Editor’s Note: This is not really about baseball so much as it is about being a fan. Given what happened in the basketball world last night and its proximity geographically to our Florida Marlins, I thought it would be pertinent. Read if you’d like.
Yes, I too was swept up in the hoopla that was last night’s “Decision” by LeBron James to move from Cleveland to Miami to play for the Miami Heat. Obviously, as a casual Heat fan, I’m excited that the best basketball player on the planet is coming to our town, but this is not going to be an analysis of how good this new Heat team will be. That would not be fitting for a baseball blog.
However, I do believe that the reaction from the Cleveland Cavaliers fans and particularly the team’s owner has been inappropriate. From burning jerseys to releasing needlessly angry letters, it all seems as if Cleveland fans are feeling spurned or jilted by some ex. The truth of the matter is that sports is a business for players, and they need to maximize their value and utility out of their job. They really don’t owe anything to the fans that show them affection during games.
Marlins fans know this sort of premise better than anyone else.
As a Marlins fan, I have grown quite jaded with the concept of players leaving the team. As a fan of the Fish, I have seen countless players leave the ballclub, many of whom had been here for three or four years and became fan favorites. Once upon a time, I would have been upset about some of these moves (witness the time the Marlins traded Matt Mantei a day before his commemorative bobblehead day at the stadium), but with maturity and perspective, I’ve grown past that. Once you see a player leave, you’ve seen them all leave. It is a business, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Marlins organization. The bottom line is ultimately what matters to teams like the Fish, so why should it be any different for players?
Of course, I understand that the situation in Cleveland just isn’t the same. LeBron wasn’t traded away, he left of his volition. In my opinion, that’s better than what the Marlins do to their players. Some of our players have made it known that they want to stay, or at least have said so in public. Josh Johnson was happy that he would be in South Florida for the foreseeable future after signing his four-year extension with the team. Dan Uggla has mentioned that he is happy to be here and thankful for the organization that gave him a chance. For those guys, being traded away may be against their own wills.
But for a player who leaves in free agency, who am I to blame them? Yes, we as fans support these players, and they play out their contract and produce for their salary. But just because they play for our favorite team, it doesn’t mean they should subjugate their own wants for that team. To us fans, the team is representative of an entity to be cheered, but for these players the team is more of a business entity. If it is not in their best interests to remain on the team (whatever those interests may be), who are we as fans to demand that they bow to our desires rather than theirs?
If and when Hanley Ramirez’ contract extension expires in 2014 and he decides to leave South Florida for another team, who am I to tell him otherwise? By that time, Hanley will have been well worth his contract, I’m sure. He will have played on the Marlins for nine years of his career. What else can we ask of him? Why should he remain “loyal” to our organization if it is not ultimately in his best interests? There is not really an argument for that, other than the fans’ desire to see that player remain in uniform.
It sounds like fans would really enjoy (and did enjoy at the time, I suppose) the time of the reserve clause, before free agency. Before the advent of free agency, the reserve clause would allow teams to resign players every year regardless of the player’s choice. For Cleveland fans and others who feel players “owe” their teams and fans loyalty for what amounts to paychecks (from the team) and support (from the fans), this seems like an ideal fit. The only party that loses is the player, who is left with no choice. If we are open to giving these players choices about where they should go, we should not then bash them when where they go is not where we want them to.
This once again boils down to fans demanding more of their team’s players than they probably should. We have a connection to a team, for whatever reason, and we would like for our favorite players to share that connection with the team. That is why situations like Chipper Jones in Atlanta make us happy. We want the players on our favorite teams to enjoy being a part of that team as much as we do. What we don’t see is that, for players, their happiness is not tied to any one team’s success. They are primarily tied monetarily to a team, not necessarily emotionally like we are. Players are drafted by teams about which they may or may not know anything, and sent to minor league systems that do not treat them all that well. They are not guaranteed anything more than the bonus they sign from the team. If they make it, they begin to finally reap the rewards, but how strong can the tie to the organization be? Not every player will feel emotionally invested in their organization, but it comes so naturally and easily for us because we never have to deal with the organization itself.
Fans have it easy. We cheer because our fathers cheered, or because we live close to the team, or because we grew up watching them win a World Series then get dismantled. My tie to the Florida Marlins is a strong one, and it’s likely a bond I will have for life. As much as I wished Hanley or Uggla or Johnson shared that same sentiment, their experiences are naturally going to differ. Their decisions not only include how they feel, but how they will be compensated for what they do. It is not as simple as falling in love with a set of colors and going with it. We should not expect from players the sort of loyalty only fans can truly give.