Down here in the Dallas area, sports fans are doubly-deflated because of the performances by their beloved Cowboys and new-to-beloved Rangers. The long-standing football team, at times amusingly called “America’s Team” nowhere else but Texas, remains as mediocre as tapioca pudding despite the pronouncements of the glory hound owner. A $1 billion stadium cannot hide the warts and defects throughout the roster and on-field performance.
But the Rangers, a baseball team of long-time suffering, have been discovered as a possible championship squad for its consecutive appearances in the World Series (only to lose ingloriously last year in seven games to the Cardinals a mere one strike away from victory … TWICE!).
However, in 2012, there will be no such three-peat; the Rangers choked away a five-game lead in the AL West Division with nine games remaining and lost on the last day of the regular season to Oakland (of all squads, a team with 17 rookies and nary a star among them).
Two days later, in the first AL wild card “winner-take-all” playoff, the Rangers went away as meekly as a church mouse, losing 5-1 to Baltimore. As fans filed away from the ballpark in Arlington, deep into the night, they seemed to focus their bitterness, anger and vitriol upon one person/player – outfielder Josh Hamilton. In fact, when Hamilton took just three pitches to strike out in the eighth inning (his final at-bat of the season, with runners on base), boos rang down from all three seating decks, as well as the vaunted Home Run Porch, where Hamilton had deposited scores of home runs during his five-year career.
Unlike other DFW stars (Staubach, Modano, Aikman, Pearson, Nowitzski), Hamilton brought a factory full of luggage to his Rangers stint; his past drug escapades were known by the entire baseball public and his acquisition was a bigger gamble than anything seen in Las Vegas. Yet, while in a Texas uniform, he led the league in hitting one season and won an MVP honor because no other player in the American League was as talented and gifted as he was. For the first time since he was drafted in 1999 (the first overall selection by Tampa Bay), he was showing one and all what was expected from Day One.
But Hamilton is also the most mercurial athlete ever to set foot in the Metroplex. It goes beyond his public Christian faith and beliefs; it extends to his approach and attitude about the game, sport and business of baseball. According to every inside report, he is one of the least coachable players on the team and no one knows from game-to-game if he will offer “100 percent” effort … because no one can determine whether his natural lope and stride IS the 100 percent effort.
His expression never changes during the game; anger never is expressed – either at his lack of performance or circumstances during the game. He retains a constant visual of … blankness. He smiles after home runs, but jubilant is not a word associated with Josh Hamilton. To him, everything is in God’s hands (including dropping a relatively routine fly ball in Game 162 that led to the final losing outcome).
And for this – the four home runs earlier in the year against Baltimore, the game-winning hits AND the perceived lack of hustle on defense – Hamilton has become the focus of failure by Rangers fans. Sports talk shows and online comment threads are bulging with “don’t let the door hit you in the backside on the way out of town” sentiments.
The problem is how fans’ expectations NEVER meet the realities of the situations in the locker room and diamond. They expect … no, they too often demand a level of personal performance so unrealistic, based on too much “wishin’ and hopin’” (as Dusty Springfield sang a long time ago). And the acquisition of a ticket to a sporting event does not automatically empower anyone to impugn a man’s family or reputation or do what happened in Kansas City last Sunday when the crowd cheered a potentially devastating injury to its own quarterback. As said by a Chiefs lineman, “that sick!”
It’s sad when fans expect a human being to act in a particular way or manner merely because he plays in front of an audience. Hey Mister Fan, no one comes into your home and demands a particular set of behavioral actions from you. Try going to work at your office and do your job when people all around you are cursing your family, heritage and throwing things at you.
The pedestal where fans place athletes, who (at the core) are just flawed men and women with particular talents, should never exist. Remember, baseball is a sport when a man with a bat, who fails two out of three times, is still considered a superstar! The Rangers’ problem is not merely Josh Hamilton’s on-field play (or his off-field quirks), but people always reach for the simplistic instead of doing some actual thinking.
Compare Hamilton’s love-hate affair with Texas sans with how Detroit fans allowed Miguel Cabrera time and patience in battling his alcohol problems of a few years ago. Detroit fans WANTED Cabrera to succeed and he rewarded them this season with a magical individual season not seen since 1967. And “mercurial” is not a word the press attaches to Cabrera; instead they speak and write about his status as a quality teammate.
Contrary to popular thinking, the “fans” do not pay Hamilton’s contract, current or future … or ANY other team member; players work for owners of those franchises. Owners, in turn, charge fans a certain price for the privilege to attend games, which are only differing forms of entertainment, compared to movies, concerts or plays.
And while some movies are better than others, some teams are better than others. The best form to show displeasure with owners’ decisions on player contracts and rosters is to merely refrain from ticket purchases. Of course, in the modern world of sports economics, most of the roster debt is covered by television revenue and other non-spectator related income.
Yet the psyche of sports being what it is, a team is more than a collective of athletes; the soul and reputation of entire cities (and often states) become intertwined with each pitch, throw and swing of the bat. When the Saints won the Super Bowl, tears flowed in the New Orleans streets – not for the squad but for the city which has suffered SO much just a few years before at the hands of Hurricane Katrina (and government non-response). In 1968, the Tigers literally saved the city of Detroit from reigniting and completely destroying that community from what began 12 months earlier.
Big deal! So the Rangers lost and Hamilton, set to become the top name on the free agent list this winter, probably saw his final action as a Texas Ranger. He will take his show on the road to somewhere else, perhaps Boston or Los Angeles or …wherever God tells him.
While first impressions are often lasting impressions, in sports, you are only as good as your last swing, last pass, last shot and last bit of effort. If everyone was judged by the same standard in their employment, think of what the jobless rate would be then???
What’s the Biblical saying? “Judge not lest ye be judged?” I guess not for $100 a ticket and $8 per beer in each hand…