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Indians Indians Archive To Boo or Not to Boo, That is the Question
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 05 chris perezCleveland Indians reliever Chris Perez really did it this time with his comments after Saturday’s win against Miami.

Or did he?

Perez entered the game in the ninth inning with the Tribe holding a 2-0 lead and delivered what too many fans consider the only “acceptable” save by a closer – a 10-pitch, three strikeout performance that made the Marlins’ Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Greg Dobbs look foolish.

In the locker room after the game, Perez went after Tribe fans as aggressively as he did the Marlins.

“I’m tired of getting booed at home, so I figured I’d throw some strikes today,” said Perez, according to The Chronicle-Telegram. “You can quote that. It doesn’t bother me. It pisses me off. I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s

only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It pisses me off.

“I’m not calling out the fans. It’s just how it is. That stuff is reserved for road games. We don’t want to deal with that crap. Here, good fans are supposed to help you try to get through the inning and say, ‘Hey, you’re only one pitch away,’ or ‘Hey, it’s all right.’ And then after I struck out (Seattle’s Jesus Montero), the mock standing applause just adds to it. You see their true colors.”

On this point Perez is 100 percent correct. Far too many fans, for far too long, have decided that the closer has to throw a 1-2-3 inning or else they’ve “failed.” But unless you are New York’s Mariano Rivera, that’s not a reality.

This was never more evident than when Bob Wickman was closing games for the Indians from 2001 to 2005. Over a four-year period (Wickman missed 2003 with an injury) Wickman saved 110 games, converting more than 90 percent or more of his opportunities in ’01, ’04 and ’05.

Wickman was also smart on the mound – if he had a match-up that wasn’t in his favor and an open base, he would walk a batter rather than give in – which drove many fans crazy because he wasn’t saving games the “right way.”

2012 05 bob wickmanBut that misses the primary role of the closer, which is to finish off the game and send the team home with a win. Nothing else matters, not how many runners they put on base, how many strikeouts they record, or how many flyballs to the warning track they give up.

So we can understand Perez’ frustration. He’s sealed the deal in 13 consecutive save opportunities, with his only misstep coming on Opening Day.

“They could’ve booed me Opening Day, and they did, and I totally deserved it,” Perez said. “That’s a different thing. I got two guys on (against Seattle). Yeah, my release point was all over the place, but really? I’ve got two guys on. They haven’t even scored yet and you’re booing me? You’re saying, ‘Get this bum off the mound?’ Come on.”

If Perez had stopped there, we could have lived with what he said because he’s mostly right. But his alter ego, Pure Rage, apparently emerged and the interview took a different turn (or else Perez decided to take it upon himself to fill the void left by Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who was strangely quiet all weekend).

“Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why,” Perez said. “Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran (who signed with St. Louis in the offseason) want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed – trust us. That’s definitely a huge reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that.

“You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 (fans) like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It’s going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That’s just how it is. That’s another thing that you have to go against. It’s not only the payrolls of the (American League) East teams, but that kind of stuff.”

OK, first off, Beltran has been in the National League since 2004 so it’s not surprising that he would want to stay in a league where he is comfortable. The Cardinals are also coming off a World Series title, which makes them an attractive destination. And, just as Cleveland is a football town, St. Louis is a baseball town so win or lose the Cardinals are going to draw fans, which is why the Rams have to be creative with their ticket count to avoid blackouts.

On a side note, since Perez brought him up, Beltran has only hit more than 20 home runs once since 2008 and hasn’t driven in more than 100 runs since 2008. So it’s not like the Tribe missed out on Albert Belle in his prime or anything.

More importantly, players are going to go where their agents tell them and that is always going to be to the team that pays the most. The higher the contract the more an agent makes in commission, so they will always steer a player to the hightest bidder regardless of whether or not that team is a good fit.

