Beware the San Francisco Goths!

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton blames his team's lack of success at Pac Bell Park on "the Gothic scene." What blood has he been drinking?

By Gary Kamiya
July 22, 2000 12:00AM (UTC)
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If you are looking for a truly bizarre assessment of deviant subgroup behavior in American cities, you could do worse than seeking out the opinions of first basemen from Nashville.

This thought came to mind after reading Colorado Rockies slugger Todd Helton's unique explanation of why his team has yet to win a game at San Francisco's Pac Bell Park. "The people all wear dark clothing," declaimed the 6-foot-2, 206-pound first bagger and student of urban angst. "It's the Gothic scene. It brings you down. Nobody is happy around here."

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Leaving aside Helton's strange assertion that somber-hued clothing is capable of giving a Major League Baseball team a collective case of the vapors, one must raise a skeptical eyebrow at his estimation of the number of devotees of the "Gothic scene" who attend baseball games in San Francisco. As a season ticket holder at the new park and a longtime patron not just of the old Candlestick but of most major sports venues in the Bay Area, I would place the number of Goths -- whether fans of industrial music, coffin-sleeping types or just arty, black-clad decadents -- who have ever attended any sporting event here, including horse racing, competitive checkers and totally naked female mud wrestling, at approximately zero.

Helton's Elvira-mistress-of-the-dark- gonna-get-yo-mama hallucination proves just how hard it is for a city to lose a reputation for decadence once it's acquired it. People around the country still seem to believe that San Francisco is populated, if not by Goths, at least by post-hippy weirdos of various stripes: pinko brainiacs with unorthodox bedroom habits, raging feminists whose armpit hair is braided in macrami, sorcerers from Bolinas Lagoon. If only that were still true.

Once upon a time, San Francisco was indeed a haven for desperadoes and degenerates, a gratifying one-city affront to the sensibilities of every right-thinking American. But those days are long gone, swept away by a tide of dot-com salarymen who are about as "revolutionary" as middle managers at Mitsubishi.

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And even in Baghdad-by-the-Bay's bygone boho days, when bongo-bearing beatniks brayed on every boulevard, few of these unsolid citizens showed much interest in the national pastime. Dean Moriarty may have howled "Yes!" while guzzling wine spo-di-o-di in every neurotic North Beach bar from the Coffee Gallery to The Place, but neither he nor the first drunken, then acid-addled, oafs who followed him into S.F. countercultural lore ever hung out much at Candlestick Park. (OK, Candlestick Park hadn't been built when Moriarty and Kerouac were stumbling through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry doughnut, or fix, or whatever it was they were looking for, but even if it had been, they still wouldn't have gone.)

In fact, San Francisco Giants' fans have never fit the city's arty, chardonnay-sipping stereotype. True, when the camera pans over a San Francisco crowd you see a few more people who look like they might conceivably have rented at least one foreign movie in their life than you do at, say, a St. Louis Cardinals game, where many of the red-clad zombies give every appearance of believing that "pork" is another word for chicken. But the little-known fact is that until very recently the city's fans -- 49ers and Giants followers alike -- far from manifesting transcendental, peace 'n' love tendencies, have been loud, vulgar, verbally abusive, drunken, and with an ill-repressed tendency towards violence. The choleric, unite-and-fight-with-Dan-White element far outweighed the wimpy, cerebral Theodore Roszak element. A well-oiled night Candlestick crowd may not have been quite as psychotic as a Philly crowd, but it was close.

And this was a good thing.

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If nothing else, it balanced out the people with stars spinning in their eyes on Haight Street. That began to change in the '90s, when yuppie-class ticket prices and late-inning alcohol restrictions began to thin the ranks of the red-faced, Spandex-jacketed louts. And with the advent of the beautiful, only slightly fake-looking Pac Bell Park, with its night-at-the-opera prices, the bully boys were pretty much sent packing.

The fans who have taken their place, however, aren't a bunch of blood-drenched Goths, Lacan-toting eggheads, patchouli-oil-reeking mooncalfs or other figments out of San Francisco's vanished mythology. They're regular Joes and Janes, not that different from fans in New York, Baltimore, Philly or Boston. Yes, there's a slightly tedious mixture of techie-money types in there (tedious not so much because of public cellphone yakking or other clichid nouveau-bozo behavior, but because they seem to be more interested in admiring the park than screaming for their team), but all in all it's a good, solid crowd. I miss the aging-juvenile-delinquent element, but you can't have everything.

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And if Todd Helton and other visiting players are scared by all those nonexistent "Goths," so much the better. The children of the night -- what beautiful music they make!


Gary Kamiya

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

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