July 28, 2014

Chris Perez’s Comments: The Good, The Bad, And…The Bad

By now, most Cleveland sports fans have heard or read Chris Perez’s controversial postgame comments. Early Saturday evening after a 2-0 Indians shutout of the Marlins, Perez was asked if it bothers him when he’s booed, and the Tribe closer unleashed. Indians’ fans are well aware that Perez does not have much of a filter. Whether on Twitter or in the clubhouse, he responds directly, if not always accurately. For a combination of reasons, he’s become the voice of the Indians over the past two seasons.

And that’s why ownership and President Mark Shapiro cannot be happy with their closer. He’s come to represent the team more than any other player right now, and he’s spouting off about how poor attendance has driven free agents away from signing with the Tribe.

It’s a slow time of year in the sports calendar, particularly in Cleveland, and his comments instantaneously became the biggest story, igniting backlash and discussion. Not quite what everyone in the organization expected to be talking about after a 2-0 home win in front of 30,000, and with the Tribe in first place in the Central by 3.5 games.

It wasn’t all negative backlash, however, as there was plenty of back-and-forth on Twitter and among the various press members. There seem to be three facts in all of this: 1) Chris Perez is outspoken, 2) Chris Perez has been booed at home, and 3) the Indians are last in the league in attendance. Everything in between is opinion and argument assigning weight to the accuracy of the comments or the intelligence of those making the comments. The remarks can lead to a wormhole of debate, with extrapolations that have some ending points which contemplate whether this city can support three professional franchises.

There appeared to be three points of view:

1) Chris Perez is right and refreshing

2) Chris Perez is wrong and dumb

3) Chris Perez is right but ill-advised

While occasionally amused, I was never a real big fan of the “Pure Rage” persona, so I’m probably predisposed to think Perez’s outburst was unwise and unnecessary. I think we’re excusing it by saying he’s just obliging our constant request to have “athletes avoid the cliches and tell it like it is.” The Beltran comments shouldn’t be tolerated by his employer, and were wrong. One can be right about something and yet completely deliver it in the wrong way at the wrong time.

The Accurate

A) He should be tired of the booing, unjustified booing. I’m not a SABR wizard, but numbers-based analyses of Perez are generally not kind. With that as the background, Perez has still gotten the job done since his Opening Day disaster, converting 13 of 13 saves with a sub-1.75 ERA. He can be shaky, and I suppose that scar tissue is the impetus for the quick trigger for the fans. But there’s still no excuse for booing him – some would say ever, but certainly not this week or this season. Now? Some can argue for an excuse, and there will certainly be less margin for error for him on the field.

B) The attendance is not good. Why? Ugh, for a complex set of reasons that have made a proud fanbase extremely sensitive about the topic. Wright Thompson’s wonderful piece about Cleveland in the aftermath of The Decision said that “rooting is [Cleveland's] civic disease.” He quoted Harvey Pekar who was wary of the boosterism of the late 90′s, and thought the town identified too closely with its professional sports teams. But Thompson also wrote:

…and you will realize that there are two Clevelands: the one that exists today and the ghost city floating just above it, in the memory of the people who’ve been here for a long time, and in the imagination of those who just arrived. Everything is defined by these two competing narratives.

We don’t need to re-hash the attendance discussion each and every week, but the paradigm has shifted. It’s been particularly bad this season, but it looks to be getting better. A first-place team should expect more, despite Perez’s brusque way of conveying it.

The Bad

A) To what end? Where do we go from here? If someone is asked if they like getting booed by their home fans, there’s really only one answer. It’s up to the player where he wants to take it. Josh Beckett, that doltish clod in Boston, brushed it off with his “Smart fans” comment last week after getting hammered by the Tribe. There were obviously a lot of other contentious aspects of Beckett’s circumstance.

The booing seemed to be weighing on Perez, as he capped one of his initial responses with “You can quote me on that.” Uh oh. When a player adds that to punctuate their remarks, someone, somewhere should gird themselves.

So it was weighing on him, and there was at least some level of premeditation here. He may have needed the trigger of someone asking him about it, but he was ready. What was he hoping to accomplish? What now? The fans’ scrutiny is only going to intensify.

B) If not misjudged, the comments are certainly mistimed. Perez said he just responded when he was asked, so maybe he didn’t get the opportunity to shoot on Thursday after the Mariners game. The Indians continued their impressive month of May on Saturday with a 2-0 shutout win. There was a good crowd. Paul Cousineau wrote last Sunday:

The attendance conversation is a conversation that takes place every year as it represents a lazy talking point for a local media that has grown increasingly lazy and uninterested in the team as a whole or in what transpires on the field, instead racing for page clicks by feeding the beast of pessimism and negativity that has pervaded this town.

The closer’s comments completely distract from any positive juice and merit-based discussion of the Tribe’s performance on the field. This will be a story, talking point, and will be attached to Perez for the rest of his career in Cleveland. It created a wave of unnecessary agita at a time when the team is succeeding. As a millionaire athlete, ripping the home fans is close to a no-win proposition, and it made even less sense given the timing.

C) Perez’s remark that free agents won’t sign here is the most egregious. I’m skeptical that he can speak accurately to Carlos Beltran’s free agency decision. Complain about the booing and the poor attendance, but when he started to theorize on specific effects, he was swimming in the deep end. This, above all else, had to send the powers that be in the front office through the roof. Why are you publicly denigrating your franchise’s ability to sign free agents?

The Good

No good in this. Burn on, big river, burn on.

