I AM a Fan: Why Are Bad Players so Beloved?
By: Pigeon Martin
Not even a quarter of the way through Season 6, the Canada Moist Talkers were in disarray.
On Day 19, Richmond Harrison, a Moist Talker since Day 1 and nearly universally beloved, had been caught in the Feedback, swapping to the Hades Tigers in return for Fish Summer. Despite Summer’s much higher batting proficiency, the blow stung. At a mere half star, the exchange for the prolific batter should have been cause for celebration. It wasn’t— and instead led into what the Talkers have branded “the sixth stage of grief:” Necromancy.
In contrast, Lachlan Shelton’s Feedback to the Charleston Shoe Thieves a mere four games later was met with very little fanfare. This may have been due to emotional burnout, may have been because Lachlan was newer and less beloved, and may have also been simply because the prospect of having a character interpreted as a 12 foot tall decorative skeleton was really, really cool. Largely, however, it can be summed up in the following quote from a Moist Talkers fan, several hours after both events:
“Just heard we lost Richmond and I’m here to share my remorse. I was not a fan of Lachlan.”
That very well could have been the last that the Talkers thought about them, an aggressively normal, donair-loving player of overwhelming statistical mundanity. It likely would have been, if not for the aforementioned Necromancy. In Season 8, Jaylen Hotdogfingers’ infamous Debt had been refinanced, applying the Flickering Modification rather than Unstable when a player was hit by a pitch. Thus, bearing that selfsame Modification on Day 84, Eugenia Garbage was Feedbacked to the Charleston Shoe Thieves. The player received in return? Lachlan Shelton. Eugenia swapped back in the same game, sending another beloved Talker, Simon Haley, to the Thieves in their stead. Suddenly, Lachlan had a narrative: so beloved by his teammates that Eugenia had gone on a retrieval mission to bring them back.
This, of course, made no difference to Lachlan’s stats. He was still incredibly mediocre, one of the worst players in the Talkers’ Lineup. But that implied narrative gave people a reason to love him and root for him. Despite an incredibly poor track record compared to other players on the team, Shelton has remained with the Talkers for seven more seasons.
They’ve had ample opportunities to Exchange him, Shadow him, or simply Revoke him, but have done none of the above. Chances are, as the game shifts, it will happen eventually, but seven seasons is a long time for a player whose RBI during the regular season only rarely surpasses 35. So, what makes a player like Lachlan special? Why do fans love him, when players like Alston Cerveza routinely surpass that number by a dozen or more?
When Lachlan bats in a Run, it means something.
This is not to say that runs batted in by other players don’t— every home run, every double, every single, every sacrifice fly means something. Mathematically, every triple that sends two players home and scores two Runs is, simply, a triple that sends two players home and scores two Runs. Every player that comes up to bat when the game is close and the final handful of Outs begin to tick away is watched with bated breath. The reason that the Runs scored by players like Shelton feel so much more meaningful is that we don’t expect them. We are always aware that even players like Summer and Cerveza are bound to the same RNG as the rest of them, and may hit a ground Out that ends the game in a loss. It’s just statistically less likely. If they don’t, and they score, it’s not a story. It’s an expected outcome. When an objectively bad player bears the weight of their team and that team’s fans upon their shoulders, fans who expect nothing, and yet they hand them a victory— that’s a story. That’s something that those fans will remember.
Lachlan did not perform overwhelmingly well in Season 15, either. Their RBI during the regular season sat at a measly 31, beaten only by Cedric Spliff’s 30 and Jesús Koch’s 28 (some of which can be attributed to Koch’s time spent Elsewhere this season). But the Runs that Lachlan sent home mattered. They were often crucial in the team’s success, or at the very least secured a lead, that left Talkers fans cheering a modified version of that now-famous quote: “I AM a fan of Lachlan.”
When the Talkers secured their place in the postseason, fan after fan chose Lachlan Shelton as their idol. Not because he would make them a hefty sum of coins, but because they felt that the runs he had scored mattered. And in a game that’s so rooted in community, that sense of narrative importance is what makes a player beloved.
A player’s stats, overall, mean very little when contrasted with the stories that they tell. That’s why I am a fan of Lachlan, and players like him. In their own way, in their own corners of the fandom, they are stars— regardless of the ones on their player page.