14 May 2008

Good Guys, Bad Gig

I didnt see this reported online, but after last night's game, in the clubhouse, Orlando Hudson went off on the fans for booing Eric Byrnes. He was about to be interviewed by Todd Walsh, and before Walsh asked him any game questions, Oh Dawg appeared to take it upon himself to volunteer his "disappointment" at the situation. As far as I could tell, this wasnt in response to a Walsh question, rather something Hudson really wanted to get off his chest.

He said "disappointed" three times. He said everybody has slumps. He shook his head and said "after everything he [Byrnes] gives to the team" and even included Eric's TV show in the "everything" that Byrnes gives fans.

In related news, Daron Sutton recently explained how Eric vounteered for an extra hour and a half of BP the other day. Sutton repeated the time commitment, for emphasis.

An hour and a half ! , he shreiked.

Why do I bring all this up? It's not to debate whether it's ok to boo Byrnes or to discuss his contract or prospects going forward. I mention these two anecdotes because, together, I think they serve to illustrate how systematically divorced the major league baseball enterprise has become from ordinary people who provide the lion's share of its support.

Take Hudson. He's visibly upset the fans are booing his friend. I can understand that. But understand this, Orlando. First, your friend is a professional ballplayer making $10M per year to entertain people - primarily via winning - and he's failing miserably at that commitment. Second, this is no ordinary slump. Forget the .103 BA in his last 58 at bats - Byrnes hasnt drawn a single walk since April 26th! He hits worse than a relief pitcher and looks it. He has hamstring problems but one cant watch his garbled approach without being convinced there's a mental apspect to this flailing - a lack of concentration, gameplan,etc. Third, fans arent always booing players as much as they're booing management's decision to field that particular player under given circumstances. That might not dry Eric's or Orlando's tears, but it's true.

Now let's take Sutton's remark about the extra BP. I'm confident Eric is trying to work out of his slump. But I ask you this. How many among us, those who make a tad less than $10M annually, have volunteered an hour and a half of our time to smooth over some rough edges at work in terms of our performance? I daresay virtually everybody trying to put food on the table. What bothered me about Sutton's remark was the breathlessness of it. It wasnt just to inform us that Eric was taking extra work, it was to impress us.

And it failed miserably. I wasnt there to gauge the nature of this extra BP, but to be fair, an hour and a half of straight BP is very tough. But to the larger point, so what? Should any working American really be impressed by this "news"?

Another reason I offer these anecdotes is because Byrnes and Hudson both have such terrific reputations dealing with fans. You virtually never hear a bad word about either and I have no reason to think either reputation is undeserved. This isnt Barry Bonds or any other infamous prima donna. OK, one could make the case for Byrnes, but he and Oh Dawg are good guys. I'm not gonna call 'em "great guys" cause that's overdone, but there's plenty of evidence they're reasonably grounded, likeable dudes.

Yet Hudson takes privileged umbrage that his $10M bunkmate is actually (Heavens to Betsy!) booooed! Apparently, fans who pay to be entertained dont have sufficient respect for the lucrative and expansive Eric Byrnes franchise, according to one Mr Hudson. And we're supposed to be satisfied, grateful even, that this 'professional' takes time out of his busy schedule whoring his personal franchise to bear at least cursory semblance to a major league hitter.

It's not the personalities here. These are both reasonably self-motivated, hard working guys. It's the incessant culture of hype and illusion bearing down on them. An industry that exalts players as superhuman and lifeless, mindless fans who reflexively let it happen. Maybe it's time that baseball fans, adult fans anyway, step back yet again and rethink who and what they're rooting for.


Jeff said...

Nice work, Matt. I think this subject has much to explore. Personally, I have a greater respect for the players who just show up to work and are professional about it, whether they're doing well or not.

When I get booed at work, I suck it up and let the people have their say without crying about it. So a client boos me because I misinterpreted a Shang dynasty ritual bronze inscription? It happens. Boo me if you must. In the meantime I remain committed to my work and do my best to get better. Perhaps big-leaguers should do the same.

And for the record, I make a lot less than $10 million a year.

Russell said...

I think that part of the reason for the booing is that Eric has become, as you say, a "franchise" with his own TV show etc.He seems to have lost the persona of the "regular guy trying his best". Last night it was clear that Daron and Mark were keeping to the strict party line that the fans were really rooting for Eric but I could make out tepid silence at best, and yes I think part of the booing is related to the decision by managment to play him.Either way his inability to perform with the bases loaded (twice) almost cost the game.
Incidentally I have NEVER volunteered an hour and a half of my time at work, but I suspect that that is a cultural difference.

Michael Norton said...

Great post, Matt, especially that bit about the extra hour and a half work. I don't know how many times I've been in the office until eleven at night for weeks mastering a new technology--because that is my job. And then have it not appreciated, i.e., get booed. It is life. Grow up.

MLB lives in a fantasy world. Look at the way Mark Newman at MLBlogs treated the fans, i.e., the customers. You don't get away with that in many industries--and MLB wouldn't, either, if they weren't allowed a monopoly.

Michael Norton
Some Clubhouse

Tracy said...

Well, gee, look what happens when I leave town for awhile. Fans are booing players? OMG. How dare they? I got booed by a client yesterday. I didn't think I deserved it. I think I'm really pretty good at what I do and try very hard to do my job well, but if someone's perception of me is not good then I'll take it upon myself to try and make sure the perception they get next time is better.

If I decide to blow them off and blame them for what I perceive to be a faulty perception then they have the right to (and probably will) go someplace else. It all boils down to whether you want them to come back or not. If they would rather the fans just go away then that can be arranged. It wouldn't be the first time.

Jeff said...

Ah, the irony...

Jeff said...

sorry...incomplete. can't seem to fit the link to Alyssa's post on "booing your players". check it out though. it's worth reading and being infuriated by.

PAUL said...

Daron Sutton does go overboard with the enthusiasm; it's strange from a guy who's been around the majors for his whole life and has a father who's a HOFer; but then, maybe not. He may have had a first hand look at the laziness and ambivalence of certain players and think that Byrnes's extra work is worthy of such an ardent reaction.
I don't see how booing a guy can help all that much though, especially a guy like Byrnes who was so beloved for his hustling and leadership last season.

Matt said...

Great comments, everyone!


Can you spot the difference between a Ming and less valuable Tang vase? Sherlock Holmes could, in an old movie I saw with Basil Rathbone.

Re Alyssa or Mark or whoever writes that blog, typically insipid, but a few comments are actually pretty good.

Byrnes seems to have lost the persona of the "regular guy trying his best".

Totally. He's gone from plucky outsider to resented establishment gadfly in no time. Any gue$$e$ why?

MLB lives in a fantasy world

Michael, I think I'm starting to prefer the Fantasy World around the corner from my house ;-)


R U back in town? Please email me @ azdiamondhacks@yahoo.com so I can send you the DVDs. If Eric Byrnes reaches base before I hear from you, your winnings are void.


Paul, good insight re Daron. I think it's some of both. Genuine enthusiasm for having a good job (good market, good young team), combined with a veneer of rehearsed enthusiasm that belies a certain cynicism towards the audience.

Thanks again, everyone.

Jeff said...

Yes, Matt, actually, the difference between a Ming vase and a Tang vase is quite substantial. A Tang 'vase' as it were, would be pretty rare though, considering that type of craftsmanship didn't really become perfected until the middle Ming period. There are a good 450 years between the two dynasties. It wouldn't take a Sherlock to figure out the difference... but it makes for good cinema I'm sure.

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