I haven't updated this page in awhile, but once again it is the Braves which have moved me to sound off. This time it's a little more indirect: in introducing tonight's Phillies-Braves game, Chris Wheeler, who usually manages to say something annoying, stupid, or both, filed a thinly-veiled complaint against the Philadelphia faithful on the behalf of Chipper Jones of all people. It was a version of the complaint that's more or less perpetually being levied against Philadelphia: we boo too much. Apparently, it "really bothers" poor Chipper that "people in different cities like to boo him" (which cities would those be Wheels? Detroit, Las Vegas, and Tokyo?)
Here is my question to Chris Wheeler, Chipper Jones, and anybody else who has ever had a version of the "Philadelphians boo too much" thought: do you understand anything? First of all, there is not one, generic boo that is issued to all people under all circumstances. There are at least two types: the angry, meant-to-demonstrate disgust boo, and the theatrical, hey-there's-the-bad-guy-he-sucks boo. Cumbersome names, I know, but bare with me.
The first boo is almost always issued to members of the team one is ostensibly there to cheer. This is the boo that commentators seem to think all "boos" are: it's the boo you break out when your third baseman has struck out for the seventh time this week with the bases loaded, and then has the temerity to whine about his treatment in the newspaper. This is most definitely the boo that Scott Rolen got to hear an awful lot here in his final season. Admittedly, this may not be considered "civilized" among certain circles (opera-goers, art dealers, and sanctimonious yuppies), but almost everybody needs a good talking-to sometimes, and this is the only way the fans can deliver that message. Now, if this boo were to happen in St. Louis or Chicago, towns with notoriously easy-going fans (who unquestioningly accept whatever is told to them ---evidence how the Cubs are loved and adored because they lose), media commentators would run to jump on the bandwagon and really give it to whatever player the fans have gotten on.
When this boo happens in Philadelphia, however, it is almost immediately followed by a chorus of holier-than-thou hand-wringing and displays of theatrical disgust from the talking heads on ESPN and other national sports shows. When these collected media rush to condemn the "childishness" and the "lack of respect for the game" this boo supposedly demonstrates, they almost never consider whether or not the person towards whom it has been directed may have actually deserved it. Scott Rolen turned down the largest contract ever offered by the Philadelphia Phillies, a seven year, $140M dollar whopper; when he refuses it and suggests he doesn't like the city, are we supposed to just sit there and take it? But no, noone ever considers this: all they know is Scott Rolen is a "fine young man" who "deserves better." BAH! If he is so "fine," he would show a little more appreciation for what has been offered to him.
Occasionally, this first type of boo can be thrown at an opposing player: the "boos" for Sammy Sosa, when he first got here after the bat-corking incident, would be a good example. That's just the fans letting him know we don't like cheaters, and he is one so we don't like him. I think the "boos" Kobe Bryant has received in Philadelphia in the last TWO years (2003 and 2004) might be attributed to that: in Philadelphia, we're not fond of athletes who have everything and still feel the need to do something that is at the least incredibly foolish and at the worst outright criminal.
The second type of boo, the theatrical, hey-there's-the-bad-guy-he-sucks boo, is the one most commonly dealt to an opposing player. This is the boo that commentators and players alike seem to refuse exists, at least when it comes to Philadelphia. This boo can be best explained by way of analogy: if you have ever been to a children's theater piece, you know exactly what this is all about. If you have a bunch of five- and six-year olds watching a presentation of, say, The Wizard of Oz as a live show, they will inevitably talk at the actors on the stage, because they have not yet learned to fully separate the action the stage from reality. If the wicked witch sneaks up behind Dorothy, for example, many of the children will shout advice to Dorothy, like "Look out!" or "Behind you!" And, whenever the wicked witch appears on stage, the children will very often react by "booing" her.
You can probably see where this is going and quite a few of you have already worked out a snide comment about the similarties between an audience of five-year olds and the crowd at a Philadelphia sporting event, but putting that aside the point is a simple one: sports are, above all, theater. Sports executives advertise and market the product, just like play producers (or movie producers). When the Giants come to Philadelphia, the televison and radio ads say "Come see Barry Bonds and the Giants," just like a movie poster advertises to come see "Ben Affleck as another lovable doofus in The Never-Ending Blind First Date Frought with Cleavage Shots and Third-Rate Situational Comedy or whatever the name of the movie is. This is because movies, live theater, and sports teams are all, finally, in the same business: selling tickets to a show. So, when fans boo an opposing player, it's a compliment, 99% of the time: it's the equivalent of children booing the wicked witch, or an adult saying "Wow! He was evil!" when talking about John Malcovich's performance in Con-Air. It means the audience member is convinced by the performance of the person playing the part of the villain. In acting, this means that the actor was very realistic in his portrayal, etc. In sports, this means that the player is very good and has really hurt the "good guys" in the past. When Philadelphia booed Kobe Bryant at the 2002 All-Star game, it wasn't because we are a bunch of hateful, malevolent people trying to make Kobe feel bad about himself, it was because he played for the Lakers, who had just beaten our beloved 76ers in the 2001 finals! In our movie, he is the bad guy, every bit as much as he was the hero in the movie the Lakers' fans saw.
