Sunday, September 30, 2007

bill simmons wants to remind you that boston sports fans are different than those from other cities

the point of this post is roughly the same as that of a great post dan-bob made back in august. and he's a better writer than me, so if you don't want to be bored by my rambling, just click that link and forget all about this. or, if you're bored, and have a mild to medium distaste for simmons, stick around. i'll make it worth your while. ANYHOW-

it should be abundantly clear to almost anyone at this point: the sports guy is a pretty ok writer until he starts talking about boston, at which point he becomes an insufferable douche. what is the deal with (some) boston sports fans? get a clue, folks. i hate to keep going back to this issue and griping about it, but it's so damn prominent in today's sports media that i feel like i have little choice. before i dive into this simmons article from last week, please allow me to set up the premise with a brief list. here are the facts about boston's sports teams:

1. no one cares about the celtics
2. the patriots are enormously popular, probably because they've been really good for several years now and many people would rather cheer for a winner than a team with any geographical, familial, or sentimental connection to them
3. the red sox are enormously popular, probably because a) they've also been pretty good for several years now (see point 2) and b) because they were famously long-suffering underdogs for a decades and then won it all, and any "successful underdog story" attracts tons of fans.

most importantly:

4. they have pretty passionate fans... wait for it, here's the important part... JUST LIKE DOZENS OF OTHER CITIES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. this is the real problem here; people like simmons and the author in the piece by dan-bob i linked above seem to think that just because espn saturates its programming with boston related coverage, all of a sudden their fan base is different and special and magical and more important than other fan bases. like i already said: get a clue, boston fans. you're not different. you may be more numerous than lots of other fan bases (because of points 2 and 3 on this list). but in terms of the passion you feel for your teams, and subsequent appropriate reactions to what they do on and off the field: you're. not. special.

sorry about that. just had to establish it before i commented on bill simmons' thoughts on whether or not it's ok to boo athletes. take it away, bill. i think this is a pretty interesting subject, and i'm approaching it with an open mind.

(intro about heidi from "the hills" being booed for singing at a club skipped)

ok, let me amend what i said: i'm approaching it with an open mind so long as bill doesn't reference "reality" shows aimed at 14-24 year old girls during his intro.

Cheering and booing will always be the purest reactions spectators can have. When somebody delights a crowd, we cheer. When somebody angers a crowd, we boo. Simple. Booing, which dates back to the sixth century, when Greek playwrights were booed, gained steam in Rome's heyday, when gladiators were cheered and jeered for their efforts. But it didn't really round into modern form until professional baseball, college football and boxing took off, in the late 1800s.

ok, fine. i'm liking this this so far. like i said way back at the beginning of this piece, simmons can be pretty decent when he's not talking about boston's teams.

Then, somewhere along the line, sports fans decided it was acceptable to mock their own players. No star was immune, not even legends like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, all of whom took heat for the size of their contracts. When salaries and ticket prices skyrocketed in the 1980s and '90s, the player/fan dynamic changed for good. Now everyone is fair game, helpless victims of these 10 words: "Hey, I'm paying a lot of money for this ticket!" When we direct venom at our own guys, though, the results can be spectacularly unproductive. And yet we keep doing it. At what point is "tough love" just damaging?

i'm still enjoying the piece. but remember that last part, about people booing because they pay for tickets. notice the context in which simmons writes it. clearly he's implying that booing is bad, and subsequently, having paid for a ticket is no excuse for doing it. this will be important later.

Antoine Walker was treated so unfairly by Celtics fans that he'd search them out in the stands to ask with a pained expression, "Why aren't you supporting us?" Eagles fans booed Donovan McNabb on draft day and picked him apart for the next nine seasons (and counting), even though he has taken them to four NFC championship games. Yankee fans jeered Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera even after they proved themselves to be the glue of four World Series champions. Keith Foulke clinched the first Red Sox title in 86 years, but when he broke down the following spring, he got lambasted. Now more than ever, you're only as good as your last game.

true. right or wrong, this is the way things are. so tell me, bill, since you're implying with these examples that booing is usually inappropriate, why should fans cut athletes like these guys a break?

Does this make sense? Not to me. I believe a player should be booed by the home crowd for four reasons only:

ok, like i said, i'm approaching this open-mindedly. i don't really have a strong opinion on the matter, so i'm willing to listen to the reasoning of someone who doesn't approve of booing.

