It has become the standard by which fans judge their favorite teams. In an era where sports talk radio and the internet give anyone the opportunity to publicly express an opinion by simply picking up a phone or powering up a computer, fans now assign daily accountability to players, coaches and executives. First place team loses four out of six? Pick up the phone and scream at the radio host that the general manager has to make a trade. A bunch of close games go the other way? Hit redial and tell the same guy that the coach’s game management skills are lacking. Cleanup hitter hasn’t gone deep in a while? Post a blog demanding that he be dropped in the order. Unfortunately, in their desire for instant gratification, fans have lost sight of two things: A season is a marathon, not a sprint and, since the other guy is also trying to win, sometimes you lose.
Here in New York, it is impossible to listen to a radio call-in show for more than ten minutes without hearing one of the local nines get clobbered. Mets’ fans alternately call for the heads of GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel as the team has now slipped into fourth place in the NL East, six games behind the Phillies. Despite the fact that nine players, including five all stars, two starting pitchers and the team’s top prospect, are currently on the disabled list, the onslaught gains momentum every day as outraged fans demand action. “Hi, Junior from Flushing, how ya doin? First time, long time. Listen, I gotta problem with this Minaya guy. How could he not have better guys backing up Beltran and Reyes. And what kind of lineup is Manuel puttin’ out there? They make me sick. These guys gotta go.” No acknowledgement that the total number of injuries is miles above what any GM could reasonably expect to incur and an absolutely blind eye to the fact that, despite using a batting order that, on most nights, is weaker than the last place Nats, Manuel still has his overmatched squad within spitting distance of the Phils. If, as many bloggers would have you believe, he should no longer be the Mets’ skipper, he might enjoy a career as a magician. Fans used to rally around underdogs. Now, too many belittle them for being just that.
In the Bronx, the Yankees have pulled off a neat trick, managing to mathematically eliminate themselves from the AL East race three or four different times over the first half of the season; at least in the eyes of some of their less patient loyalists. Despite having the third best record in the game and standing just three games out of first while leading the AL wild card race, they have been written off by many of their fans each time they’ve hit a bump in the road. Back in April, during their customary slow start, the Bombers were being killed by fans upset not only with their place in the standings but the sub par performance of free agent signees C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Talk show groupies wanted anyone to pay, with GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi the most popular choices. When things turned around for both superstars as well as the team, naysayers pointed their venom at a favorite target, Alex Rodriguez. Say what you will about the enigmatic third baseman but, since his return from hip surgery on May 8th, only Albert Pujols has hit more HR while his RBI total has been surpassed by Pujols, Prince Fielder and no one else. Many of ARod’s detractors point, sometimes accurately, to his failures in the clutch. There is no disputing, however, that his return coincided with the onset of the Yankees’ success over the last two months. Unless, of course, you turn on your radio where you’ll hear that fact disputed every hour on the hour. Eight straight losses to Boston have also gotten a lot of play as; somehow, they seem to count as more than eight if they come at the hands of the Red Sox. Finally, a weekend sweep by the Angels sent them into the break dealing with a ton of negative questions and headlines. That it came on the heels of three straight wins in Minnesota was dismissed almost immediately in the new sports world of “What have you done for me lately?”
While technology and media can be blamed for a large part of this phenomenon, the teams, themselves, have fueled the fire, as well. The ridiculous prices being charged for tickets have helped spawn a mentality among fans that something is owed them whenever they go to the park. Irrational? Maybe, but not without some merit. For instance, I wouldn’t be too happy, after coughing up a few hundred bucks, to arrive at Citi Field and find that David Wright had the day off. Be that as it may, it’d be nice to see more fans supporting their teams instead of knocking them. Back in May, on the “perfect afternoon” referred to by Terrence Mann in the classic, Field of Dreams, my seven year old was treated to a game at Citi Field by his three older brothers. Wearing his Johan Santana jersey and his “real” Mets hat, Timmy was thrilled just to be at the game. He took a few swings in the tee ball park, (before the game, of course), sampled the Pepsi Porch and was ecstatic to be included as one of “the guys”. He saw a beauty, too, as the game went twelve innings. When he arrived home, he was bubbling. He couldn’t wait to tell his mom and me about sitting in left field, the grand slam hit by Fernando Tatis, two Met comebacks to tie the game, the hot dogs, popcorn, crazy people in the stands, “free baseball”, and, of course, the fun he had with his big brothers. The last thing he said? “Too bad the Mets lost but what a great game.” Good man, that Tim. I’ll have to teach him how to blog.