I have often wondered what I would write about if I were to write a blog. A few friends of mine write blogs. They are very good at it, all of them much better writers then I. Words seem to come more natural to them but I often have opinions that I feel an urge to share. Sometimes though, they are the kind of opinions that your mother teaches you at a young age to keep to yourself. For topics, I thought of politics, education, parenting, and work issues. For today though, I thought of something I probably know more about than anything else - sports. Sports with some social commentary mixed in. I am not sure how often I will blog or what all of the topics will be about but I can probably bet that sports will come up more than once.
Today's sports topic is specifically about one of my favorites - Philadelphia Sports. I am pretty much as die-hard of a Philadelphia sports fan as there is. However, there is an undertone of the fan base that when I sit back and think about it, really bothers me. I am sure some of you are picturing fans throwing snowballs at Santa Clause, right? I am not. (if you want to read the real story about this fairy tale, click here http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/santa/philadelphia.asp) I am also not thinking about the general hard nose nature of the craziest fan base in America. These are aspects about Philly fans that make me proud. However, it is the undercurrent of racism and the even sometimes right out in the open blatant version that makes me cringe. I am sure this topic, in general, makes many people uncomfortable. By reading posts and comments on blogs and facebook, many people are tired of talking about racism. It seems that in many circles, it just doesn't exist. Or is it that it exists stronger in these circles and they just want to pretend it doesn't?
In the Philly sports scene, there are many examples. One of my father's favorite players was Dick Allen. He was a dynamic third baseman for the Phillies before Mike Schmidt, who later became my favorite player. There are many documented cases of the struggles he had with racism back in his day. I am proud to say that we have come a long way since then. I don't think we have come as far as we would like to think though.
I have been a season ticket holder for the Eagles for 17 years. Without goring you with details, I have witnessed many examples of outright nastiness from fans shouting at other fans but even more so at the players that we are there to cheer. One of the main victims is none other than Donovan McNabb. Five, as he is so eloquently called when he was scrambling for touchdowns, was very often the target of fans who just didn't think he was ever good enough. Sure he didn't win the elusive super bowl that the championship starved natives craved but was he not probably the best quarterback to ever play for the birds? If not first, he has to be in the top two or three, right? Time and time again, he was booed, heckled and cursed at. Too often the words "We will never win with a black quarterback" were heard around the stadium. When Jeff Garcia took over for a hurt McNabb in 2006, and won a single playoff game, you'd have thought Johnny Unitas came out of retirement the way the fans wanted him to take over the starting job from McNabb in 2007. I often wondered why the fans took such a liking to Garcia (and later A.J. Feeley) when they didn't perform any better than McNabb but in the back of my mind I think I always knew that race played a part in it.
The Phillies have enjoyed a lot of success in the last four to five years. A lot of the reason is because of the core group of young players that were brought up through their farm system and matured into star players. Two, in particular, are Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Utley is a hard nose, grind it out hustler that reminds you of Pete Rose. The fans adore him. Howard is a big man, is more relaxed and happens to strike out a lot. Howard has won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2005 and the MVP in 2006. Maybe because of his tendency to strike out, Howard is often the victim of the fans ire. He is often booed when he strikes out or doesn't bring a runner home, something he has done more than any other player since 2006. He is criticized on talk radio and in blogs by fans for his play and as recently as this preseason, many fans wanted him traded. Utley, on the other hand, seems to enjoy carte blanche with the home crowd. Just last night, in his first three at bats, he failed to bring runners home who were in scoring position, twice striking out. Not a peep from the crowd. Howard, who followed him in the first inning after Utley failed to bring home the runner from third with one out struck out and took a pretty good beating. Sure, this is just one example but I think after reading this, if you pay close attention to this dynamic and keep score, you will be surprised at the results.
Domonic Brown is my final example. He is a prospect for the Phillies that is in his first full season in the big leagues. In the pre-season, he was ranked #4 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He has been very highly rated for a few seasons. He is supposed to be the next guy developed by the Phillies in their system to be groomed for stardom. Like Howard, he is also African American. So far this year, he has played in about 50 games. He hasn't dazzled to say the least. His batting average is .250 and his OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) is .749. To compare, let's use another guy that most agree is a great Phillie. Hmmm, how about that Chase Utley guy again that we all love. Utley played 43 games his rookie year which is right around the same as Brown this year. His batting average was .239 and OPS was .696. In fact, the following year, when Utley played 94 games, his average only improved to .266 and OPS to .776. It wasn't until the following year that Utley became the player that he is today. The point is that it takes time for young players to develop. It is normal for young players to experience growing pains as they make the jump to the majors. The larger point though, is the backlash that Brown has felt in the last month or so. The MLB trade deadline is this Sunday. The Phillies are built to win now and Brown isn't cutting it. Despite the fact that the Phillies need to start turning their aging roster over with younger, and yes cheaper players, the fans are calling for Brown to get traded for a more experienced player. Most even want to hold onto, at all costs, a young surprising 5th best pitcher, Vance Worley over Brown. That's right, keep the 5th best pitcher, who didn't even have a Baseball America rating and likely won't pitch in the postseason, over the top prospect because he hasn't looked good in his first 50 games of his first full season.
Or is that not the reason at all.