1) a noticeable lack of effort,

that makes sense. pro athletes are being paid tons of money while playing games. they should at least put out effort while doing do.

2) an indefensibly dumb mistake,

this is a little nebulous. i assume he means something like flagrantly roughing the opposing team's quarterback to cost your team a 3rd down stop or calling a timeout when you don't have one in basketball, as opposed to booting a ground ball or missing a free throw. that makes sense as well.

3) if the coach keeps stupidly trotting him out in big spots (in which case the expressed displeasure is for the decision, not the player)

totally fair. i agree 100%. sometimes it's just obvious that someone shouldn't be on the field/court/rink. booting seems very justified in that case. ok, great! i really like what the sports guy is doing here. i'm enjoying this column.

Our favorite teams are extended families. There's no way you'd boo a family member at a Little League game, so why is it okay to boo someone on your favorite team? What's the goal? To make him feel worse than he already does?

great points, i really see where simmons is coming from. booing often feels therapeutic, but really, what does it accomplish when it's directed at your team's players?

oh shit, wait. while i was copying and pasting pieces from simmons' article, it looks like i missed the fourth item of his list of times when it's ok to boo. crap.

4) if he happens to be named Tim Thomas or J.D. Drew.

oh no. no no no. i shouldn't have let my guard down. i can already feel this turning into a huge disaster. this will end poorly. let me spoil the ending for you before we get there. basically, bill is saying: "hey, it's mean to boo your team's players and really doesn't accomplish anything! the only times it's ok to do, in my mind, are 1) good reason, 2) good reason, 3) good reason, and 4) because boston fans are different than other fans." i know it's not clear yet, but trust me, you'll see eventually. this is exactly what bill is getting at. (and you can disregard the tim thomas reference, that's a throwaway joke. this column is all about drew.)

From time to time, a respected veteran even upbraids the fans for badgering a player. Jason Varitek recently begged Red Sox fans to stop booing the beleaguered Drew, saying, "I wish the fans understood how much power they have. They can help J.D. Drew."

Of course, Drew is a poor choice for our sympathy because of his contract (obscene), demeanor (lifeless) and clutchness (nonexistent).

so this is why drew is the exception to simmons' "the only 3 times you can boo players on your own team." because he's being paid a lot of money, because he's not an outwardly emotional player, and because he hasn't been "clutch" by simmons' estimation this year. WOW. hold on one second.

ok, i'm back. you know, i did some research, and the results were stunning: j.d. drew is actually the only player in any sport ever to sign a big free agent contract, not be "clutch" during his first season with his new team, and not be a fiery emotional guy! who'd have known! the only guy ever!

(huge tangent, skip this if you just want to get on with the simmons hatred.

sarcasm aside, here are the numbers on drew and his "clutchness" this year.

full season: .270/.373/.423
"close/late" situations: .277/.377/.385
2 outs, runners in scoring position: .213/.404/.427
at bats when either team's lead 4 runs or less: .277/.385/.416
at bats when the margin is more than 4 runs: .231/.292/.461

overall, not at all what you want from a high-paid corner outfielder, but not exactly bottom-of-the-barrel-worst-player-ever-cut-this-guy-already numbers. just kind of subpar. note that his OPS and batting average are both much lower when one team is leading by 5 or more than when the game is closer than that. as for "close/late", it's a bit of a crude stat. it includes all plate appearances in the 7th inning or later when the game is tied, the batter's team is ahead, or they're behind but the tying run is on base, represented by the batter, or in the on deck circle. so, for example, pretty much any at bat in extra innings counts. or if your team is trailing by 3 in the 8th inning and you're batting with guys on 1st and 2nd, etc. drew has been pretty "meh" in those situations. let's see how some other red sox have fared.

manny ramirez, "close/late": .197/.310/.361
kevin youkilis, "close/late": .182/.321/.348
mike lowell, "close/late": .262/.323./.357
david ortiz (king of clutch, most clutch player ever, first ballot HOF because he hit like 3 walk-off HRs in a week in july 2006) "close/late": .263/.371/.395

hmmmmmmmmmm. interesting. like i said, "close/late" is a crude stat, and all 5 of these guys only had about 90 PAs this year to formulate those numbers. but it's pretty interesting to me nonetheless. i mean, 90 PAs isn't a ton but it's not nothing either.

i know, i know, the fact remains: boston fans hate drew regardless. so let's let bill finish up telling us why it's ok to make him an exception to the booing rules. don't say i didn't warn you: it's going to be because boston fans are special and different than other fans.)

