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.
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.
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?
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.