The comments about the fans are where Perez loses the plot. As fans, we are limited in what we can do about the state of any team we root for. We can’t hire or fire managers, we don’t make trades, sign free agents or draft players.

2012 05 empty seatsOur sole power as fans comes from attending, or not attending, games and our reactions to what we see on the field or the court or the pitch. No one who is a fan of a Cleveland team wants to see a player fail if they are wearing an Indians, Browns or Cavs jersey.

But by the same token if we don’t like what we are seeing on the field, our recourse is to boo or not support the team. Just because it says Cleveland across the front of your jersey doesn’t mean you will get unconditional love. Fans are going to boo, sometimes it will be justified and sometimes it will be the hoople heads booing because they don’t understand how the game works.

If you want the cheers and the big paycheck that comes with being a professional athlete then you have to take the occasional negativity – it’s a package deal and has been ever since the first person was paid money to play a game.

Perez claims to understand that, but it appears as if he really doesn’t.

“I completely understand, but the fans can’t take it personal when the players don’t want to stay here or players don’t want to come here,” he said. “It’s a business. You didn’t choose to get drafted by Cleveland. I’m in it for my family. Who knows? I could throw my last pitch tomorrow.”

So if baseball is a business and Perez is it in for his family, then he needs to realize it swings both ways. Fans – no matter how much they root for a particular team – have other obligations as well including family, especially until the school year ends. As a parent, it’s just not realistic to work all day, come home and help with homework and then go to Progressive Field to catch an Indians game on a weeknight (same thing with the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena). But that doesn’t mean we are not watching the games and following the team just as passionately as the fan at the stadium.

There is also a business side as well for fans. While baseball is still the cheapest of the three sports to attend it’s not free. For a lot of people in NE Ohio there just isn’t as much disposable income on hand to head to a game, especially on a night when it is 40 degrees and drizzling, which seems to have been the case for just about every Tribe home game before this weekend.

Team president Mark Shapiro addressed the situation before Sunday’s game without really saying anything.

“It’s clear that what’s behind that emotion is how great he feels our situation is,” Shapiro said. “How great he feels the team is, the ballpark is and his desire for more people to experience that. That’s the root of (his comments).

“Where we clearly disagree with him is about our fans. We appreciate our fans, we respect our fans and we certainly want more to come. I want more people to experience what we have going here. I have that feeling in a moment, but I turn that more to resolve because I think once they get here, they’re going to want to come back again.”

In a lot of ways the Tribe is paying for its successes in the 1990s. If fans are not crying that the Dolans “are cheap” they are pining away for the 455-game sellout streak that made headlines in the latter part of the decade. But that was an unrepeatable mix of a long-dormant team finally having success in a new ballpark while the Cavs were irrelevant and the Browns were not even a franchise.

That’s not going to happen ever again and the sooner the fans let go of that the better off everyone will be. The casual fan is probably not going to come back, or at least not come back in big numbers, until summer arrives and the team is still in first place (or contending). This weekend is a perfect example as almost 83,000 showed up for the three-game series with the Marlins. And with the Tigers coming to town for what should be a fun three-game series, attendance should continue to trend upward (although Thursday being a 12:05 p.m. start doesn’t help).

“The fans are going to come, I know that,” Perez said on Sunday. “It’s just a slap in the face when you’re in first place and last in attendance. Last. It’s not like we’re 25th, 26th – we’re last. Oakland is out-drawing us. That’s embarrassing.

“You think the Tigers are happy? The Tigers are in third place. We’re in first place – enjoy it. We could be in last place. We could be the Royals, we could be the Pirates, who haven’t won anything in 20 years.”

Perez is right – these are the Indians, not the Pirates. Of course, the Indians haven’t won anything in 64 years, so maybe that’s not a good comparison.

So maybe the takeaway from all this is that it’s time to start focusing on the on-field results and stop worrying about every thing else. The Tribe is in first place and the Tigers are coming to town this week.

Because, really, isn’t that all that really matters?

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