Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Double Standard?

In the midst of the Omar Love Fest that’s taken over the North Coast, something keeps bothering me. I have no problem with the outpouring of gratitude and appreciation for Vizquel from Indians’ fans and from the organization (though, at a certain point, cheering his RBI squeeze that proved to be the game winner was a bit over the top because…you know…he’s not playing for the Indians anymore), but I’m a little confused as to what seems to be a double standard that Omar has been the beneficiary of as he returns to the North Coast for the first time.

Follow me on this, if you will:
A player who was a main cog in the 1990’s Tribe juggernauts becomes a Free Agent as the team rebuilds in the early-to-mid 2000’s as the team rebuilds.
The player voices his desire to stay in Cleveland, but leaves for greener pastures.

The player returns for the first time to Cleveland to face off against his old team. How is he received by the fans that adored him for so many years?
If you said, “It depends on the perception of WHY the player left”, you’re exactly right.

If you’re seen as a player who was wronged by the organization, passed over despite the fact that a few good years are left in you for a hotshot youngster ready to take your place, you’re embraced and cheered upon your return.

If you’re seen as a player after nothing more than money, who wronged the organization by leaving after saying that you wanted to end your career as an Indian, then signed for more guaranteed money and years than the Indians were willing to offer, you’re vilified and booed upon your return.

Maybe I’m simplifying things a little too much, but how were the departures of Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome a year apart THAT different?

Both left the rebuilding Indians after both stating that they wanted to retire as Indians, but returned to entirely different reactions as opponents of the Indians. Omar has been given a hero’s welcome, a reminder of how marvelous that magical era of Jacobs Field was while fans condemn the Indians for shooing away Little O (despite the fact that Jhonny Peralta had just been named the International League MVP at age 22 and was ready for Cleveland) to San Francisco, while Thome came back to the mocking catcalls that his wife was “his rock” and he that he had somehow turned his back on the entire fanbase by accepting the Phillies’ offer of more guaranteed years than the Indians were willing to offer.

Why is this?
Is it really HOW these players leave town instead of what they do while in town?

You won’t be able to convince me that Omar was more popular than Thome while both were here as talk of a statue of Thome was actually part of the Tribe’s negotiations with him and I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning a spot next to Rapid Robert for Vizquel. Both players were THE icons of those teams of the mid-to-late 90’s, despite the fact that better players played on the same team as fans marveled at the skill of Belle and Ramirez, but never adopted the surly Albert or the mercurial Manny the way that Omarvelous and The Thomenator had a hold on our collective hearts.

I won’t even delve deeply into how deeply Omar’s hitting has fallen off since he left the Indians because I don’t care to disparage his overall body of work by examining his struggles at the plate as he winds down his career (as most players do) or get into the whole debate of Omar staying to play SS because the “Hindsight Is 20/20” axiom is too overwhelming for any rational discourse when you travel back in time to the winter of 2004 and the mitigating factors when the decision was made.

Don’t get me wrong, Omar deserves the praise and adulation that has been heaped upon him as he comes back to Cleveland, but be aware of the similarity of the way he left town to the way that Thome left town. Both players wanted to stay (depending upon what you believe), but ultimately left for NL destinations. Their returns, however, could not have been more different, mainly based on the perception about their exit from town and who was perceived as greasing their way out of town. In Omar’s case, the organization is seen as the bad guy, letting a local treasure escape because of what was expected to be a regression as he aged over the next few years with a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings to be a part of the rebuilding while Thome is seen as the villain in his case, seen as grabbing every last dollar from the Phillies on his way out of town, reneging on his promise for a “hometown discount” and his stated desire to stay in Cleveland.

Maybe the state of the Indians at the time of both players’ return shed some light on the situation as Thome arrived as a member of an AL Central rival with the Indians’ star on the rise, with Travis Hafner mashing his way through the AL, and with Thome’s balky back (which was the reason the Indians wouldn’t match the Phillies’ contract offer) relegating him to DH for the White Sox. Thome’s comments that he left for Philadelphia for a “chance to win” were thrown back in his face as the Indians looked poised for a prolonged run of success, with his replacement (the artist formerly known as Pronk) besting Thome’s output. Fans had the idea that the Indians were better off without Thome, given the success of Hafner and the team’s “bright” future.

