With pitchers and catchers slated to report to Spring Training on Thursday, something that I experienced a while back dawned on me. It was at the 2015 Cubs Convention, which went mostly as expected.
Jon Lester and Joe Maddon were hits, the fan Q&A panels were predictably odd, the beer was marked up 200 percent; pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for a fan convention. The players and coaches were introduced on Friday night in front of a raucous crowd, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro were greeted like conquering heroes, and most other players were welcomed with what ranged from excited cheering to polite applause.
The one exception was Edwin Jackson.
When Len Kasper welcomed the veteran right-hander there was certainly some polite applause but the overwhelming sound was that of the daunting boo-bird.
It was a low moment for Cubs fans. Granted, every fan base has their share of idiots. You know, the ones who believe that the players who wear the uniforms owe them something. Most likely it was that particular brand of idiot seen booing Edwin Jackson.
But to boo a Cubs player at the Cubs convention? That’s a real bad look.
No one is making excuses for Jackson’s play. In his two years in Chicago, Jackson has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Given his substantial contract (4-years, $52 million) it isn’t unreasonable that fans are upset with his production, and if the Cubs can find a suitor for Jackson, they would likely be happy to unload him and his contract.
But this was a fan convention. A chance for the players and fans to interact, for each party to show their appreciation for the work the other does. Not a time to grind an ax.
Edwin Jackson could have easily skipped the convention. He could have known that he would be welcomed by boos and empty autograph lines and said screw it, but he didn’t. He showed up, interacted with fans and handled it like a consummate pro.
By all accounts, Jackson is a great teammate and genuinely good guy. I mean, just take a note from the big moments of last season: Jorge Soler’s first home run, Anthony Rizzo’s string of walk-offs, Jake Arrieta’s gems, and notice who the first person up to give a high five or mob a player at the plate.
It’s Edwin Jackson.
He isn’t getting arrested, nor is he ripping fans to the media or loafing through his outings. He’s out there battling, even if his effort doesn’t result in success because he just isn’t very good. However, that’s a pretty flimsy reason to treat a guy like dirt.
It’s a question that gets brought up a lot in sports — “When can you boo your own team, if ever?”
Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long took exception to Bears fans booing the team as they were mired in an awful stretch of an overall awful season in 2014. The Bulls were booed two weeks ago after a listless performance, and the Blackhawks have even been booed after flushing a power play down the drain.
It’s a universal way for fans to express their disappointment in their respective team. But the question is, is it ever justified?
Like most things in life, context is key. But booing an individual is always the wrong thing to do.
Think about the logic of it and use Edwin Jackson as an example: the guy is having a hard enough time doing his job. He’s already putting enough pressure on himself, so rather than try to help someone on your team or at the very least just stay quiet, you’re going to add more negative pressure into the mix? The cognitive dissonance of thinking you can help someone who is struggling by making their job more stressful is laughable.
Booing a team? Still a pretty dumb idea but there is at least little more wiggle room there. The 2014 Chicago Bears were one of the most disappointing teams in recent Chicago sports history. They were poorly coached, poorly led, and overall were a listless bunch of guys whose effort level deserved to be questioned. The fans have a right to be mad at that kind of team. It’s one thing to be Jacksonville Jaguars-level bad but to have a group of underachievers who are just going through the motions, the fans have a right to collectively say, “this is unacceptable bullshit.”
Aside from fans letting a team know that their effort isn’t up to snuff, booing remains the move of the uneducated fan. Booing the Chicago Bulls because they’re in a slump? This has been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA over the last decade (9 of 10 seasons in the playoffs) battling through injuries. Every single shred of evidence suggests that a Tom Thibodeau-coached team with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Jimmy Butler will be there at the end.
Booing the Chicago Blackhawks for any reason at all? C’mon now.
Being a fan is supposed to be fun. Sports are supposed to be fun. If you’re disappointed as a fan, the odds are that the team and the coaching staff are just as disappointed.
Players and teams usually don’t want to be slumping anymore than the fans want them to be. That is the time when fans are most important, stay positive and keep the faith and stay committed to your team and its players. It’s natural to be disappointed in a guy like Edwin Jackson, even angry at the size of his paycheck compared to his production – but as long as he is wearing the same colors as the fans are, we’re all on the same side and we’re all in this together.
Try and keep that in mind this season.
(Featured Image courtesy of The Greedy Pinstripe)