Tagging Fans, Tweeting Beards: Major League Baseball, social media, and the body
by Annie Dell'Aria — The Graduate Center, CUNY
October 26, 2011 – 00:00
One way Major League Baseball promotes an avid fandom through social media is the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan, where two “Dream Job” winners watch every regular season game, meet players and celebrities, shoot short films, and interact with fans and players on Facebook and Twitter. Fans can do more than merely live vicariously through the contest winners, however - they can also interact directly with players on Twitter. Marlins’ Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) and Reds’ Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP) are particularly avid (and entertaining) users of social media, engaging with fans in ways that sometimes go beyond one’s computer or smartphone and into real life and onto actual ballfields.
MLB also promotes fans’ social engagement through “the tag.” With the term’s clear connection to both baseball and graffiti, body-to-body and body-to-site notions of the tag layer onto the seemingly body-less Twitter hashtag. For example, “#WORLDSERIES” has replaced nearly every appearance of the fall classic in promotional materials and branding. Drawing on another "tag" in social media, MLB introduced the TagOramic, where spectators (via Facebook) mark their body-to-site presence at a postseason game they attended. Fan-generated tweet-ups at ballparks allow twitterers to connect in real life to do what they already do during games watched at home (discourse with fellow fans in real-time). Twitter’s ability to connect fan to player, though compelling when it is realized, pales in this very real ability to connect fan to fan in real-time (and even at real sites).
The clip’s final hashtag sample comes from a seemingly disembodied source: the beard of Giants closer Brian Wilson (@BeardOfBrian). Wilson’s famous facial hair (whose mystification MLB encourages) is not the only body part that tweets, however, as fans increasingly create voices for players’ injured parts, accessories, and facial hair (@TClippardsSpecs and @JWerthsBeard, to name two from this fan’s team, the Nationals). To varying degrees, these twitterers shed their own bodies and perform an attachment to those of their “owners” that is unhinged from gender norms or expectations (unlike the Fan Cave, a clear rhyme of “man cave”). Though the gender of such twitterers is unknown to me (and is beside the point), the performative and playful nature of the tweeting beards, like the emotive, bodily, and real-time engagement of both players and fans on Twitter, challenges the predominantly masculine, coldly analytical internet fandom of sabremetricians and post-game analysts.