Meanwhile, Omar returns with the Indians’ current season (one once so full of hope) teetering on the brink, with his replacement looking heavy-footed in the field and underperforming at the plate, and with fans looking for a reason to blame the current regime for the 2008 season – this time inexplicably bringing up the irrational notion that keeping Vizquel in Cleveland for the last 4 years would have improved the current team, despite Vizquel’s contributions at the plate (or lack thereof) since he left Cleveland.

Perhaps the way the two players handled the situation provides the explanation as Thome made comment after comment that he wanted to stay in Cleveland, giving fans hope that FINALLY the player to give that “hometown discount” had arrived and Jimmy would finish his career donning the Chief while Omar simply and quietly went off to San Francisco as the writing was on the wall that the Indians had planned for his departure with Peralta and some kid who called himself “The Franchise” ready to step into the middle infield upon his departure.

What if Thome had simply toed the Players’ Union party line and said that he would see how it all played out? What if Omar had been offered a contract to stay in Cleveland, with the idea that Peralta would move to 3B and Vizquel could stay at SS until he retired?

To further the question, why are players like Vizquel, Lofton, Nagy, and Sandy remembered in such reverential tones when recalling the 90’s? Is it because the perception that these players were forced to leave on the organization’s terms, which is in stark contrast to Thome, Manny, and Belle, who left of their own volition and signed larger contracts elsewhere?

Were those players that have been received warmly (to say the least) greater contributors than those that have had their names besmirched for the manner in which they left town? I’d like to see an argument that says that the former list of players was more instrumental in the success of the 90’s than the latter three names.

I suppose the lesson is for a player to leave in good standing with the fans, regardless of past contributions, as the last action before your foot steps out the door is the action for which you will be remembered.

Back to Omar and Thome, we’ll never know how the two may be thought of in Cleveland had things sorted out in a different manner. But “different” is an understatement as to how these two former teammates and former torchbearers for the Indians organization are received when they return to Cleveland to face off with their former team in front of Indians fans.

Fair or not, Omar has come out as squeaky clean as memories of his dazzling us playfully while playing a child’s game remain as the black that Thome wears when he visits the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as a member of the White Sox is more than symbolic as the role of the greedy player, ready to turn his back on a city for every last zero on a paycheck, has settled on his vast shoulders that once carried a city.


Julie Carter said...

I'm one of the few Indians fans who had no issue with Jimmy leaving. I didn't want to see it, as he was (and probably still is) my favorite player. But I don't demand loyalty of players in a game that will show zero loyalty to them.

npc29 said...

The big bucks will do that to a fan base. A majority of that is the general fan.. the one who tunes in, goes to a game or two, the one who doesn't understand the complete perspective of baseball..

That guy that says "Man C.C. Sabathia is garbage!" after his rocky start to the year.

Jim doesn't deserve the boos, and there is a double standard going on here. I don't even think Manny deserves the boos, how can you blame him? But, because the fans saw the big dollars he got and the fact the Tribe actually stuck with Boston in terms of counter offer, he is now an enemy.

I don't think it's fair either Paul. You are spot on. The average fan is quick to jump on the guy taking the bucks to go elsewhere, but if there is a guy like Omar who got "replaced", he is a hero. All of this makes me wonder how the Sabathia situation will end, and what fans will think of him if he takes the big contract.

Ron Vallo said...


You summarize the point well a few times in this piece, so let's just take the last graph as wrapping up your point.

You start that last graph with the phrase "fair or not". I'd say it's perfectly fair.

It's clear Omar would have stayed had the Tribe wanted him too. The Tribe made the right decision based on the situation they were in, but the point is the fans don't see themselves as being spurned by Omar. He saw the writing on the wall and left because he still wanted a job.

Thome spouted empty platitudes about the city, the team and his fondest wishes. Then he took the money and ran.

A lot of guys contributed to the 90's, maybe none more the Thome (though that's debatable).

But that's not the factor here.

