Baseball Teams’ Blind Spots and Burned Bridges

By Bill

On Twitter on Wednesday, a tweet (this one) from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien indicated that the Braves “could be close to making a deal for a [right-handed] bat,” which started a ton of speculation about who it could be. And one thing quickly became very, very clear, if you didn’t realize it already:

Braves fans (and bloggersreally, really hate Jeff Francoeur. Really.

On paper or in a video game, if you’re the Braves and are looking for a right-handed outfielder (which the “bat” in question is assumed to be), you could do worse than Jeff Francoeur. He’s not a good baseball player, but he can certainly be a useful one, with a .300/.344/.495 career line against lefties, .315/.357/.640 in 2011, and at least decent defense. It’s not an exciting add, but considering the only righty outfielder on the team’s roster right now is transplanted second baseman Martin Prado, who hits pretty well for a second baseman and has a .383 2011 slugging percentage against lefties, he’d be an improvement.

In the real world, though, the Braves would be risking an overwhelming fan backlash. Francoeur was the homegrown golden boy who went bad and left town and who really, really can’t go home again.

And it occurred to me that for every team, there has to be one guy the fanbase just can’t possibly be rational about — whether it’s irrational love, or irrational hate, or (in more cases than you’d think) healthy measures of both. No matter how much sense Francoeur might make for the Braves, it would never not cause a riot, and that’s not just a Braves thing. I raised this on Twitter, and I got more responses than I’d ever gotten for anything, everyone chiming in with their pick for their own team. So, with a lot of subjectivity and heavily informed by my Twitter friends, here’s your list:

NL Central
Cubs: Milton Bradley.
Alfonzo Soriano, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are each irrationally loved and/or hated enough to lead the way on most teams, but the Bradley experience in the North Side is a whole ‘nother thing. The whole comment thread here gives you a taste.

Reds: Adam Dunn.
.380 on-base and 270 home runs in his 4562 plate appearances as a Red, and all most fans could talk about was how he couldn’t hit for average and took too many called third strikes. I couldn’t find a great example of first-degree Dunn hate, but said hate is analyzed in the comments here.

Astros: Lance Berkman.
Though he was traded (entirely reasonably) by the Astros and then rebuffed by the team in his attempt to return, Berkman seems to have become kind of a pariah in Houston and was harshly criticized for his conditioning habits by team announcer Milo Hamilton.

Brewers: Craig Counsell.
Local boy. Scrappy, gutty, funny batting stance, apparently an all-around nice guy, nearly 41 years old. Batting .162/.258/.200. Nothing about how Brewers fans feel about Counsell, and nothing that keeps him in a Brewers uniform, has anything to do with what happens between the foul lines.

Pirates: Neil Walker.
I’m trusting my Twitter friend Pat Lackey for this one:He’s local and has a lot of RBIs, therefore: LOVE.” Walker’s a nice little player, but yeah, really not the kind of guy you fall in love with, analytically.

Cardinals: Colby Rasmus.
He’s just 24 and still a potential superstar, but all most fans seem to see is a guy who makes bad decisions, is lazy and is timid in the field. For fun, check out this story and count the number of times the writer personally and overtly attacks Rasmus.

NL East
Braves: Francoeur, obviously.
One good way to be irrationally hated by a team’s fans is to be irrationally beloved, and then (predictably) utterly fail to live up to their expectations.

Marlins: Hanley Ramirez.
Players who are ridiculously talented in every way but who aren’t terribly vocal and/or don’t speak English well and have dark skin are almost always going to be irrationally hated by large portions of their fanbase, and I think the jogging incident last season pretty well cemented Hanley’s place here (Jeff Conine was a solid suggestion, but I’m trying to keep it a bit more recent).

Mets: Carlos Beltran.
Another great suggestion was Oliver Perez, but Mets fans’ hatred of Perez is actually pretty darned rational. And: “Beltran is a lazy player. He’s upped his game this year and refrained from dogging it with phony injuries, obviously because it’s a contract year. Any team that signs him is going to get the perpetually injured Beltran again.” 

Phillies: Ryan Howard.
This one isn’t universal, as I think a lot of the stat-savvy fans appreciate Howard more or less fairly for what he is. But he’s so wildly overrated by most Phillies fans that he’s an easy choice here. Commenters here suggest he’s better than Pujols (because RBIs, duh).

Nationals: Ivan Rodriguez.
Pudge is about four seasons past his expiration date, and his line in two seasons with the Nationals is .254/.289/.342 (72 OPS+), one of the worst in the league. Fans seem to love him anyway, on account of the all-time greatness thing and all that. In return, he’s given them almost zero value.

NL West
Diamondbacks: Micah Owings.
Tough one. Fans are crazy about Owings based on the memory of his 4.30 ERA, 1.033 OPS rookie season, and that may well have played a part in the D-Backs bringing him back again in 2011. He’s done well in 16 games in a swing role, but he’s not particularly good.

Rockies: Carlos Gonzalez.
I don’t know how it’s changed now that he’s (somewhat predictably) come back to earth, but by the end of last season Rockies fans were pretty well convinced that Cargo was Ruth plus Williams in Mays’ body. The best example was this post by a Rockies fan at Bugs & Cranks, which demanded an apology of Rob Neyer for providing his readers with “misinformation” — by which he actually meant facts — rather than platitudes that agreed with that writer’s own clearly biased opinions.

