Monday, November 24, 2014

On Rooting For Some Of The Bad Guys

There's a lot of talk swirling around the Tampa Bay Rays these days. They lost their GM to the Dodgers. They lost their manager, under weird circumstances, to the Cubs. They traded a former Rookie of the Year for prospects, they're making minor deals left and right, they DFA'ed their starting catcher whose pitch-framing genius never seemed to translate into getting above the Mendoza line at the plate, and they're the subject of persistent "maybe they'll move to Montreal" rumors.

(Note: they ain't moving to Montreal, at least not any time soon. Baseball requires a thing called "a stadium".)

But lost in all that is quieter question. Under the Friedman regime, the Rays looked for undervalued players wherever they could find them, and that frequently meant jerks. And by "jerks", I mean they took chances on guys who engaged in some truly unpleasant stuff. Delmon Young's bat-flipping was one thing, but Elijah Dukes's horrific behavior was entirely another. Matt Bush. Josh Lueke. The list goes on.

(Look, I get it - when you've barely got pennies to pinch by MLB standards, you go looking for cheap talent anywhere you can. And yes, people deserve second chances, and many have made good on them. But after a while, a pattern becomes a pattern and the numbers pile up, and you have to question whether a strategy is working.)

Having those guys on the team made it hard at time to root for the Durham Bulls, my local team, and by extension to root for their parent club. I mean, sure, Bulls ownership is a shining example of good corporate citizenship in Durham (and I mean that sincerely), and many of the Bulls players have come across as admirable folks whom it's a pleasure to root for. But to root for the team was to, by extension, to root for the jackholes to succeed as well, and that didn't sit right.

I grew up a Phillies fan, and if there is a franchise with a long-standing history of awfulness it's the Philberts. From the horrific racist abuse they heaped on Jackie Robinson to conspiracy wackjob Steve Carlton to the team's - and the city's - embrace of steroid-abusing felon Lenny Dykstra, there was always something off about Phillies fandom, a ghost of a taste that made you have to say to yourself, "Well, they're not like that now." At least, that was the hope.

Well, Bush is gone. Lueke's probably leaving. The others are history. The man who brought them in, he's gone, too, and the organization resisted promoting from within to fill the managerial vacancy. So it remains to be seen, will that change anything? Are there some inefficiencies not worth pursuing? One hopes the decision on that last one will be yes.

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