Dear Philadelphia: Deal With It

As if February’s fisking wasn’t enough, I must once again take up arms for one Colbert Richard Hamels. Why, you ask? Why defend the indefensible seven runs in 10 and two-thirds innings, the sloppy curves, and the waist-high fastballs?

Because Philadelphia could run yet another athlete out of town. Not this year, but eventually, Philadelphia could pack Hamels’ bags and send him to greener pastures.

Pardon the drama, but I cannot get over the fact that Hamels was booed yesterday. Yesterday, of course, was the Phillies’ home opener at Citizens Bank Park, a joyous day for millions around the City of Brotherly Love. 44,791 fans flocked to the gates, eager to see their Phillies for the first time in 2010. The scent of hot dogs and the booming voices of vendors let us know baseball was finally back.

Despite the baseball holiday, tension quickly filled the stadium in the second inning when Josh Willingham led off the top of the second inning with a solo home run to left field. Willingham turned on an up-and-in Hamels fastball and it landed several rows beyond the left field fence. The score went from 0-0 to 1-0 and the crowd started to boo. I kid you not.

In the top of the second inning.

After a solo home run was hit.

With the powerhouse Phillies offense waiting to come to bat eight more times.

The crowd started to boo.

Would the crowd have booed J.A. Happ in that instance?

I love Philadelphia and its fans, I really do. It’s a shame how Philly is forever connected to the Santa-snowball incident from 50 years ago. I hate how Philly fans are known for hurling batteries when fans of other teams have committed much worse offenses (example: click here, go to #3 with an eye for the Saints). Sometimes though, in an event such as this, the reputation is warranted. I felt embarrassed to be a Phillies fan, to associate myself with the boorish people in the stands at Citizens Bank Park on Monday afternoon.

Cole Hamels probably set the bar too high for himself. He dominated in the Minor Leagues with a 1.43 ERA in four seasons. In his first full season in 2007, he was a crucial component of the team that broke the Phillies’ long playoff drought. The next year, he finished the regular season with an ERA a smidge above 3.00 and was immaculate in the post-season as the Phillies earned their first World Series championship since 1980. He won the MVP award in that series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

What else is there for him to accomplish? Philadelphia fans expected him to continue to get better and better. He, of course, would not.

Somehow, Philly fans conflated almost-unavoidable struggles with an inborn psychological weakness and an inability to improve. It was never more evident than this past off-season when GM Ruben Amaro traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. Phillies fans salivated at the thought of a 1-2 punch of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee going up against the New York Yankees in a World Series rematch, but it was not to be. That dream bubble evaporated and reality set in: it will be Halladay and Hamels in 2010.

Maybe Phillies fans resent Hamels because his reputation as a skillful pitcher gave Amaro the confidence to trade Lee. If Hamels was viewed by upper management as a worse pitcher — the pitcher the fans see — Lee would still be here. The Phillies can’t make a post-season run with Halladay and Adam Eaton Lite, they think.

But what most fans don’t get is that their constant criticism of Hamels is completely counter-productive. Sure, it makes for a nice blog entry — it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. “Cole Hamels Sucks… Again!” However, the Phillies absolutely need an effective Hamels during 2010. What do the fans hope to accomplish with the criticism? Will Hamels take it to heart and try even harder (as if he hasn’t been trying hard enough) to improve?

Imagine a group of strangers stops by your office tomorrow morning and observes you while you perform your duties. You pick up the phone to make an important phone call and you stammer on a couple words. You leave out an important detail. You didn’t clarify how your e-mail address was spelled, so now you can’t download that important document.

What if, after every mistake, you were booed and criticized by that group of strangers? Would that make you want to improve?

Doubtful. Like most people, you would want to curl up in the fetal position. You would consider quitting your job.

As fans, we often hold athletes to a higher standard than regular people, but the fact remains that athletes, aside from their outstanding physical prowess, are regular people. They have the same insecurities as the rest of us. Thus, there are exactly zero benefits to booing a struggling player.

