Major League Baseball played its abbreviated 2020 season without fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, without living fans. Most teams had cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats at their ballparks. In exchange for a donation to the teams’ charities, they let fans submit photos of themselves, usually in team apparel, and then the team staff made the cardboard cutouts and placed them in seats around the stadiums. To some, this probably seems silly. But I would argue that cardboard fans proved to be better than real ones.
1) They don’t get into fights.
I once encountered an undereducated fan who was certain that legendary Red Sox error-committing first baseman Bill Buckner had over 3,000 hits. He was convinced the famous error in the 1986 World Series was the only thing keeping Buckner out of the Hall of Fame. I informed him that while he came surprisingly close, he did not have 3,000 hits. (He had 2,715.) The fan told me “That’s your opinion.” I tried to explain the difference between facts and opinions to him. He challenged me to a fight. I strongly feel that cardboard versions of him and of fans like him, though even less intelligent, would never attempt fisticuffs.
2) They don’t spill beer.
Not on the floor, not on other fans. These cardboard cutouts are total teetotalers. Totally.
3) They don’t arrive late or leave early.
These cardboard fans support their teams from the first pitch through to the last out, even if the game goes into extra innings. They don’t even get up to use the bathroom, buy concessions, or rise for the seventh inning stretch (even though they’re always stiff).
4) They don’t aggravate home fans by cheering for the visiting team because they’re from the other team’s town.
Typically when the Yankees play the Rays in Tampa Bay, Yankee fans turn up in such high volume, they tend to drown out the Rays fans. But not this year! Those cardboard Rays fans were just as sparse and quiet as a normal Rays crowd.
5) No mascot assaults.
There have been several instances in the past of mascots assaulting unruly fans across the sports landscape. But this year, not one single cardboard broken nose!
6) No threat to sue the team for injury, and no injuries to distract other fans with worry.
When a hard hit ball or a bat that’s flown out of the batter’s hands flies into the stands and wallops someone, there’s not even a need for cardboard EMTs to run over (which is good because cardboard EMTs are notoriously slow.)
7) A substantially higher percentage of fans than normal are pets. (This only applies as a positive if you like pets.)
Numerous folks submitted photos of their dogs to be turned into cutouts, and the teams obliged. A couple teams even had a cardboard horse (No word on if they cheered so loud they got hoarse… Sorry.).
8) They fit comfortably into their own seats.
All fan cutouts are the same size, meaning no cardboard fans have to worry about an obese cardboard fan hanging over into their seat.
9) No embarrassing instances of failing to hold onto a foul ball or home run ball that hit you or that you dropped, and then getting booed by fellow fans and/or suffering from the pain of getting whacked by a ball.
Several teams even have a policy of sending fans the ball that hit their cardboard cutout.
10) They provide a great alibi.
A man once beat a murder charge because he was at the Dodgers game at the time of the crime and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was filming during that game. They found him in the background on camera in the “Curb” footage and he was exonerated. But in 2020, you can commit a crime, then point to the image of yourself at the game and if the DA is not a sports fan, hey, maybe that will work! (I recommend trying this to the Buckner guy who wanted to fight me.)