The factor is fans being played for fools.

The only way they can express the fact that they don't particularly care for that sort of treatment is to provide Thome and Manny with some rough treatment of their own.

rodells said...

Nice points, Vallo.

And npc, I think CC gets praised when he returns to Cleveland in the future assuming he signs elsewhere (regardless of whether we trade him or not). That will be more of a double standard than Omar/Thome, which I don't even see as a double standard quite like Paul and some of you.

2nd worst record in the AL, last place in the division. Sox are taking care of business against division opponents. Twins have run off eight straight. KC is even 9-1 in their last 10. I just don't see the proper signs out of our team to even imagine us running off a winning streak or beating up on our division foes the rest of the year.

Chi. White Sox 42 35 .545
Minnesota 42 36 .538
Detroit 37 40 .481
Kansas City 36 43 .456
Cleveland 35 43 .449

Paul Cousineau said...

Ron and dells,
I guess that was my question - does the final act of the player, or the taste left in the fans' mouths, the overriding factor as to how the player is received, as opposed to the body of work that they contributed while in town?

I think that dells is right that the C.C. thing will illustrate the double standard at play here as he'll go elsewhere more than this as it's debatable whether Omar was ever offered a contract or not. When C.C. comes back, he will be feted and the ownership will be blamed for not ponying up the money while the feeling that Thome lied to us will prevail.

I guess the message is to simply say nothing more than "I hope I stay here...we'll see if we can make it work" (as C.C. has and Thome didn't) without making checks that your body can't cash as Thome did when he gave everyone the impression that he wanted to stay and didn't.

By the way, after attending last night's game when Barry Freaking Zito shut down this offense, I'm having trouble seeing the crack that the Indians slip through to get back in this race. They, like the rest of the Central, were presented with an opportunity to take advantage of their schedule and they haven't while everyone else in the division has.

t-bone said...

Sorry I'm late to the party here, I started writing a reply then work got in the way, and a few comments have been made since Ron's, but...

I'm in agreement with Ron, and almost don't understand why the question is being raised because in my head the answers are so painfully obvious.

Jim Thome is the single individual who forced me to NEVER to get attached to a player again... to root for the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back. I adored the guy, and was devastated when he left.

While I couldn’t bring myself to boo him on his first trip back to the Jake, I cant necessarily fault those who did. And I cant tell you how much it sucked to have the joy of my first and only experience in a dugout suite, and have to see this every few innings.

Urgh... before I continue to fume and approach anger levels similar to the Drese incident, I'll stop and link to this article (that has been linked here before) written by Tony Lastoria over at Swerb's Blurbs/The Cleveland Fan. It pretty much sums up my thoughts on the topic.

Also, I just heard this is the latest we’ve been in last place since 1993...

Hyde said...

To further the question, why are players like Vizquel, Lofton, Nagy, and Sandy remembered in such reverential tones when recalling the 90’s? Is it because the perception that these players were forced to leave on the organization’s terms, which is in stark contrast to Thome, Manny, and Belle, who left of their own volition and signed larger contracts elsewhere?

That's true of every fan base, though, not just ours. And it's true even if the player leaves not only for more money, but for a better situation (and no one can seriously doubt two rings later that Ramirez did just that).

Also, the same moral stain never applies to those players who choose to come to the Indians because they offered the most money, such as Jack McDowell, Chuck Finley, and even Paul Byrd.

I've never ripped Belle, Thome, and Ramirez for leaving, and I never will. People have the right to work where they want to work.

I disagree with you, though, that Omar was never more popular than Thome. Every Tribe game I went to from the late '90s on, 13 jerseys were always the ones I saw the most. And when you take the opinions of women into account, it's really no contest.

Paul Cousineau said...

So, if Thome had said nothing about wanting to end his career in Cleveland, he would be revered like Omar?

Then why is Manny booed?
Why was Belle booed?

They never said they wanted to retire as Indians and, like Thome, took the best offer they could get and got/get the same reception that Thome got.
The didn't "fool the fans".

Should C.C. just keep his mouth shut and not say that anything concrete about wanting to stay in Cleveland outside of cliches so he can get the hero's welcome?