If you boo Hamels, you are actively rooting for the Phillies to fail. Dislike him for whatever irrational reasons you may find, but to boo him is to hurt the very team whose logo adorns your shirts and hats and bumper stickers and posters.

Hamels will likely never be as good as he was in 2007 and ’08. That is a fact that Phillies fans are simply going to have to understand. He is not Tim Lincecum. But you know what? A 3.50 ERA pitcher is not bad — in fact, that’s pretty damn good and it’s something to be appreciated.

I would much rather see Hamels tossing up a 3.50 ERA in a Phillies uniform than in another team’s uniform. If the boorish behavior from Phillies fans continues, Hamels may trade in his red pinstripes for another team’s colors in 2011 or ’12. I fear, though, that that ship has sailed and Hamels is destined to test free agency after the 2011 season. Why should Hamels play for a team with a fan base that harbors such ill will towards him?

Phillies fans: you need Cole Hamels much, much more than Cole Hamels needs you.

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78 comments

  1. Phylan

    April 13, 2010 02:26 PM

    How does Cole’s 2007 and 2008 not qualify as “ace?” What is your definition of that anyway? While you’re at it, how the hell was Pat Burrell not a slugger, despite posting a SLG of .500 or greater and hitting 29 home runs or more in each year from 2005 to 2008, and why is it necessary to call Madson anything other than the best reliever on the Phillies?

  2. phatti

    April 13, 2010 02:32 PM

    DavidL:

    In Cole Hamels’ first full year (2007), he went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA (15th in the Majors). He had 177 strikeouts in 181 1/3 innings.

    In his second full year (2008), he went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA (10th in the Majors). He had 193 strikeouts in 227 1/3 innings.

    He was then 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the post season, winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP.

    Isn’t that an “Ace”? Isn’t two years an “extended period of time”? He had a mediocre year last year, and has had two mediocre starts this year. But 2007 and 2008 happened. The pennants will be up at Citizens Bank Park forever. Before we bury him completely, or try to rewrite history, let’s give him a little more of a chance to get back to the ace he was and can be.

  3. John K

    April 13, 2010 03:15 PM

    great post/ couldn’t agree more

  4. Mark

    April 13, 2010 03:25 PM

    Well written piece. Agreed.

  5. Murgatroid

    April 13, 2010 03:34 PM

    Reading all of these comments is seriously upsetting to me. I am enjoying the Phillies success tremendously, but I’m afraid Phillies fans have come to expect far too much if a 4.32 ERA is worthy of boos. At least give him a chance this year. Young pitchers have these kinds of problems all the time. Between 2006 and 2007, Cliff Lee had a 5.01 ERA, and he bounced back the next year with a 2.54 ERA. Cole is only 26, he still has a lot of career left.

    Also, if you think that Cole’s contract justifies the boos, he made $500,000 in 2008, a little over $4 million last year, and $6.5 million this year. $4 million is not supposed to give you ace-like numbers. So if you want to boo Cole, don’t say it’s because of his contract. it’s because of your unrealistic expectations of a 26 year old kid who, despite giving your city a World Series, is still an unexperienced pitcher.

  6. Murgatroid

    April 13, 2010 03:35 PM

    Oh, and on a lighter note, excellent article Bill.

  7. SoloDolo

    April 13, 2010 04:06 PM

    Philly wants Hamels to do well. We’ll route for him because we know what he’s capable of. What Philadelphia doesn’t want to see is a repeat of last year. I wouldn’t agree that the fans were booing at Hamels after that first HR, but it’s kind of discouraging to be down to the Nationals 4-0 four innings into the game. I want to be able to watch Cole Hamels pitch 7-8 inning games again with maybe only a couple of runs on the board for the other team. We seen it from him before, and the fact is Philly isn’t going to be too happy unless they see that same guy that was able to win them a 2008 WS Championship.

