Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chris Perez Goes Off-Script


Saturday, Indians closer Chris Perez expressed frustration at being booed by Cleveland fans during a scoreless outing Thursday night. “Good fans are supposed to help you try to get through the inning,” Perez said. He was also critical of low fan turnout
this season, despite the Indians being in 1st place (the Indians entered the weekend averaging just 15,518 per home game, worst in the majors) and stated his belief that paltry attendance makes it more difficult for the team to add quality free agents, citing Carlos Beltran’s decision to sign with St. Louis as an example, “Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans… You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000, or you can come to Cleveland.” Sunday morning, Perez arranged to speak with the media; many expected him to back off his earlier comments, instead Perez doubled down.

“It’s not a good atmosphere. It’s not fun to be here… Baseball is supposed to be fun… Philadelphia or someplace like that, where every day it’s fun to go out there, that helps you get through some games. In August, when it’s 100 degrees out and you come back from a West Coast trip and you’re tired, that energy can help you push through a couple games. Maybe it gets you a couple wins… It makes a difference, it really does.”

Saturday brought backlash from some fans and today’s comments will likely only add to that, but I have to say, I can see where Perez is coming from, and in a lot of ways I agree with him. There are three different points I’d like to look at: athletes speaking honestly and from the heart, booing the hometown team, and the Indians attendance situation…


Athletes speaking in cliché is common practice, something that’s probably been going on since Euripides tried to get a few good quotes after the qualifying sprints at the first Olympiad (note: may not be historically accurate). Fans often complain about this practice, wishing athletes would open up and speak more openly, more honestly. Yet when they do, they’re often ripped for it. We, as fans, cannot have it both ways. This isn’t a Luke Scott situation, where an athlete opens up and proves himself to be a total jackass (feel free to read any of the 86,000 links that come up in a Google search for “Luke Scott bigot”); Perez expressed heartfelt opinions that I think clearly come from someone who cares. He spoke of how much he loves being an Indian and he spoke of what a great baseball town Cleveland has been, he’s just frustrated that isn’t showing right now. An athlete who really cares about what fans think and whether or not fans are getting excited about the team… as fans, shouldn’t we be in support of that?

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It is the nature of professional sports that teams and players will sometimes be booed by their home fans. An athlete will just about always come across as thin-skinned when they complain about booing. That doesn’t mean Perez doesn’t have a point though. He’s no superstar, but he’s earned a little more credit than that (even if I’m guilty myself of not always giving him that credit).

I was 17 when Jose Mesa entered Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with the Indians up 2-1, just three outs from winning the World Series. Mesa couldn’t get those three outs before the Marlins tied the game, and then in the 11th the Indians lost the game and the Series. I cried about it at the time (I’m not kidding) and spent a lot of time and energy cursing Jose Mesa for blowing it. That was almost 15 years ago, and while I’ve forgiven Mesa (which I’m sure means the world to him), I’ve never gotten over my distrust of closers.

Indians closers of the last ten years or so, Bob Wickman, Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood, I didn’t trust any of them. And for that matter, I don’t trust Chris Perez. After that Opening Day mess, I wrote that I didn’t think he had any business pitching important innings for the team anymore. His great 2010 season felt like it had been about ten years ago.

I hold my breath every time Perez is pitching, but that’s not a Perez issue, it’s a me issue, I hold my breath every time anyone is pitching for the Indians.

Yankees fans have booed Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. They seem to think that makes them good fans, passionate fans. But it doesn’t, it just makes them assholes. Perez is no Mariano Rivera, but that isn’t the point. Booing isn’t going to make Perez or anyone play any better and we’d all be well served by not melting down every time something goes wrong. We all have bad days at our jobs, sometimes even on days when we worked our asses off and gave maximum effort. Be glad there aren’t thousands of people there to let you hear about it. Save the booing for the other team, and for the umps (who’s more fun to boo than an ump?)

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Finally, the attendance issue: I have no way of knowing if Carlos Beltran was actually swayed by the difference in crowds between Cleveland and St. Louis. I would guess he was not; money almost always speaks loudest in that type of situation, and if the money was about the same, the Cardinals being the better of the two teams involved is a more likely tiebreaker than attendance figures. Even if last season’s awful attendance figures didn’t cost the team a shot at Beltran’s services though, they are a real issue.

When the Indians were one of the three best teams in baseball during the mid to late 90s, the team sold out 455 straight games, at the time, a Major League record. Kids are still in school and Cleveland also does not traditionally feature the most pleasant baseball-viewing weather in April and early May, so things will likely pick up at the gate soon (in fact, this weekend’s series against the Marlins brought the three highest attendance figures of the season, aside from Opening Day).

In something of a “the chicken or the egg” situation, it generally takes money to field a good team, but it also usually takes a good team to make much money. I can understand why fans are less likely to show up when the team is playing poorly, but the Indians spent half of 2011 in 1st place, and have spent most of 2012 so far in 1st place too. The team may not have any big stars, but Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome weren’t stars either, until one day they were, if you catch my meaning.

Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis are both young and already among the best players in the American League at their position. Asdrubal Cabrera is off to a great start after being one of baseball’s best in 2011. Shin-Soo Choo is returning to his 2009-10 form. Cabrera and Santana have been signed to contract extensions, I’m sure the team is trying to work one out with Kipnis too.

I know it’s a bit more complicated than this makes it sound, but the team has “earned” some notice. Fans should be heading to the ballpark and cheering for their 1st place team. If they’d done that more often in 2011, Carlos Beltran and his league leading 13 home runs might be roaming the outfield at Progressive Field, probably not because he’d have been so impressed by the fan support, but because the team would have had the extra money it might have taken to beat the Cardinals’ offer. The players are doing their part, now the fans should do theirs. 

Hopefully this weekend was the start of that.

2 comments:

  1. As a fan and sports writer, I would vastly prefer athletes talking honestly than clichéville. But as you mention, it doesn't help this cause when athletes that do talk openly are criticized for it. Some other players aware of the flack Perez is getting aren't going to want to go through it.
    Oh, and Beltran’s decision probably had a lot to do with him not wanting to be in the same division as the Royals.
    - Jeremy Shapiro

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    1. Did you see/hear about what happened when Perez entered the game in Cleveland tonight? Standing ovation. A very interesting (and somewhat surprising) turn of events.

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