I understand that this is an emotional topic, I'm just trying to understand how the comments that Thome gave leading up to FA play SUCH a big role in the way he is thought of in Cleveland. Was his departure the "loss of innocence" that t-bone references?

Actually, I DO understand it, I'm just trying to point out to people that Omar and Thome's contributions to Cleveland were not that much different, but the way they left town have caused their returns to be night and day.

Cy Slapnicka said...

i agree with t-bone. and while i don't hate thome, it did have a profound affect on how i view my favorite teams and athletes....just as all the juicing did and the browns moving did.

and paul, think about it this way. hypothetically, lets say a guy has wonderful wife who is an awesome cook, wonderful mother, rock star in the sack, hilarious, etc. 10 years into his marriage he walks in on his wife bangin' the neighbor. i'm guessing all of her wonderful features aren't what he remembers.

regarding some of the other players, i think a lot of it has to do with not only how they played and left, but also their longevity, how they embraced the community, and how they carried themselves (i'm not counting kenny here).

while thome exceeded expectations in a lot of soft skills areas, he also banged the neighbor. which is why it makes it difficult for me to love him, but it also makes it difficult for me to hate him. i think its best if jim and i don't see or speak to each other. that way i am less likely to remember his awesome homemade lasagna, his witty jokes, and his top shelf hummers....and the fact that i walked in and caught him giving the neighbor one in my bed.

for the record, i have no idea if jim thome can make lasagna.

rodells said...

"i think its best if jim and i don't see or speak to each other. "

Well put.

Another interesting branch on this very topic could lead us into a Hall of Fame discussion. What percentage of people that boo the heck out of Thome would be outraged if he went into the HOF (assuming he ever gets there) not as an Indian? I'm guessing a very large percentage of people. I think MLB declares what stripes a player has in the HOF, although I could be wrong on that, but it doesn't even matter...the boo-birds would be outraged.

t-bone said...

Cy, awesome analogy.

rodells, great point on the discussion.

PC, on Manny being booed:
Can't answer that, but I'm thinking it has something to do with the fact that it was Boston that he went to. He plays for the enemy, two years removed from a couple hard-fought ALDS series. And yes, also after the crap he pulled in the ALCS last year.

On Albert:
He's a horrible person.

Rockdawg said...

I think we are underestimating a player's "likability factor." True, we all loved Thome when he was here, but his overall "likability" is probably a 4 or 5 out of 10, whereas a player like Omar is a solid 9 or 10...I mean, how can you possibly dislike Omar?? It's kind of like Phil in golf. Everyone knows Tiger is better, everyone knows Phil will likely choke on Sunday, but people still root for him, because of the likability factor. Much the same with Alomar Jr., Nagy, and Kenny. They just seem like good guys, and I really can't explain why.

For the record, my favorite former player is and always will be Manny, and I will never boo any former Cleveland athlete, save that jerk Carlos Boozer and a few others.

Maybe a good topic here...What former Indians DESERVE to be booed and why?

Anonymous said...

As minor as it may be, I'd also add in the fact that Omar called out Mesa for losing the World Series. That gets him a few more votes in my book...

Cy Slapnicka said...

excuse me? you must have never watched kenny take a base on balls. don't get me wrong, i like kenny the player, but i also think his hat size was "equator".

also, do you really think these guys care? when you switch jobs, do you worry how your former co-workers (teammates) and colleagues (fans?) will react to your decision? no, you make your choice based on your requirements, wants and needs. and a huge one is how big your pile of money is. do you dislike former co-workers because they change jobs? what about for a better position or more money? what if they were the idealistic person that said they didn't care about money, but working with good people and saving the whales? what if they said that and went to work for a company that made weapons of mass destruction of whales?

lets be realistic here. i'd be tempted to change jobs for a bigger pile of money, even if the atmosphere and likelihood of "success" or enjoyment may be less. most people would. however, i'm not going to tell you i'm doing it for idealistic reasons nor am i going to tell you i'd like to stay. ahem, jimbo, i'm looking in your direction.

csusi said...

barry freaking zito.

why can i not let go of this.