This is actually one of the great things about sports, in all seriousness: unlike most movies, which attempt to bully every single person who sees them into accepting without question a single, authoritarianly designed interpretation of the action (Will Smith is the good guy, Gene Hackman is the bad guy, etc.), every sporting event has two sides: who the good guys are and who the bad guys are will depend entirely on the perspective of every individual who sees it. This is a great life-lesson that the movies that most people see don't teach: it's not all as simple as black-and-white, and there is more than one way to interpret the same event. So, if you are reading this, Chipper, just remember that all those "boos" that Philadelphians give to you would be cheers if you played for the "good guys." Or is that the "bad guys?"
This afternoon, I chanced to look at a little of the Braves-Mets game on TBS. Despite the Braves garish new alternate jerseys, I was glad I tuned in for some of it, because John Smoltz (who I have always liked, even though he pitches for the enemy) was back into his mid-1990s form after an atrocious start, striking out a career-high 15 batters in 7 1/3 innings.
Though it was nice to see Smoltz rebound from a tough outing in Florida in which he did not get out of the second (and Lord knows that watching the Mets continue to flounder offensively after an 0-5 start tastes as sweet to me as that chalky nectar Pepto-Bismal does to the unfortunately afflicted), the Braves and most especially the people who cover them have simply gotten out of hand. It's come to the point, I think, that these people are going to cause the oft-invoked but clearly fictional baseball gods to not only create themselves --- yes, in act of vengeful rage to will themselves into existence --- but to take mortal form so they can smote everyone in the Braves organization, one by superscillious one. At least, this is how it ought to be, based on my observations of today's game.
Of course, I was watching the game on TBS --- a network which long ago set the tone for Braves baseball by dubbing them "America's Team" back when they were lucky to crack the 70 win mark simply because Ted Turner commanded that it be so --- so it was a "homer" broadcast, but this broke all the bounds of reason. First, one of them (and I have no idea who it was, as the Braves are variously broadcast by Chip Caray, Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson, and Ron Gant), after hearing that the Mets were had but five hits in forty-three at-bats with runners in scoring position this year, sarcastically commented that "Well, it will be difficult to win games --- oh wait, it has been difficult for the Mets to win any games..." This was followed by a sikly, condescending snicker. The Braves broacasters have now taken to openly mocking the opposing team; admittedly, this is always a temptation where the Mets are concerned, but it struck me as a particularly classless thing to do considering the Mets were 0-5 and were losing the game at the time.
This might be forgivable in an isolated situation, but moments later, with Smoltz striking everybody in sight, and on a pitch called a ball by the home plate umpire, the same broadcaster had the temerity to say, with the tone of complaint in his voice, that the pitch "just missed." The pitch was caught just above the dirt. The next pitch came in the same spot, and the same broadcaster then said, with clear derision, "Same pitch, same call." The broacasters have now taken on Bobby Cox's attitude towards the Braves pitchers --- the strike zone should be six inches wider and reach six inches lower for them than it should be for everyone else. It was bad enough when Cox thought so, but at least that's his job. The commentators are supposed to maintain a certain objectivity about things, especially considering the Braves telecasts on TBS are broadcast nationally. But any appearance of that has been abandoned, replaced instead with the attitude that pervades the entire Braves Organization --- it is our Divine Right to have all of our pitchers get a wider strike zone than everyone else's and therefore our Divine Right to win our division every year.
As if to prove this was in fact the organizational attitude, John Schuerholz was quoted as saying of the Braves that "I don't know who's going to be on the team, I just know that we will be good." Well of course you can be good with just about anybody if your pitchers pitch to a different strike zone than everyone else! Oh, these Braves trifle with primal forces of nature, and Nature must have her fearsome revenge. This team doesn't just need to lose, it needs to be humiliated. Flummoxed. Mortified. Stocked.