In a recent column, I joked about my new book, Caught Looking: My 100 Least Favorite J.D. Drew Late-Inning Strikeouts, and received hundreds of e-mails from readers who wanted to write the foreword. J.D. has always rubbed his fans the wrong way, even the mellow Dodgers faithful, who practically spit their Pinot grigio at him last season.

remember that sentence and the context: dodger fans are pretentious, and drink pinot grigio during baseball games.

He's such a beautiful player to watch: He's got all five tools and a perfect swing. It's almost insulting to think anyone so gifted could finish with a lower OPS than Dustin Pedroia. When he fails, he isn't just failing himself; he's failing the baseball gods who gave him those gifts.

as is every talented major league player when they fail. and, as i showed in my tangent, 4 other key red sox hitters (2 of whom make even more money than drew, and 1 who makes around 2/3 as much) have failed just as much or even more than drew has when games were on the line this year.

After he signed for $70 million, every logical baseball watcher believed Boston fans -- who have a storied history of responding poorly to players who keep getting hurt --

here's where the "special/different" talk starts. yes. only in boston do fans respond poorly to highly paid players who get injured frequently.

-- would eventually regard J.D. the same way PETA supporters would now react to the sight of Michael Vick's exiting a Petco.

obligatory (bad) vick joke.

After a recent game against the Yankees, during which Drew performed the trick of supergluing his bat to his left shoulder right before a third strike, my father, who was in attendance, told me he'd never heard a local athlete get booed more loudly and with more venom.

bill's dad, a recurring character in his columns: master of anecdotal bullshit.

Hearing Dad describe the hatred as "palpable" made me feel bad for Drew -- for about three seconds. Then I remembered how he has enraged me so often this season. I can't watch the Sox while holding the remote anymore because I'm afraid he might force me to whip it across the room.

how dare he! how dare he put up a .270/.373/.423 split at age 31, when his career split is .284/.390/.500! what an asshole! how dare his close/late splits be the same as "big papi's" and better than "lowell's", "manny's", or "youk's!" what a selfish dick. he should give back all the money he made this year, and personally call and apologize to simmons and every other red sox fan.

But just for the hell of it, let's say Boston fans took Varitek's advice. Let's say they cheered Drew every time he came up, and every time he killed an inning, they reacted like Little League parents and shouted things like "Keep your head up, buddy!" and "Don't worry, we didn't need those runs!"

from earlier in this exact same fucking article:

Our favorite teams are extended families. There's no way you'd boo a family member at a Little League game, so why is it okay to boo someone on your favorite team? What's the goal? To make him feel worse than he already does?

bill, do you even have an editor? or are you just trying to sneak contradictions like this through to prove that you're a total badass to your buddies j-bug and hench? you even used the exact same goddamn "little league" comparison. you cannot be serious.

How long could that show of faith last before they turned on him again? A week? Two? Can you ask 35,000 loyal fans who are paying as much as $312 a ticket to sympathize with a $14 million-a-year guy who has killed more rallies than the National Guard? Probably not.

i asked you to remember 2 things from earlier in this posting. do you remember what they were? here, like that little league contradiction, i'll cut and paste them for you.

1. Now everyone is fair game, helpless victims of these 10 words: "Hey, I'm paying a lot of money for this ticket!" When we direct venom at our own guys, though, the results can be spectacularly unproductive.

2. J.D. has always rubbed his fans the wrong way, even the mellow Dodgers faithful, who practically spit their Pinot grigio at him last season.

so, you shouldn't be allowed to boo just because you paid money for a ticket. and dodger fans are soooooo pretentious (the AUDACITY!! pinot grigio at a baseball game... how stuck up!). but people who would pay that price to see a red sox game are presumably unpretentious, and furthermore, since they're paying that kind of money, the rules go out the window for them. bill is flaunting contradictions with reckless abandon here. makes me cry. everything was going so well for a little while back there. the wheels just came off as soon as j.d. "the human embodiment of the verb choke" drew came up.

i really don't have the energy to finish out the column. let's briefly summarize, just to see how ridiculous this whole thing looks.

first, my concessions:
1. drew has not been as terrible as simmons would have you believe, but definitely is not worth what the red sox are paying him.
2. simmons doesn't flagrantly and outwardly state that boston fans are "special/different." but come on, read between the lines. anyone who reads him regularly can see this column is just dripping with the tone of "this situation is different because it's happening to red sox nation!" if you disagree, leave a comment. i dare you.
3. bill simmons really bothers me. i didn't actually come into the article with an open mind, as i originally stated. sorry. i mean, i had an open mind about whether booing your own team is ok or not... but not about simmons himself.

all that in mind, here are bill's absolutely inane points.

