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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.