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Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:01 am

Latitude for error

A new map charts the Cubs-Cards divide

 

The proprietors of The Upshot drove in a couple of runs for their new web-based news site when they posted a fun interactive map of baseball fandom. Aggregating Facebook “likes,” Tom Giratikanon, Josh Katz, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy charted the geography of fan allegiance to the various major league baseball teams, ZIP code area by ZIP code area.

Central Illinois is famously riven in its baseball loyalties. In a 1998 address to Washington U. grads-to-be in St. Louis, columnist George Will portrayed himself as a youthful dissenter from prevailing orthodoxies in his hometown of Champaign by becoming a Cubs fans when all his friends were rooting for the Cards.

There’s something funny about this pitch, as there is about many of Will’s pitches. The Upshot map states that the Cubs are the favorite team of 41 percent of those 61820 residents confessing their loyalty on Facebook, the Cardinals only of 29 percent. Will, remember, didn’t grow up in Champaign. The son of a professor and graduate of the University Lab School, Will grew up in the University of Illinois, which was home away from home to thousands of Chicagoans who brought their baseball prejudices with them with their tennis rackets. By following the Cubs, he voted with the majority.

The line that divides the red and the blue in central Illinois does not run through the capital city. Springfield is not quite as safe for the Cardinals as the 22nd District is safe for Michael Madigan, but nearly. The Cards are the favorite team of 56 percent of the residents whose ZIP code is 62703, for example, while only 27 percent cheer loudest for the Cubs. Peoria, Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana are solidly pro-Cubs, if by slightly less of a margin than that enjoyed by St. Louis in and around Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville and points south.

Nothing new, I guess. Springfield has been the northernmost southern Illinois city for a long time. (It’s a complicated history thing.) As the map’s authors put it, “Bloomington, Champaign and Peoria appear to belong to the Cubs, but south of those cities, expect to see a lot of Cardinal red. If you’re a longtime resident of this area, you may want to look up whether your ancestors voted for or against Abraham Lincoln in 1860.”

Very perspicacious of them, very New York Times -- Lincoln, remember, lost Sangamon County in 1860 and 1864. But latitude is not a reliable guide to allegiance. Baseball for some time has been just another TV show, and sporting allegiances owe as much to media exposure as to history or culture or tradition. Many a Springfieldian my age recalls summer afternoons when a guy could walk around downtown and keep up with that day’s Cardinal game pitch by pitch thanks to the radio broadcast coming from the open doors of taverns, barber shops and coffee shops. Those broadcasts knitted club and city in a bond that didn’t begin to ravel until cable TV brought Cubs televised games into the capital.

So the Upshot map confirms what we already know about the geography of baseball fandom. Or does it? I took a second look at the numbers, and there was definitely something funny about these calls. Here’s the area Cubs/Cardinal/White Sox splits, showing the percentage of fans expressing a team preference:

Springfield 62702: Cards 56, Cubs 27, Sox 5
Springfield 62703: Cards 56 Cubs 27, Sox 5
Springfield 62704: Cards 58, Cubs 26, Sox 5
Springfield 62707: Cards 56, Cubs 27, Sox 5
Springfield 62711: Cards 58, Cubs 26, Sox 5
Springfield 62712: Cards 57, Cubs 27, Sox 6
Chatham: Cards 58, Cubs 25, Sox 5
Pawnee: Cards 56, Cubs 25, Sox 6
Rochester: Cards 57, Cubs 26, Sox 6
Riverton: Cards 56, Cubs 27, Sox 6

Really? The sports fans of the disparate parts of Not Yet Greater Springfield vary in their allegiances by no more than a percentage point or two from one another? If you asked people in all those ZIP code areas to name the best route from the Statehouse to the Stratton Building, you’d get a wider variation of opinion than this.

The fact that these numbers look as suspect as McGwire’s and Sosa’s home run totals got me reflecting on the source. How many baseball fans are on Facebook? How many baseball fans even know how to be on Facebook? My guess is that you’re as likely to find regular baseball watchers on Facebook as you are likely to find regular payday loan customers in the locker rooms at Illini Country Club. As Yogi once put it, in baseball, Facebook don’t know nothing.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com

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