  8. Bill

    April 13, 2010 04:24 PM

    My concern with Hamels is mostly his command being shaky in the first start. The Nationals don’t have an awful lineup, they just have awful pitching, so don’t be shocked when they score a few runs.

  9. B

    April 13, 2010 07:04 PM

    I took the booing after the home run as booing at Willingham & then the follow up of not throwing the ball back. No different then after a usual home run, but who knows.

    But I do agree with the overall theme, unfortunately there are tons of fans who just listen to WIP and get their uninformed opinions from what is spewed by the know nothing hosts. It’s a shame but I think all cities have the same problems when it comes to this. Most talk show hosts only throw around knee jerk reactions to strum up reactions and to real in the extremist callers.

  10. derekcarstairs

    April 13, 2010 07:52 PM

    I like your positive post about Cole and agree with most of it. One statement I didn’t like and don’t agree with: “Hamels will likely never be as good as he was in 2007 and ‘08. That is a fact that Phillies fans are simply going to have to understand.” Cole is young. We will find out how good he really is over the next ten years. I, for one, think Cole could have several seasons as good as or better than his ’07 and ’08 seasons. Time will tell.

    One further point: Hamels is a different pitcher in day games. So, it should not have been a surprise that he wasn’t great in the home opener. Fortunately, 70% of Cole’s starts are at night.

    Cole’s career Day/Night splits:

    Stat Day Night

    ERA 4.70 3.28
    WHIP 1.390 1.096
    K/9 7.9 8.6
    K/BB 2.94 3.98
    BABIP .325 .271
    BA .278 .229
    OBP .329 .278
    OPS .777 .675
    W-L% .458 .650

  11. defendingphillyagain

    April 13, 2010 09:17 PM

    Who the hell is this guy Bill Baer? …And who are the idiots above who defend his lame argument that booing is counter-productive? I don’t think anybody should be happy about the prospect of Cole being mediocre for another entire season. Sure, one home run and a couple of so-so games does not a season, or a career make, but when Cole very nearly whined in the World Series a few months ago about needing a break we all hoped that the time off would give him a chance to regroup and find his stuff. Guess what? So far it isn’t panning out. I think Cole’s personality might benefit from a reminder that we want him to do better. Maybe it reminds him that perhaps the 2008 season was a little too easy… that if he is going to be looked at as a great pitcher 10 years from now, he’d better figure some stuff out. I don’t believe that a competetive athelete who really loves to win isn’t beating himself up a little bit too… just like the fans… when he isn’t producing. I love the response above that mentioned Mitch Williams. SPOT ON. Mitch was a train wreck waiting to happen in ’93. For months, in the backs of our minds, we could see the future… that the magic season that shouldn’t have been could only be derailed through the arm of Mitch. We hoped against hope that he would find a way to avoid it… but he didn’t. His resurrection as an honest, pull-no-punches analyst is a testament to him as a person. Mitch gives us what we crave… HONESTY. Cole… unfortunately, we see Cole as a potential train wreck too. Booing Cole at this point is being honest. Did you think that the dumb Philly fans were booing at ONE home run? ONE poor pitch. BILL, YOU’RE A MORON! I swear to God Bill, we boo because we actually care.

  12. defendingphillyagain

    April 13, 2010 09:26 PM

    I just read Philly Fan 20’s response… ALSO spot on!

  13. defendingphillyagain

    April 13, 2010 09:35 PM

    And for those who think that Cole’s personality won’t benefit from a reminder of our emotional investment in the team… tough. He’s the one who’s got to figure out how to control his emotions. That’s half the battle. …and from some of his recent interviews and his reaction on the bench between inning and while talking to Dubee, he seems to be handling things pretty well. Hopefully, he’ll keep progressing and learn how to be the man again.

