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Ryan Raburn and the hypocrisy of sports loyalties

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.

"Catch? .... .... .... HEE CAUGHT IT!"

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.

I guarantee people would like Raburn more if his hairline wasn't receding. Villareal sucks but there's not nearly as much complaining about him and his brown locks

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.

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7 comments on “Ryan Raburn and the hypocrisy of sports loyalties

  1. What is your point? We should love .200 hitters that stike out 1 out of 3 AB’s? Good way to end 30 below 500. CANNOT stay if you can’t hit. Yes, let’s embrace wasted eight hitter and ninth hitter becacuse? Their morally right? Anglo? What was your f-ing reason again> Idjit

    • T R: My point is that fans and players are only indirectly linked. Fans root a specific team, not necessarily specific players. Once a player leaves town, fans at the very least don’t feel that same connection to him. That’s how sports works.

      Yet, with a good player we feel cheated when he leaves town. He didn’t stay loyal to fanbase that loved him.

      I pointed to Raburn because it was a recent illustration that fans will cheer for anybody in the right uniform that makes a play, even if they have a checkered history together.

      The bottom line: fans and players are related only through the medium of the team. Neither should have a loyalty to the other.

  2. Explain Curtis Granderson, then. Detroit fans STILL love him, and always will. Deservedly so.

    • (I don’t know if you noticed, but this article is a year old. I just felt like you needed to know) The biggest thing is that Granderson was traded. He didn’t voluntarily leave town and probably would have stayed had he had the choice. I was referring more to fans going nuts when a free agent leaves town for more money.

  3. Oh, WHATEVER. You wanna know my approach to Inge, until very recently? So long as he was hitting .240 and driving in some runs, I loved him. I appreciated his defense, his attitude, and how he embodied the team. But, his performance kept getting worse. And worse. And worse. Finally, about a week before Opening Day, the local sports media began egging on the Inge-haters with article after article. Those people were always around- I know, because I argued with them constantly. Because of the constant coverage of the Inge hate, those people finally got vocal. THEN, in dishonest fashion, the FSD crew gave us their best “Home Alone” pose (hands on cheeks) about the Inge hate, as if it shocked them.

    When we cheer Raburn loudly for doing something good, we do it because he did something good. Were we supposed to boo him for sake of consistency? No, that would be idiotic. We cheer him because he helped the team, and also because we want him to give us more of it. It’s called positive reinforcement. It’s not really that alien of a concept. The Inge hate and the Raburn hate, in any case, has been louder lately because these guys have gotten their chances. We’ve cheered them through the good and the bad. We hoped the best for them. We didn’t turn the tv off when they came up to bat with two outs, bottom ninth. And lately, all they’ve done is fail- and fail HARD.

    Now, for you to say that we shouldn’t be mad when a free agent leaves because we were never loyal to him is asinine. Where’s your proof? If we’re talking about a decent player, chances are, that player has been cheered the entire time. Chances are, people were wearing his jersey. Chances are, thousands of fans bought a ticket to Comerica Park because that player was there. Yet, in some failed twist of logic, you’re trying to extrapolate that because we no longer have unconditional love for Inge or Raburn, who have done nothing but SUCK for a couple of years now, we never really had any true loyalty for the good players? Okay.

    You know who my favorite player has always been? Marcus Thames. I don’t think he’s ever batted above .250 in a season of 400 at-bats or so. Yet, I always liked him. Why? I saw him come off the bench and making a sliding catch in LF, and then hit a double and a home run. Off the bench. I admired his attitude, one in which he maximized his opportunities. Then, when I noticed he struck out a lot, and that he couldn’t hit the ball the other way worth a damn, guess what? I still liked him. Imagine that! Loyalty!! When people bashed him, I reminded them that he hits home runs about every 13 at-bats. At one time, his at bats per homer ratio was better than that of Alex Rodriguez.

    In closing, I really don’t know why you’re crying that we don’t want to watch the Tigers just to see players unfit for Single A in the starting lineup. That we don’t want the Tigers to go 79-84 every damned year doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be angry when a good player with a decent fan following leaves the team.

  4. Let me sum up the shitty article another way: “If you’re not willing to put up with months or even years of shitty performances, and you don’t want that shitty performer in the lineup anymore, then you’re a hypocrite for being angry at players for whom you cheered, because of whom you bought tickets to the ball park, and you don’t deserve to be angry or disappointed when they leave the team.” I really hope this author doesn’t write professionally. This is what’s wrong with the Internet. Too many unjustified snobs who think that, because they can see their words published online, they really are “writers.” Dude, you are to writing what Ryan Raburn is to batting. Someone, somewhere, is letting you publish on their dime, but you still suck dick at it.

    • Wow. You just pooped in the refrigerator and ate the entire wheel of cheese. I’m not even mad. I’m impressed.

      You have your opinion and that’s fine. No one is making you read this article or respond to it.

      But you did, so I’ll try to clarify what I said. My point is (in most cases) the loyalty extends less to individual players and more to the team in general. We cheer good plays in the Tiger uniform and get mad when there are bad plays in the Tiger Uniform. In the same respect, the player plays for that uniform and is only linked to the fans because of the the uniform he wears. So when he leaves, it’s not as much of a slight to the fans as most people make it out to be.

      But you already know this and you don’t agree. That’s fine.

      I’m just in awe that you wrote a response that was nearly as long as the article just to chew me out. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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