Yesterday afternoon Mark Shapiro took to Twitter for an hour or so to answer a few questions, interrogations, insults, and threats from Tribe fans on what has become a nightmare season. This appearance was after a sustained absence from the social media platform for which he felt compelled, oddly, to apologize.
For the most part, I thought he handled himself with humility and decency. This was not a surprise, as I tend to think of Mark Shapiro as a humble and decent sort of guy. He was asked some real questions (If you could go back in time, which trade would you reject? Sabathia, Lee, V-Mart, or Jimenez?) and some silly questions (What’s your favorite constellation?). Some people were openly combative (Why not take money away from so many fireworks, promos &loge remodeling & instead translate it into better players on field?), while others seemed genuinely sympathetic (It’s been a rough season, but you still have my full support. Whats happening with Sizemore during the off season?).
If you can’t tell from that little sampling, it was a mixed bag, and—as often seems to be the case on Twitter—the conversation occasionally seemed on the verge of being held hostage by the lowest common denominator. It’s for this reason that I tend not to understand honest attempts to engage difficult subjects on twitter.1 Sure, one can come across as earnest by engaging the masses on their terms (and boy does Shapiro strike me as earnest), but in the end you’re likely to end up being mocked for your inability to get it just right. How can you explain the exigencies that led to the failure of the CC Sabathia trade, to cite just one example, in 140 paragraphs, much less 140 characters? The medium necessarily obfuscates any point with the slightest degree of complexity, and before you know it, your words have been repurposed against you. Or as J. Alfred once lamented, “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”
In the end, I got the sense that Shapiro wanted to (once again) demonstrate a few things to the fanbase. First, that he deeply cares about the performance of the team. I suppose to some people (and I probably fall into this category) that point goes without saying. To me it is so obvious that he cares, that he’s desperate to demonstrate not only that winning is possible in our market, but that he’s the one who can do it, that I hardly need any reminder of how important this is to him.
But beyond his commitment to—for lack of a better phrase—doing a good job, these gestures of outreach seem to symbolize a rite of purification with which I’m a bit uncomfortable. Granted, I’ve written before that Shapiro needed to find a way to communicate more openly and forthrightly with his fanbase. But these twittervations make it appear almost like Shapiro feels the need to go through this public ritual of humiliation for the team—as if taking the barbs and insults from the angry fanbase will bestow his front office with a sense of gravitas or repentance or experience or wisdom. That it’s only after you get openly mocked by internet tough guys can you truly get down to the business of building a baseball team on a budget. That this little exercise could reset the clock, and we could all move on from this aborted and humiliating season.
And I think it needs to be said that this is utter nonsense. While I find Shapiro’s tolerance for abuse saintly, that doesn’t mean that I find it particularly useful.
The problem here, and what amounts to the point of all these ramblings, is that there isn’t much left for Shapiro to do at this point, and I wonder if that’s not why he found himself taking an hour out of his schedule to openly suffer fools. It’s evident that he cares. It’s evident that he has a plan. It’s evident that he will not stop trying to make this team better.2
But it’s also evident that the stinking failure of the 2012 Indians is the result of Shapiro’s custody and planning and effort, and his willingness to open himself up to the interrogations and abuse of the general public doesn’t do anything to alleviate that responsibility.
None of this is to say that I think Mark Shapiro should be fired, or that he should stay off twitter, or that he owes me or anybody else a detailed autopsy of the dumpster fire this season has become.3
I am merely acknowledging the possibility that he may have nothing left to give us but pounds of his e-flesh.
This possibility does not inspire me with great hope for the future.