Wednesday, June 09, 2004  
I don't owe you anything: Are players accountable to the fans?

The city of Chicago has had its share of drama in the closer role this season. Both teams, stricken with a question mark in the role, have suffered setbacks because of the problem. The Cubs have since replaced their "problem." The White Sox are about ready to follow suit. All of the ineffectiveness, coupled with the recent comments by both players in response to media questions about the job they do got me to thinking about accountability.

After a horrible pitching performance recently, Koch had this to say:

"That's a pathetic showing....I apologize to everyone out there. It's not fair [for fans] to have to bite your nails down to a bloody stump watching me pitch."
After switching roles from setup man supreme to closer, Latroy Hawkins faced a number of questions from the media his first day on the job. His response was like Koch's, right? Wrong!!! He had this to say:
"Getting three outs is not easy at any point in the ballgame, but people put the spotlight on the ninth,...It doesn't matter what happens in the ninth, as long as you don't give up the lead. I don't care who's sitting on the edge of your seats. I'm not going to sit here and apologize for putting you on the edge of your seats like (Billy) Koch did (Sunday). I'm not going to apologize for that. Because I can do what you guys can do. You guys can't do what I do....I don't care if you guys bite your fingernails, or bite your hands and knuckles until they bleed, that's not my problem."
Koch immediately fired back at Hawkins' claim that we can't do what he can do by saying:
"What, I can't set up and fail in the closers role? . . . He did it miserably a few years ago (in Minnesota)."
Pretty strong words out of both men, but which one is right? Are baseball players--or any sports figures, for that matter--accountable to the fans and the media? The answer is yes. While we don't own the teams or players themselves, baseball and sports in general are, quite simply put, products that we purchase. We pay for the right to read about them, watch them live, watch them on TV, etc. Sure the owners actually own the team and thus the players are definitely accountable to them, but how many owners could afford to put their product out there without it selling? None, except for maybe Steinbrenner for a year. The result is one crazy and confusing circle of blame. The fans need the product the owners provide. The owners need the players to play well to make that product sellable. The players need the fans to like them so the owners will want to continue to employ them. It's all really quite tangled.

The fact of the matter is, players ARE accountable to fans, but to what extent? When baseball went through the last strike, one that cancelled the World Series, all I heard from people is that they are done going to baseball games because they hate the players. They feel that they are not friendly enough and that they don't take the time to make baseball fans feel special. Why should players have to go out of their way to make me feel special? I paid $30 to see them? Is that a good reason? No, it's unrealistic. We didn't pay for a meet and greet session, we paid to come see the players play. That's what you paid for, nothing more. Anything the players do at the game that might have to do with direct contact with a fan, such as throw a baseball into the stands or sign an autograph is extra. It doesn't come with the package. When you go see a movie, you don't get to shake hands with the actor or expect them to be there for an autograph. It's understood that you paid close to $10 to simply watch them do their job. The same should be said for baseball. We pay to watch, that's it!!!

Paying to watch does, however, come with some accountability privileges. For instance, fans have every right to boo a poor performance. They are the audience. They paid for the right to do that. They also have the right to be upset if they did not get a performance worthy of what they paid for. Billy Koch responded to that fact:
"These people pay their hard-earned money--whatever the cost of a ticket is--to come out here and watch a game. We have the lead, and I blow it and screw it up for the team, screw it up for the city--then, yeah, I think I do have an [obligation] to apologize. I ruined it for them. Maybe I ruined their kid's first baseball game who was a diehard Chicago White Sox fan."
In the end, baseball players ARE accountable to the fans, but there is a fine line that is crossed all too often by both the fans and the players. Latroy Hawkins, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, etc. have all crossed it by boycotting the media, but fans have also crossed it by expecting too much from players and Major League Baseball. In the words of the great philosopher Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"

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