  14. defendingphillyagain

    April 13, 2010 09:40 PM

    Dag… now I can’t stop… Booing Santa was the CORRECT response to a half-assed, drunken, poor excuse for a Santa Clause impersonator. I reiterate, WE BOO BECAUSE WE CARE

  15. kmart

    April 13, 2010 11:07 PM

    The only real issue I have with Cole Hamels were his post game comments in the WS loss this past year. He’s got to be a little more discerning when he speaks to the media. Whether he intended it to or not, it really came off like he was giving up on the team. That’s not the type of attitude I want from players on the Phils no matter how well or poorly they’re performing.

  16. ThinMountainAir

    April 13, 2010 11:26 PM

    /facepalm

    I don’t give a shit what the players say in post-game interviews. I don’t care if they have “fiery” personalities or if they get their uniforms dirty or if they scowl a lot and curse after striking out or giving up a home run.

    All I care about is winning. I WANT MY TEAM TO WIN. That’s it and that’s all. Cole Hamels is a very, very good pitcher. Without him, this team doesn’t win the World Series, or even the pennant. He has been a victim of his own success and of people who project their own fears, insecurities and feeling onto the players on the field. And if he goes somewhere else when his contract is up and turns in a career like Verlander or Beckett, I really hope that people calling him “soft” on WIP will admit they were wrong. Can’t say I have too much hope for that, though.

  17. Mike & Ike

    April 14, 2010 02:36 PM

    If Hamels doesnt want to get booed, there is one sure remedy, whether you pitch in Boston, NY, or Venus–pitcher better!! I dont see where the gray area is….

  18. WholeCamels

    April 14, 2010 04:17 PM

    I see that lots of sports fans actually buy it when the players say “We couldn’t have done it without you fans!” The sense of self-importance vis-a-vis their role as “fans” is really funny.

    Are you entitled to boo? Sure. Am I entitled to think you’re an asshole for doing it? You bet!

  19. defendingphillyagain

    April 14, 2010 09:33 PM

    All I know is… whenever I hear the Philadelphia fans boo… whether it’s the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers (yes, we actually booed the Flyers this year), or the Sixers (OK, there’s really no reason to boo the Sixers anymore. there’s really no point)
    it’s always a mirror of how I feel inside.

  20. mratfink

    April 15, 2010 10:19 AM

    I don’t have a problem with booing, but i hate the reason why so many philly fans boo. Look if a guy gives up 7 in 2 (cough kendrick cough) ill boo him on his way out. if the same guy pitches a great game ill give him a standing O. But i hate the fact that too often philly fans boo not performance but players they for some reason just don’t like. Burrell was the biggest sufferer of this, and he was busting his butt, that really pissed me off.
    However, to the point of your article, i was at the game, and i don’t remember booing hamels, however, i do remmeber the homerun ball wasn’t thrown back and for some reason i take a stupid amount of pride in the fact we throw all the home runs back, so while it wouldnt surprise me if hamels was booed i think it was the homerun ball that was the case.

  21. Mark

    April 15, 2010 11:03 AM

    Baseball is a form of entertainment open to praise and criticism… no one comes to my office to boo or cheer because no one wants to pay to watch me do my job. stop babying the players… philly, new york, and boston would all boo, and they’re all the best places to play (with the exception of the god awful mets). if you don’t like it, become a dodgers fan.

  22. Marker

    April 15, 2010 12:45 PM

    I was at the game, they were booing Willingham. Phillies fans are tame compared to fans of the rest of the sports in Philly, unless its the playoffs. This is a stupid article, the writer perceived the atmosphere in the wrong light. Hamels may be a head case but not Philly fans were booing him on opening day. Give me a break.

  23. Marker

    April 15, 2010 12:49 PM

    I was at the game, they were booing Willingham. Phillies fans are tame compared to fans of the rest of the sports in Philly, unless its the playoffs. This is a stupid article, the writer perceived the atmosphere in the wrong light. Hamels may be a head case but no Philly fans were booing him on opening day. Give me a break.

  24. pounded clown

    April 16, 2010 02:33 PM

    “If you boo Hamels, you are actively rooting for the Phillies to fail.”
    oh please , great a room. Also is this an admission that he maybe be a bit of a head case if he can’t handle negative criticism?

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