Reporting Tony Mazur
Being an athlete in today’s society is more than just how far you can hurl a ball or how much weight you can lift on the bench press. It’s also about public relations, which has been a nightmare for the Cleveland Indians this season.
In a recent New York Times article, Tribe closer Chris Perez spoke out against fans who put their blinders on when it comes to the Browns, saying fans will support them no matter how bad they are.
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Perez said. “Their whole thing is, ‘We want a winner.’ Well, why do you support the Browns? They don’t win. They’ve never won. They left. You guys blindly support them. I don’t understand it. It’s a double standard, and I don’t know why.
“It’s head-scratching. It’s just — they don’t come out. But around the city, there’s great support. They watch it in the bars. They watch it at home. They just don’t come.”
Related: Chris Perez Is 100 Percent Right
It’s difficult to disagree with Perez’s statements, though they are quite possibly out of line. Since 1999, the Browns have posted a paltry record of 68-140, and have had more starting quarterbacks in that time than there were Police Academy movies (there were, like, almost 20 of them, right?)
The sentiment that Cleveland is a ‘Browns Town,’ whether we like it or not, is the truth. The Browns have a long and storied history in Cleveland, with championship-caliber teams in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’80s, and playoff teams in the ’70s and ’90s.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Indians play 81 home games a year, while the Browns play just eight. It’s comparing apples to oranges and is counterproductive. No matter how much fans will wail and moan about the Browns on Sundays and Monday mornings, the support for the team will never wane in our lifetimes.
And that’s not just unique to Cleveland. Aside from baseball towns such as St. Louis and Cincinnati, and a hockey town like Detroit, the NFL dominates the ratings in most markets.
Perez also had a comment on the vitriol directed toward newly-crowned NBA champion LeBron James.
“I don’t get the psyche,” said Perez. “Why cheer against a guy that’s not even in your city anymore? Just to see him fail? Does that make you feel good? I could see if the Cavs were in the championship, but that’s their mentality.”
What Perez fails to realize here is how painful it is for fans to see yet another former Cleveland player win a championship elsewhere, and it’s how he did it that irked Northeast Ohio. And nothing riles up people more in these parts than a prominent athlete or talking head to tell Clevelanders to “get over it.”
Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Perez has spoke out against the fans. During the Miami series back in May, Perez mentioned how he’s tired of seeing only 5,000 people in the stands for a game.
The issue I have, though, is his willingness to speak out against the fans. Remember, Chris, the fans are your customers, and with the way the Indians have been playing recently, it’s best you cling to what you have. Progressive Field is still dead last in league attendance, with an average of 18,408 fans showing up, over 1,500 less than the cavernous Tropicana Field.
It’s not the fans’ duty to sell tickets. The front office should be putting the best product on the field, and with the black hole that is left field and that their big free agent signings were Casey Kotchman, Grady Sizemore, and Johnny Damon, they’re not doing their jobs. Why not call out your bosses for not providing your fellow pitching staff with decent hitters? Oh, but it’s easier and more fun to call out the fans, am I right?
It’s not the fans’ fault that two Cy Young Award winners were traded away in consecutive years. It’s not the fans’ fault the Indians have made a lone postseason appearance during Mark Shapiro’s regime, then went into rebuilding mode the next year. It’s not the fans’ fault a first round draft pick hasn’t panned out for the team since 1998 (C.C. Sabathia). It’s not the fans’ fault the right-handed stick they’ve been clamoring for is nowhere to be found.
What his remarks have done, both times, have divided an already dwindling, yet reactionary fanbase. Cleveland wants to get behind a winner, and when you continue to figuratively spit in their faces and condescend them, don’t be surprised by the lack of support.
And why does he continue to speak out, and to the New York media, no less? Is he trying to fire up the ballclub again? Does he want to change the negative mindset most Cleveland fans have? Is he just stirring the pot? Or is he talking his way out of town?
Or are the Indians using Perez as a scapegoat and mouthpiece for their own frustration with the populace?
Whatever the reason, it’s best that Perez either tone down his commentary, or put a sock in it permanently. If he gets the itch to become a motivational speaker, he should direct his words to his peers, which have posted just 3 runs in the last three games, while surrendering 22 during that timeframe.
Once his career is over, Perez sounds like he could be a solid sports talk show host. Until then, he should probably stick to his closer role, as he clearly doesn’t understand the fanbase.