Dodgers: Nomar Garciaparra
I wish Paul DePodesta qualified, but alas, I’m sticking to players. I could also list Milton Bradley again, but I won’t. This article breaks down the kind of dual irrationality with Nomar; as a Dodger fan, you either loved him or hated him, and his play probably didn’t really deserve either.

Padres: Trevor Hoffman.
I’m sorry, I have to punt this one. I just can’t find a reasonable fit; maybe Padres fans (such as exist) are the exception to the “everybody’s irrational about somebody” rule.

Giants: Buster Posey.
I talk quite a bit about Posey’s magical hold on Giants fans here. The very good 100 games happened to come at the same time as the Giants made a run that ended with a World Championship. He could probably openly run an exact copy of Michael Vick’s dog fighting setup in San Francisco and be totally fine.

AL Central
White Sox: Ozzie Guillen.
Not a player anymore, but I think his time as a player plays into the rampant craziness regarding him. And I don’t want to comment any further on this, because people (including TCM) would probably be angry with me.

Indians: Grady Sizemore.
There are a few themes you’ll probably be able to identify here by now, and one of them is “injured = irrationally hated.” Most fans seem to blame Sizemore for his inability to stay on the field (see here), but I think most of the others tend to irrationally hang onto the hope that he will be again what he once was.

Tigers: Miguel Cabrera.
This might be me overreacting to a few crazy people (like the guy on ESPN comment boards named ERAofMiguelCabrERA who finds a way to comment on nearly every article with something about Miggy), but I feel like Tigers fans tend to overrate Cabrera just a bit. The love isn’t irrational — there’s a lot to love there — but the willful ignorance of the many things he can’t do on account of that awesome bat is.

Royals: Kyle Davies.
Here, SweetSpot’s own Craig Brown actually says this, in all seriousness: “It is quite possible that every time Kyle Davies takes the mound we are witnessing the worst starting pitcher in the history of the game.”

Twins: A.J. Pierzynski
You could make a case for Joe Mauer along the same lines as Sizemore, but they’re most irrational about A.J., a player who not only left involuntarily, but the trade of whom brought back Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano; nevertheless, Twins fans have booed him relentlessly from the moment he set foot back in the Dome in another uniform. [Edit: I screwed up completely by not making this Nick Punto. A just-pretty-useful player who was both adored and hated with no one in between, he’s pretty much the poster boy for this list.]

AL East
Orioles: Mike Mussina.
Here’s the thing: if a player on your team gets offered the equivalent of what a 6-year, $88 million contract was in 2001 by another team, your resulting hatred of that player for taking that offer is wildly irrational. But yeah, Orioles fans were heartbroken when Moose left for a division rival, and never forgave him.

Red Sox: J.D. Drew.
So many good choices, but Sox fans have a whole forum for talking about how much Drew sucks. Smarter fans realize he’s actually been great when he’s been healthy enough to play, but I think you’ve got a case of overcompensation, where those fans might overrate Drew by undervaluing all the time he’s missed.

Yankees: Carl Pavano.
Again, lots of possibilities (Javier Vazquez?), but Pavano takes it easily, and this photo by Amanda Rykoff captures it pretty perfectly. Brian Cashman considered bringing Pavano back in the offseason, an idea so infuriating that it caused a Times writer to type the phrase “most unlikeliest.”

Rays: B.J. Upton.
This one, by comparison, is easy. Upton has been a brilliant player, but that he’s not the offensive stud people were expecting and, again, a perception of laziness has ruined Rays fans’ ability to really see him as a baseball player. Here’s a bit of one side, and here‘s t’other (the post, but more the comments).

Blue Jays: Roy Halladay.
Probably the only player on this list who (a) is no longer on the team in question and (b) is loved rather than hated. You can understand why, since he was the only thing Jays fans could really get excited about for most of a decade. And Canadians are just too nice to do that “we hate you even though you left involuntarily” thing other fans do.

AL West
Angels: Garret Anderson.
One of those with competing, contradictory irrationalities. I’ll let the excellent Sam Miller explain this one: 65 percent think he’s got a legit HOF case. 35 percent think he was lazy and sort of hate him. No overlap.”

Athletics: Jack Cust.
A’s fans hated that guy. As our friend (and haiku contest contributor) Jason says, A’s fans have “more hate for a .380 OBP guy than you could imagine.” A fair amount of power, too. In this as in so many other things, he was kind of a poor man’s Dunn.

Mariners: Adrian Beltre.
Tough choice, and I think I had a better one in mind earlier (if it comes back to me, I’ll edit). Here’s a very brief statement encapsulating the most common thought on Beltre as a Mariner, among both M’s fans and the general baseball public. For a guy who was one of the team’s best players and earned every cent of his large five-year contract, there was kind of a lot of vitriol toward Beltre in laid-back Seattle.

Rangers: Michael Young.
This (scroll down to the bottom) is by Murray Chass, not a Rangers fan, but it gets the same idea across in Chass’ characteristically choppy, ornery, bloggy way. Young is loyal and gracious and selfless and a team leader and gritty and all that. He’s incapable of playing any defensive position competently, has a career OPS+ of just 106 and about the same career Baseball-Reference WAR as Ryan Klesko, but don’t even try to talk to most Ranger fans about that.


About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.