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21 April 2011

You're Better Fans Than This, Cardinal Nation

It has been a very tough first three weeks for Cardinal Nation.  It has been horrific for St. Louis reliever Ryan Franklin.  He has suffered through repeated beatings on the mound.  And he doesn't know why.

In the first game of Wednesday's double-header, Franklin was called from the bullpen for his first appearance not as the club's designated closer.  For three years Franklin had been an above-average closer with stretches of brilliance.  But not so thus far in 2011.

With the team down two runs, Franklin pitched an uneventful seventh inning.  In the eighth, Franklin gave up yet another home run - a solo shot to Lance Nyx - that gave the Washington Nationals a 8-5 advantage.
The home run was not crucial to the outcome of the game, but the St. Louis crowd responded with a cascade of "boo's".

After the game, Franklin's frustrations got the best of him and he lashed out at the fans as reported by Fox Sports Midwest's B.J. Rains:
"Sure, I hear it," Franklin said after the game. "I guess they have short memories too because I think I've been pretty good here. It doesn't bother me, but it just shows some people's true colors. You're either a fan or you're not.  
"You don't boo your own team. I don't care who you are or what you say or just because you spent your money to come here to watch us play that somebody happens to make one bad pitch and give up a homer and you are going to start booing him? I've been here for five years, and four years I've been pretty good.
"You should go write stories about the fans booing. They are supposed to be the best fans in baseball. Yeah right."
That last paragraph sent Cardinal Nation into a tizzy throughout the nightcap of the double-header.  The Redbird fans on twitter were brutal - even personal - in the response to those statements.

This scribe is embarrassed by Cardinal Nation throughout this incident.  No, I don't begrudge the booing at the stadium after the home run - that's simply a part of the industry of Major League Baseball.  But the personal and hateful nature of comments about Franklin's performance (and even the man himself) are utterly out of line.

Franklin never asked for the closer role.  It was thrust upon him when Jason Motte obviously couldn't handle the emotional strain of the ninth inning.  And for three years, Franklin has been a more than adequate closer.  A 90% save rate is the envy of most big league teams during his tenure.  And look at the thanks he gets.

Why the bile?  Where does this come from?  Many commenters were absolutely hateful in their comments.  Listening to them, you'd think Franklin was a convicted mother-hugger and father-raper.

This is not Manny Ramirez loafing to get released from his big contract so he can sign another larger contract.  No.  This is a veteran who has done what has been asked of him to the best of his ability.  This year his ability has been lacking - or at least the results have been.  Commitment and perseverance are admirable qualities.  It's the players job to take the ball when called upon.  When he gets the ball is entirely on the manager.

Do not get me wrong.  Lashing out at the fans is not the proper way of handling the situation.  But keep in mind that Ryan Franklin is not a PR professional nor a politician.  Hell, he isn't even a star accustomed to the attention and milking it all the way to the bank.  Once a journeyman starter, he was unceremoniously put into a high profile role and he's done quite well with it.  But the frustrations of letting his teammates, the fans, and himself pushed him to do something that seems way out of character for an Oklahoma boy.

Now Cardinal Nation wants him tarred, feathered and run out of town riding a rail for being human for three weeks.

After the nightcap, Franklin apologized for his comments:
“Obviously these last 2 1/2 weeks have been frustrating for me, and I’m frustrated with myself. I can understand why the fans are frustrated. I’ve loved my time here in St. Louis. It’s my favorite place to play. It’s just a frustrating time for me right now, because I feel like I’m letting everyone down.
“First and foremost, I’m letting myself down. I’m letting the team down and obviously the fans. It’s just been a hard time for me right now, and it’s something I’ve never been through. It’s just really frustrating. Things didn’t come out the right way. It was right after the game and I said things I shouldn’t have said. I apologize for that. It was the wrong thing to say, but at the same time I was frustrated. I am frustrated. I’m just trying to do my best to do everything I can to get back on track. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get back out there and help this team.”
There is a certain irony that Rick Ankiel was treated to a standing ovation the same day Franklin was booed out of the stadium.  Yes, Ankiel put out an ad in the paper thanking Cardinal fans for their support.  It's a shame that there was no support for Franklin, who has contributed more to the success of the Cardinals for far longer than Ankiel ever did.

Cardinal Nation likes to think of themselves as the best fans - knowledgeable and supportive.  But this episode exposes a nasty truth that has materialized the past few years; there is no niceness nor support for players who continue to take the ball while hurt or struggling.  Ask Chris Duncan about it.  Ask Jason Isringhausen.  We don't need to ask Franklin.  Maybe the one to ask is the man that continues to put them in positions to fail - manager Tony LaRussa.

And it's not the dissatisfaction with performance that has raised my ire, rather it's the personal nature of attacks on these players.  So they've disappointed fans.  It is no reason to denigrate them personally, nor to take it personally.  This is just a game folks.  A game played by flesh and blood human beings, not by bits inside a gaming console.  If a player disappoints, hate the game not the player.

To those fans who have shown such bitterness I ask if perhaps you've never been frustrated or disappointed in yourself?  Perhaps you've never acted out of character under an extreme period of stress.  If you swear you haven't, you can throw stones.  But we'll give Franky a bat, and maybe you'll find out how difficult it is to get a fastball past a better athlete than you.  Then we'll stone you for either being in cahoots with the devil or for being a bald-faced liar.

Booing Cardinal players who have performed well in the past, who have never given less than 100% to the team, and who are struggling in the short term is not indicative of the best fans in baseball.  Come on, Cardinal Nation.  You are better than this.


Oates03 said...

You are correct

Rob Darnell said...

I agree, the attacks should never get personal. I took Ryan Franklin to task in my blog for what he said and how he's performed on the field. Anyone who makes this personal are not true fans.

Cardinal70 said...

Very good. Makes what I was going to write today pretty irrelevant, I can just link to you.

Anonymous said...

You will have nuts like the ones with #stlCards last night who will put what is just a game into a stupidly personal issue; like the death threats Keith Hernandez and Don Denkinger received.

I don't understand how a whole fanbase consisting of possibly millions of people can be considered "knowledgeable." So I don't really get why entire fanbases are grouped together and stereotyped. But hey...

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