In all seriousness, this has always been the most troubling part of this Braves dynasty: the "big three" --- Madudx, Glavine, and Smoltz --- always seemed to benefit from a different stike zone than the rest of baseball. At least Smoltz was a power pitcher, who could get people out even if he threw pitches in the strike zone; Maddux and Glavine, on the other hand, always seemed to benefit from a widened zone. I remember so many times watching Maddux and Glavine get pitch after painful pitch called for strikes that were six inches off the plate; when they didn't get it, they whined and Cox whined louder. I've often wondered how good either ever would or could hvae been if they hadn't continually gotten those calls (something that happened much more frequently before the strike zone was redefined to emphasize the "high" strike prior to the 2001 season). To me, their success will always be tainted by the way the strike zone was called for them, and the attitude that the Braves an organization tends to exude --- that they should get calls that no one else does --- makes them a lot less classy, and a lot easier to hate.
All right, so in this space I have it in my mind to "blog" on about various issues around the game of baseball; I've decided to make my opinions public because, as you, gentle reader, know, most of the universe is waiting with bated breath for my opinion. I've had fun torturing you all by withholding it for awhile now (I orginally wrote the code for and set up this page in April of 2004!), but I've decided, finally, to relent and allow all of you access to my shining genius. (There, that ought to sufficiently disgust the three of you who have made it this far, thus assuring I will have no readers).
I'll also be posting here, as on the Phillies-only version of this page, other, non-baseball related material if and when I feel like it. I'll say right now this has all the makings of one of my projects that goes nowhere and I forget about the day after I start it, so I promise nothing, but anyway thems the rules. I've also established a guest book for the purposes of encouraging any unfortunate person who happens to stop by here and then waste significant time reading this the opportunity to threaten me and curse my name forever in retaliation.
So, to kick this all off on a baseball-related note, then, I've got to say that I spent (wasted) an awful lot of time today reading up on major and minor uniform changes for this season, which brought me back to the question I always consider at this time of year: how many games will the Mets win on a per uniform basis? The Mets, in a move that I feel is reflective of the problems of their entire organization (I'm serious), continue to feature up to eight different uniform combinations: (stay with me here): 1) blue hat, pinstripe jersey/pants, 2) blue hat, white home jersey/pants, 3) black and blue hat, pinstripe jersey pants, 4) black and blue hat, white home jersey/pants, 5) black and blue hat, black jersey with "Mets" script, white pants, 6) black and blue hat, grey road jersey, grey pants, 7) black hat, grey road jersey, grey pants, and 8) black hat, black jersey with "New York" printing, grey pants). Quite a list, and I honestly think there are one or two combos I might have missed.
Obviously, this is largely a marketing gimmick; every time they can get one of their fans to buy one of each of the five jerseys and three hats they wear, they've made a ton of money. But, I honestly believe that this maneuver of theirs reflects the larger problem the organization has: it constantly tries to find its niche in New York by various ill-advised attempts to upstage the cross-town Yankees. Whether its introducing yet another batting practice jersey or signing yet another high-priced, high-risk free agent, the Mets are just in a competition to try to do everything the Yankees do only bigger. The thing is, that's a stupid way to play the game: good organizations are built on stability, not thinly veiled desperation moves to sign a big name or sport the hot new look. This may sound crazy, but I think that there is some truth to the notion that displays of stability in look --- in the identity that comes from outward appearance --- can be reflective of internal stability and philosophy. The Mets, for example, could learn a lot from their cross-town rivals. Though the Yankees are always pursuing big free agents, there has been a bottom-line philosophy to what they do over this latest run of tremendous success they've had: there is a core of players from the oranization, and everyone in the organization immediately becomes part of it. That means everyone cuts their hair and keeps clean shaven, and it means the uniforms are the exact same ones the Yankees wore ten years ago, and twenty years ago, and fifty years ago. This is who the Yankees are, year in and year out.
The most successful franchises, it seems to me, adopt something approximating this philosophy of internal consistency that gets reflected in external appearance. The Red Sox let their players wear their hair however they want, but there has been a consistent sense of what it takes to win at Fenway --- good right handed bats and left-handed bats willing to go the other way and an emphasis on right handed pitching --- and, lo and behold, the Red Sox uniforms are the same, and relatively simple, year in and year out. The Red Sox know who they are. The Braves don't play games with their identity (pitching first), and every year they have their basic, classic Braves uniform. Consistency of identity inside and out. The Mets never seem to know what their organizational philosophy is, and I honestly this defect shows up, even in somethin as seemingly insiginificant as uniform design. But maybe it's just me.
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