Monday, April 09, 2007

We Probably Should Boo Everybody

Do you pity Jeff Kent? Does it bother you that the fans at SBC Park boo him every time he steps to the plate? Do you buy the lie that the boos are mainly about respect? If so, why?

I’d heard in the past that the booing bothers Kent, that he can’t believe the fickleness of Giants fans who cheered him so lustily for six years and now jeer him despite his excellent performance over those six years. “Don’t these people remember how good I was for them?”

What is with these guys that they can’t figure out that that’s not why they’re being booed? Brett Butler was the same way: “Gee, you’d think they’d show me a little appreciation.” Many years ago I spoke with a woman who purported to be the closest friend of Butler’s mother, and when he voiced that sentiment to her, she said, “Are you kidding? You defected to the enemy, and you expect to be showered in confetti?” Butler said, “Well, it’s not like I had any choice. Al Rosen didn’t wanna bring me back.”

Be that as it may, how is it our problem? Certainly I would agree that not bringing Butler back was a brutal idea, but that doesn’t mean he needs to go to the Dodgers and kill us there. Even back in 1991 there were 24 other teams he could have considered (irrespective of how many actually made offers).

And sure, Kent went to the Astros first, but then still chose to sign with L.A. Nobody forced him. Six years in San Francisco should have given him a sense of the deep animosity and resentment Giants fans feel toward the Dodgers and their organization, not to mention their fans. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out why you’re getting booed.

Granted, Kent pretty much burned bridges (not that some of his reasons weren’t valid), but just you wait till Jason Schmidt makes his first start for the Dodgers at SBC. Everybody liked Schmitty, he didn’t leave under any particular kind of cloud (although there was rumbling that if he had the slightest injury, he wouldn’t take the ball, but I don’t think anybody really held that against him—fans, anyway), and everybody knew the Giants wouldn’t bring him back. But he went straight to the Dodgers; he’ll get booed plenty. I dare him not to understand why.

Exceptions to the overall Going-to-the-Dodgers rule include guys like Ramon Martinez, who, while he did sign with them as a free agent, played for three teams in between. Because he wasn’t a key cog in the Giants machine, he wasn’t likely to be booed too viciously—despite the fact that he killed the Giants this weekend about as much as Kent did.

And Kent… well, one way in which he’s different from Butler is that Butler never alienated the fans, at least not until he actually signed with the Dodgers and went on about how he’d always wanted to wear Dodger Blue, or whatever. Kent, however, moaned about the ballpark, moaned about the uniforms, moaned about the fans—though on that front, he pretty much waited till he was out of here.

With Kent I think it’s the fact that he’s basically a hostile presence. I don’t know that that’s such a bad thing, though; certainly when he was a Giant we appreciated that hard-nosed, badgerlike personality, and we liked him because he was one of ours. But once he was gone, we didn’t have to like him anymore.

And let’s not forget the fact that his departure ultimately hurt the Giants. Sure, they won a bunch of games in 2003 and went to the postseason—for reasons I still cannot fathom—but they’ve been pretty bad since then. Ray Durham has generally played (or at least hit) very well in Kent’s stead, but he’s lost so much playing time to injury over the last four years. Granted, Durham wasn’t expected to fill Kent’s shoes, or even his role; the signings of Durham, Marquis Grissom, and Edgardo Alfonzo were supposed to more or less make up for the loss of Kent, pick-a-center-fielder, and David Bell—the idea being “just as much production, but distributed differently.” Well, this would’ve worked out just dandily if Alfonzo hadn’t been a complete bust. Not only that, but under Felipe Alou, Bonds batted fourth almost exclusively—the problem there being that generally there was very little help behind him and even less in front of him. With Bonds third and Kent fourth all that time (if you don’t count most of 2005), or even the other way around, I have no doubt the team would’ve been better.

Any way you cut it, Kent has no business wondering why he gets booed at SBC, and he has no business not understanding why.

Still, this wouldn’t be on my mind if the Dodgers hadn’t just carved up the Giants over the weekend. And how did that happen? Might it have had anything to do with the Dodgers playing well and the Giants giving off a stench that could gag a water buffalo? Perhaps the quintessential moment came early yesterday, in a close game, when the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out. Well, one out, because Barry Zito was up next, so the out was a given. But that just left it up to Omar Vizquel, in the leadoff spot, who took that opportunity to hit into an easy double play to end the inning. So far the Giants have been doing that all season: murdering great scoring opportunities. And Zito didn’t help his cause any: he couldn’t get past some lousy defense and Dodger luck, and he gave up a passel of runs. The Giants just plain reeked.

Not that there’s a positive note, but as you can imagine, there has been a great outcry from opponents of the Zito signing, now that he’s 0-2 with an ERA in the eights. To them I say: Settle down. He’ll wind up with about 14 wins and an ERA around 3.80, maybe 4.00. Not great, not, in itself, worth $126 million, but very much what we can expect. (My God, 16 wins was the top NL figure last year.) Stop complaining about the price tag. Even the Giants know they overpaid, and the reason is no mystery: they had to get the best available pitcher to be their ace, more or less, and they had to cough up large to do it. So it’s done. Let’s move on.

He had a lousy game yesterday, but I don’t see how Zito is the problem. Giving $18 million a year to a former Cy Young winner (maybe even if he’s LaMarr Hoyt) isn’t a red flag (especially because he’s really getting “only” $10 million this year). Ditto the $15.5 million they’re paying achy ol’ Barry Bonds, especially because his pursuit of the home run record is just about all this organization has this year besides the All-Star Game. It’s the $5 million going to Pedro Feliz that’s a problem. It’s the $10 million going to Matt Morris. You can’t really moan about the $9.9 million Armando Benitez is getting, because at the time of his signing, he was a premier closer (or so the Giants thought), but if he stinks again this year, it’ll just look that much worse. Randy Winn and Dave Roberts: $5 million each. Is that too much? I don’t see how things would be better if we’d paid Juan Pierre or Gary Matthews Jr. twice as much. What about $4 million for Bengie Molina? I can think of some Giants fans who cringe at that notion. And the $3.5 million Rich Aurilia’s getting: maybe that’s a bit scary. Indeed, the Giants have a payroll of $90 million, and there’s a damn good chance they’re gonna finish last in the West.

Here’s the silver lining: Through one-twenty-seventh of the season, the Giants are 1-5, on a pace to go 27 and 135. They’ll almost certainly do better than that.

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