1. bill thinks there are only a few times you should boo your own team's players. i mean, you wouldn't boo your own family members at a little league game, and your team's players are like family!
2. j.d. drew is the only exception to this rule (besides tim thomas). i mean, come on! what do you want boston fans to do, cheer him on like family at a little league game? this is boston red sox baseball we're talking about here!
3. boston fans are paying good hard earned money to see ortiz, ramirez, lowell and youkilis OPS .776, .671, .680, and .669 respectively in close/late situations and this doesn't bother them. when drew OPSes .762 in those same situations, it's an absolute travesty.
4. "the hills" is a great show.

yeah. all that seems about right. gag me, espn. please either hire someone to tell simmons when his columns are full of nonsense, or ban him from writing about boston's teams. seriously, it'll make the sports journalism world a much better place.


Chris W said...

I also find it interesting that most of what Simmons lambasts Drew for is "striking out looking"...essentially a question of least as Simmons portrays it. Frankly, it shouldn't be, because Drew has a pretty good eye, and like Adam Dunn, who also has a pretty good eye, is subject to an ump's discretion to a certain extent.

But anyway I just like how he's like--"there' only 4 good reasons to boo:

1.) lack of effort
2.) really dumb play
3.) bad management
4.)j.d. drew...because he doesn't seem to be giving effort


Jarrett said...

Booing J.D. Drew is too overrated - if you want hatred done right, you've got to throw D cells at him.

And I've been hating Drew before it was cool.

larry b said...

chris- disagree about drew not giving any effort. i don't think that's what simmons is saying. when he first brings drew up, he says

Of course, Drew is a poor choice for our sympathy because of his contract (obscene), demeanor (lifeless) and clutchness (nonexistent).

he's saying drew's demeanor is lifeless... but not necessarily that he's not trying. i think he (simmons) is just complaining about the strikeouts because they're hurting the team, not because they indicate a lack of effort. which, if i'm right, makes the article even more ridiculous. if you're right, it's a little less ridiculous, but still pretty bad.

jarrett- you've hated drew longer than a lot of people, but philadelphians have you beat. you got their sloppy seconds.

Chris W said...

He's pounding his production yes, but there are hints about effort.

Notice how he continually harps on how Drew strikes out looking....

it's the equivalent of the ol' "YOU CAN'T HIT DA BALL WIT DA BAT ON YER SHOULDER!" thingy

Chris Hart said...

I hate jokes!
Columnists shouldn't ever use anecdotes, only stats!
National sports writers should never talk about their local sports teams, even if talking (and having lots of passion) about their local sports teams is what made them well-known in the first place!
This article was not just a way for Simmons to complain about JD Drew (he has been somewhat of a bust), this was Simmons declaring war on every other fanbase in baseball!

pnoles said...

As one of the world's biggest (and only) J.D. Drew apologists, this really bothered me.

dan-bob said...

killed more rallies than the National Guard

too soon!

Anonymous said...

Additionally, as a Dodger fan, I'd like to note that there were plenty of us who rather liked ol' D.J. Anybody putting up an .891 OPS over 146 games ('06) is alright by me. Not to mention that, in his injury-shortened '05, he put up a .932 OPS before a freak injury (beanball off his WRIST - yes, let's blame his faulty knees for that nonsense). During his tenure at Dodger Stadium, he was LA's best player (though arguments for Jeff Kent are acceptable considering the difference in defensive difficulty between RF and 2B).

It was simply the idiotic 'fatwa' declared upon Paul DePodesta by the local media that engendered such vitriol against Drew (and poor Hee-Seop Choi). He was seen as sort of the poster child for the saberriffic methods being used to run the team.

On a totally different note, congrats to the Rox!

Drew said...

thank you so much for this column. I love when you breakdown his articles.

Please keep doing this!!!