Yesterday, one play won a game and, in the process, showed the difference between what fans say and what they do.
It’s the top of the eighth inning, Tigers are up by one. They have just rallied in the bottom of the seventh to take their first lead of the series over the Giants. There’s two on with two out. Aaron Rowand lines a pitch to left center.
The left fielder breaks toward the sinking ball.
There’s no way he makes it. But the ball’s floating a little more that it first appeared. Ok, he might make it.
Wait, scratch that; the ball is about to fall.
Then the left fielder lays out full extension and slams to the ground. Everyone looks behind the impact point for a bouncing white speck as the Giants round the bases. Then there’s nothing.
Mario Impemba breaks the silence:
“HEEEE CAUGHT IT!”
The crowd gives a standing ovation. In households across Detroit, “Wow” is the only word uttered.
Only one question remains: who’s the left fielder?
After taking the lead, the Tigers had moved five players to different positions. Peralta pinch-hit for centerfielder Andy Dirks and then came it at shortstop, which moved Santiago to second, meaning Jackson had to come in at centerfield, replacing Ordonez. With Ordonez gone, Boesch moved from left to right. That means the left fielder was….Ryan Raburn.
The same Raburn who was hitting .206 on the season. The same Raburn who hit into a double play as a part of his 0-for-3 day. The same Raburn who has fans starting a fund to buy him a bus ticket (he’s not worth a plane ticket) out of town and a separate fund to bribe him to stay away. “I hate it when Ryan Raburn tries to throw or hit a baseball” has 127 members on Facebook. “The Ryan Raburn Resistance,” self described as “A public platform for loyal Detroit Tigers fans to plead with club management to banish inferior “OF/2B” Ryan Raburn from the team – permanently – for the good of the land,” has 145.
The reaction of the moment was pretty much unanimous from Tigers fans:
“Who is that? Who? Raburn, really? Hmm, Raburn. Raburn!?! RABURN!!!!”
For Sunday, Raburn wasn’t Raburn anymore. He was a player wearing the right colors, helping the good guys win.
And that’s fans where loyalties lie: not with a face, but with the scoreboard.
Old-timers and analysts lament the moderns times of free agency and freewheeling GMs. They say players have no loyalty anymore as they take more money to leave the teams who developed them.
Every now and then a casual fan who’s trying to look like he knows more about sports than he does will repeat the statement. Sometimes it even creeps into hardcore fans’ minds.
But Raburn’s catch and Tigers fans’ subsequent high-fiving, beer-spilling celebration shows just how hypocritical fans are.
For all the complaining they do about loyalty, they aren’t loyal to the players. They change them with every swing of the bat.
Raburn had some loyalties when he hit .273 last season. He “deserved” to play. Hitting .206 this season, he lost all goodwill. Then he made the catch and emotions swung the other way.
Brandon Inge has been loved since he was with the Tigers at 2001. He earned a lot of respect when he stayed “loyal” to the team when it looked like he didn’t have a spot. Now he’s hitting .199. Fans turned on him faster than Joey Chestnut downs a hot dog.
But when he tripled to center on Sunday and scored two, fans still went nuts, giving him a standing ovation.
Four hundred game-winner and three-time Stanley cup champion Chris Osgood isn’t good enough anymore. He needs to go. Four-time Stanley Cup champion Kris Draper gets the same treatment.
We love Nick Lidstrom because he’s good. Loyalty is secondary. If he came to the Red Wings 10 years into his career, the amount of love wouldn’t change.
Rosters change in an instant. Franchise players become former team members. No-trade clauses mean little. They are waived as soon as a player realizes a team doesn’t want him. Because of this, teams treat players like fans: objects used for winning.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Organizations have an obligation to fans: win. This quick-change strategy helps teams win quicker.
But don’t get mad the next time a free agent takes more money elsewhere. Ask yourself just how loyal you were to him.