Being a Mets fan is a bit like having an obsession with the architecture of a Jenga tower. However excited you might be at any given point, you know that eventually, everything will fall apart.
The Mets are so skilled at collapse, in fact, that the piles of crumpled pieces can then somehow collapse further, making it hard to tell when the team is actually gone for good. It’s like one of those black-and-white slapstick movies where a guy falls through the floor onto the floor below — and then that gives way and he falls another story, and so on.
In some seasons, it’s felt like the Mets hit the 49th subbasement by the time the season slunk into the history books.
Over the past 10 years, setting aside the 2015 season (when the Mets somehow got to the World Series) and the 2008 season (when they almost made the playoffs), the team never led the National League East more than 55 games into the season.
Look at this mess.
This sad state of affairs made me wonder what the effect on Mets fans has been. At what point during any of the recent disastrous seasons did fans actually give up on paying attention? Were people still paying attention by the all-star break? Past the first pitch on Opening Day?
Fans of other teams certainly go through a similar subconscious calculus, including those readers of The Washington Post who volunteered to root for the Nationals. The Mets’ season is long over, but Nationals fans would be forgiven for having only more recently come to the determination that prospects for a second championship trophy in the city this year had faded. The Nationals aren’t going to the playoffs. But when did Nats fans realize that?
I had an idea. It’s often faster to determine the score of a baseball game by searching for it on Google than going to ESPN or opening an app on your phone. Hardcore fans will know how the Mets are doing because they watch the games or track the scores regularly. But for casual fans, a search for “Mets score” probably suffices. So I asked Google to share day-by-day data on how many people searched for the names of each major league team plus the word “score.” Google kindly obliged.
Compare, if you will, how Google searches in 2017 compared to the Mets’ record.
The most interest in the Mets’ score came on Opening Day (lol) (sob). By the 15th day of the season (relative to when the first major league game was played), the Mets were underwater, where they would stay. Over that period, search interest in the score for a Mets game topped 50 percent of the Opening Day interest five times.
Over the next 45 days, the Mets dropped to 10 games back. Fourteen times search interest in the team’s score on a given day was at least half as high as on Opening Day. The Mets battled for position in the division, not dropping below 15 games back until more than 120 days into the season. Then they started to slide, before a 4-2 stretch in early August. On the 134th day of the season, marked with a dashed line above, the Mets beat the Phillies on the road. Search interest was again over 50 percent of the peak.
It was the last time interest would get that high. It was also the last time the Mets would be fewer than 17 games back. It was also August, and even die-hard fans likely gave up. The Mets then dropped eight of the next nine.
There’s a weak correlation between when fans stop searching for scores and how the team is doing. Consider all 10 seasons for the Mets from 2008 to 2017.
In 2008, the Mets battled to the last month, and the last time search interest hit at least 50 percent of the season’s peak was right at the end of the regular season. In 2015, when the Mets went to the World Series, the peak of search interest came during the playoffs, and the last time search interest was at least half that high came after the regular season ended, too.
Notice 2016 and 2009, though. In 2016, the Mets made the wild-card game — but lost. In 2009, fans gave up early, about two weeks before the team finally faded in the standings. Maybe the expectations from the prior year meant fans bailed more quickly. Or maybe this is a function of the noisiness of the Google data.
But enough about the Mets! Who cares about the Mets! How has this metric done for every other team?
For a number of teams, the peak in search interest doesn’t happen until the postseason, as happened with the Mets in 2015. This makes sense; more people are going to Google the score for a playoff game than a random game in July. It’s not always the case, though, that fans stick around for October.
Here’s when fans gave up on the Google-search-interest metric over the past 10 years for each team.
(There’s an interactive tool showing each team over the last decade at the bottom of this article.)
Cardinals fans are the most loyal, sticking with their horrible team the deepest into each season on average. Tigers fans, weirdly, didn’t do much Googling of scores in the postseason from 2011 to 2014. That includes a year in which the Tigers won the World Series.
Part of what’s happening may be that “Tigers” is a generic name. The Google data don’t differentiate
The fanbase that consistently gives up the earliest is the Reds’; that gang barely makes it two-thirds of the way into the season. Mets fans are about in the middle, given that they are all masochists.
How are teams doing when fans give up? Like so.
That excludes seasons in which fans stuck with the team through the whole season for … obvious reasons.
On average, fans give up when teams are about 12 games back and the season is 155 games old.
The 2018 season started on March 29. The 155th day of this season came on Aug. 31. This tool isn’t predictive, of course, since any day on which there is a game could be a day on which a lot of people want to search Google to see the outcome. It just offers an after-the-fact assessment of when fans might have thrown in the towel.
If you’re curious, this Mets fan gave up on July 31, 2018, the day — in case you insist that I write it out — on which the Nationals beat the Mets, 25-4.
As it turns out, that’s about when most Mets fans gave up, according to Google search results. Aug. 1, the day after, was the peak of searches for Mets scores in the season, a peak not matched since.
But here we see a flaw in the methodology: That also was, as of this writing, the peak of searches for the Nationals score, too.
When fans gave up on each team over the last decade
This article was corrected to give proper credit to Cardinals fans.