CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez lit a fire Saturday evening by calling out Indians fans for booing and not showing up to games.
He turned it into a forest fire by not apologizing or backing down from them on Sunday.
Former Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton criticized Perez for those comments in an interview with Andy Baskin and Ken Carman on 92.3 The Fan on Monday.
“He doesn’t get it,” Lofton said of Perez. “He hasn’t been in the league long enough to have an understanding of what you have to do as a player first.”
Lofton spent five seasons with the Indians before being traded to Atlanta prior to the 1997 season. He returned for the 1998-2001 seasons and was acquired again in a trade during the 2007 season.
When Lofton was in Cleveland, it was easy to root for him and the Indians. The team won six AL Central titles (1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007) and one American League Championship (1995).
“I never got booed because the fans, I think, appreciated what I did on and off of the field,” Lofton said. “I gave 110 percent on the field.”
It’s not been so easy since the glory day’s of the 90’s. They contended in 2005 and 2011 but faded down the stretch in both seasons.
Lofton took exception to Perez’s assertion that free agents won’t come to Cleveland because of attendance.
“If you pay a guy some money, he’s going to come to Cleveland,” Lofton said. “I don’t care where you go. If you go to Chicago, New York, if you put some money in front of a free agent he will be in Cleveland.”
Despite drawing nearly 82,000 for their weekend series against the Marlins, the Indians remain dead last in attendance.
The crowds at Progressive Field the past few years resemble those of old Cleveland Municipal Stadium which Lofton also remembers. He also remembers how hard the organization worked behind the scenes to win fans over leading up to the opening of Jacobs Field in 1994.
“As players we knew we had to do our job on the field and off of the field to get the fans to come,” Lofton said. “You can’t just all of the sudden you get in first place for a couple of days and all of the sudden you think that you’re big time. That’s not how it works.”
Lofton feels that many players today – including Perez – are out of touch about what it takes to win over fans – on and off of the field.
“They saw what was going on in the 90’s but they don’t exactly know how it went down,” Lofton said. “That’s the problem that Chris Perez is having. He saw it from the outside looking in.”
Lofton suggested that Perez talk to former Indians like Charlie Nagy, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel and current bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. to get an understanding of how the team went from averaging 15,112 fans in 1992, his rookie season, at the old stadium to 455 consecutive sellouts at Jacobs Field.
“Yankees fans, if you’re losing they get on you,” Lofton said. “If you’re winning they make sure you keep winning. You could win ten in a row but lose two straight and they get on you.”
Lofton mentioned about being in Philadelphia in the middle of a playoff race in 2005 and Phillies fans were chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles” in the stands and not cheering or even paying attention to the game.
Lofton’s message is simple – Cleveland isn’t as bad as Perez thinks it is.
“The grass is not going to be greener on the other side,” Lofton said. “It’s not. As much as you think it will be. Cleveland fans are loyal and other fans (in other cities) are not always loyal.”