——-

And that’s why he can be right and still be wrong for saying it. There’s no good that can come from it.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I’m very glady to see that passage from Thompson used here. Couldn’t be more accurate. That said, the What If campaign that pepetually attempts to link this team with that of the mid-90s is ultimately doing the team no favors.

  • Julie

    This is great and I agree 100%.  Everyone keeps talking about the booing and attendance specifically, but it is the free agency remark that got me.  He could have said what he wanted to say without that remark.  Completely disrespectful.

  • Al

    Couldn’t agree more with Scott on the marketing missteps by the Indians organization. Instead of focusing on the past, help fans identify with the current young core guys like Kipnis, Santana, and Masterson. I think a lack of star power on this team hurts attendance, but if they develop an affinity for some of these young players that will not be as big a deal.

  • MrCleaveland

    What Perez could have said:

    1. Well, nobody likes to get booed, but that’s the way it is.

    2. It was great to see the big crowds yesterday and today. I gotta tell ya, it can get a little depressing playing in front of 5,000 people. So it was just great to see the fans turning out. Good job, fans.

     

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You live by Pure Rage you die by Pure Rage on and off the field!  I think you are seeing why St. Louis didn’t keep him even with the arm he possesses.  In the end it won’t be glossed over by the phrase “That’s Chris being Chris” but instead by the shutdown ninth innings that hopefully continue.

    Perez will never win by engaging the fans it’s unfortunate he couldn’t keep his cool off the field too but he’ll learn, eventually.  As for the fans I’m sure alot of the ones who are upset are the same ones who defended Perez when Alex Rios didn’t like Perez’s antics after the Indians beat the White Sox.

  • BIKI024

    personally I think it’s irrelevant what he says, particularly since he’s performing as one of the best closers in the league.  if anything, he put more pressure on himself to perform, so we’ll see if he can keep it up. 

    bottom line, he’s 49 of 54 in save situations this year and last, that is pretty remarkable.  most of the fans don’t seem to value what he has done for us.  i can appreciate his frustrations on the booing, and the attendance figures must be even more frustrating for the players as well.  yes they get paid to win regardless of who’s in the stands, but i see no harm in reminding the fans that the players do need and appreciate their support

  • jim

    I have no problem with him calling out the “fans.”  Attendance has been, and continues to be, pathetic.  He’s right, Oakland outdrawing the Indians by over 4,000 a game is embarrassing.  

  • Scut_Farkus

    I just re-read that Thompson article.  It reminded me that Pekar’s anthology on Cleveland came out earlier this month, so I ordered it.  I’d love to see it reviewed here like you did with Raab’s book.  I know Whore of Akron directly addressed Cleveland sports unlike this anthology, but I think Pekar is relevant.  Personally, I’d rather it be Pekar’s Cleveland than Raab’s Cleveland.

  • saggy

    by the way – this guy stunk last year.  just unreliable.  if he hates it so much in cleveland, he’d be DEAD here in New York.  No way this guy could handle that kind of pressure. He should be careful what he asks for.  Even Mets fans would eat him up – and they NEED a closer.

  • TD

    A+ on this Brendan…. Awesome work

  • mgbode

    summed up all the main elements in a tidy little package.  I have nothing to add :)

  • ClevelandFan14

     36 saves in 40 chances with a 3.32 ERA stinks? Mariano Rivera’s career save percentage is 89.2%. You can hate Chris all you want, but acting like he isn’t our best relief pitcher is just plain ignorant and dumb. Why should we trade our best reliever and one of the best closers in the league?

  • kjn

    Chris Perez, you have just become one of my favorite players, sabermetrics be damned.

  • Hermie13

    He is not our best relief pitcher. Solid closer though in the Bob Wickman mold

  • Steve

     But fans refuse to let go of the past. No matter what, the general fan will compare this team to those from the mid-90s. I like what the Indians have done, showing how guys like Santana, Cabrera, Choo, Masterson, Perez can evoke the same emotions that the guys from the mid 90s team did.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The problem is not one of the guys you mentioned is a superstar certainly not in the category of an Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome.  They are all solid to very good players.  The Indians don’t really have a “face” of the team.  They are just that, a team.

  • maxfnmloans

    Am I the only who thinks that one reason (out of many) for the reduced attendance may be because smokers are unwelcome? I know lots of smokers who just don’t go places they aren’t wanted.  I’m not asking if people think it is right or wrong, I’m just wondering if anyone else thinks that may have an effect?

  • Steve

    If you need a Hall of Famer before you start recognizing players, that’s a problem with your fandom, and not with the team.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    HOF?  How about starting with all-stars.  And I know plenty of players I don’t just watch or pay attention to the Indians I watch the entire league.  God bless fantasy sports!

  • akzipper

    At first I agreed with what Perez said. But Thinking about it, I have changed my mind. You’re mad Perez? Well win some damn games and stop complaining. Right now the Tribe looks miserable against the Tigers. A MUST WIN GAME, and we have 1 run. Wow that’s a team that gets me excited. What happened last weekend? Oh that’s right you lost a series to the Marlins. So yeah, forgive me for not driving 3 hours to Cleveland every night to watch a team score 1 run.

  • Steve

    So, what about Santana, Cabrera, Choo, Masterson, Perez that should make them nearly invisible to the average fan?

  • Steve

    Where can smokers go and spend their entertainment dollars without being asked to move outside?

  • http://zamphatta.com/ Forrest

    Well, the Indians at home are 12-12, sluggin .344, scoring about 3.8 RPG and allowing 4.2 RPG. Whoop-dee-doo. That might have something to do with the attendance not reflecting the team being in 1st place. After all, if that was my hometown team, I’d feel kinda apathetic about spending my cash to see that.