was doing without having any cohesive vision, goofiness in spite of the darker character storylines, and being reactionary, which led to laziness. The few highs show that the gold is still capable of being accessed by brilliant minds with a clear plan, so the hope is that after effectively ending the “DCEU” and appointing James Gunn as CEO, the creative mind at Marvel who somehow made a team of a tree, a raccoon, a human, and aliens in space work with Guardians of the Galaxy, his creative vision can save the state of the union.

PHOTO: The Independent / Getty Images

The same can be said about the Chicago Cubs as a marquee franchise. The fans will tell you with vitriol how much they despise the Ricketts ownership because they know that because of the dedicated fans that will show up to the church of Baseball at Wrigley and drink at day games, they’re going to make money if they lose or not. They’re continuing to capitalize on the 2016 breaking of the curse. Still, after trading away that entire core, they’ve been in a bit of a crisis as opposed to possibly carving out a dynasty like the original plan.

If James Gunn is to save DC with the gold that he sees in that potential, then the Cubs paying Craig Counsell the most money in managerial history away from their rival Brewers is the equivalent. It hasn’t paid off yet as the Cubs have been an anemic offense while the Brewers have looked like one of the teams to beat in the NL in Counsell’s absence, but the plan is to recapture that magic of 2016 and the spending on Craig Counsell, Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson last year, and the new prized pitcher Shota Imanaga. That means all systems go. 

Boston Red Sox // Star Wars

Star Wars fandom spans across a plethora of eras, and it’s impossible to just define them as just one entity. There are those loyal to the original trilogy and the originals only, there are those who divorced the franchise after the prequels as well as prequel defenders, and there are those who are deep into the lore as a whole with the successful animated properties, the sequel series, and the highly-divisive sequel films that created unbearably toxic arguments online. With that amount of highs and lows, the Star Wars fandom has essentially just turned into a bar fight. Dave Filoni has been appointed the new visionary because of his successes with the spin-off series, the animation, and the grounded stories, but there’s still no slated movie until 2026, with the highly contentious pressure it faces within the movie front.

The Red Sox have encountered a similar sort of roller coaster. The highs were breaking the curse in 2004 with two World Series in four years, and there was the 2018 World Series high after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing that felt like a fictional miracle story. However, the other side of that has been like embarrassing figures like Bobby Valentine, Pablo Sandoval, and David Price, manager Alex Cora getting suspended in 2020 for sign-stealing, and the inexcusable ownership decision to trade Mookie Betts, the franchise player and MVP, simply because they didn’t want to open their pocketbooks. Betts went on to historic success while Boston got back Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo, and Connor Wong. Since 2022, it’s been nothing but last-place finishes, letting Xander Bogaerts walk in free agency to replace him with Trevor Story, and the iconic Tom Werner quote claiming they were going “full throttle” only to merely sign an injured Lucas Giolito.

They’re playing it safe, and banking on their young talent, just like Star Wars is pivoting away from films until they feel ready. The Red Sox have surprised thus far this season with one of the best pitching cores in baseball despite pitching in Fenway, which typically allows so many runs, so that might mean, in this case, that new pitching coach Andrew Bailey has been their Filoni.

Some have discontinued following after the inexcusable Mookie deals following the highs of the curse, just as some have lost trust from following Star Wars with their Disney deal being focused on quantity and money, but the animosity of the “welcome to Boston, loozah!” sports town and the dedication of Star Wars fans will permanently be a part of fandom due to the longevity. The failure of the films has outshined some of the greatness of the animated series and other intimate properties just as you may be overlooking Brayan Bello and Tanner Houck this year, but the force will be with them, always.

PHOTO: Getty Images

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