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Lack of fun, not boos for Cano, ruined Home Run Derby

By Zach Helfand

The Baltimore Sun

3:22 PM EDT, July 11, 2012

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The thing that bothered me about the Kansas City fans' treatment of Robinson Cano at the Home Run Derby wasn't the boos.

I thought it was, until I realized that if I were a Kansas City fan, I would've booed too.

I think the thing that really bothered me about the Home Run Derby, the thing that made me and others squirm in our couches on Monday, was that it wasn't fun. They yelled at his mother in the bathroom. His dad was dead serious. Cano wasn't laughing.

And sure the fans in Kansas City were laughing, but they were laughing at Cano's misfortune, which is certainly their right as paying fans, but it wasn't fun, and forgive me but sports are still supposed to be fun, right?

The fans in Kansas City would argue that they had loads of fun on Monday. But I would argue that there's a difference between fun and schadenfreude, a difference between poking fun at a player who should've picked Billy Butler for the Derby (and yes, he should've picked Billy Butler. I know he has never hit more than 21 home runs in a season, but it would've been nice for the hometown to see him) and attempting to crush said player's soul.

Which is what the Kansas City fans wanted to do, no? They wanted to, at least for the duration of his at bat, crush Robinson Cano's soul.

I would imagine there's a certain satisfaction that comes with succeeding in crushing the soul of someone you dislike, but I wouldn't go so far as to confuse that satisfaction with fun.

This is becoming a trend.

The American sports fan loves tearing down its heroes.

We feel betrayed by Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, LeBron James. Are these people perfect? Far from it. They're flawed, maybe more flawed than most of us. But we never watched Tiger Woods because he was the world's best spouse. We watched him because he could do things with a golf ball that nobody else could.

We watched our resentment destroy LeBron James in the fourth quarter and it felt good. It felt like fun. But it's not fun. It's that sense that we trusted you ... we trusted you and you tricked us but damn it we got you. We got you and we crushed you. We brought you down.

Plenty of smart people have already shared thoughts about the Cano situation. People like Kent Babb, columnist for the Kansas City Star, who mentioned it in his column. He also coined the term "Can0." That's harmless, funny, pretty clever. That was fun.

There's a line, see, between fun, and "mean for meanness' sake, hostile for hostility's sake," which is what Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports columnist and Kansas City resident, saw.

Joe Posnanski wasn't bothered by the booing, but noted something interesting in his column.

"If there's one thing fans love more than anything it is their ability to affect the game," Posnanski wrote. He meant it as a way to explain why the booing intensified as Cano's struggles continued, and he was right, but it touches on something more important.

We're enamored with ourselves. It's become about us.

LeBron James misses another late-game shot and we pounce on the moment and beat our chests like savages as we flex above the conquered and marvel, "We did that. You hurt us, but see what we did to you?"

Games, to a certain extent, are supposed to be about the fans. But the players don't play for the fans, they play because they're competitors. They play to win. We should know this.

Michael Jordan would be just as ruthless in a pickup basketball game. He'd be just as ruthless playing go fish.

To expect any less of him wouldn't make sense, but yet, we expect our athletes to defy the traits that make them great in the first place. The traits that we encouraged, that we programmed in them.

We expect Tiger to be a hardened and unfeeling on the golf course, but we are shocked when he's the same way off of it. We want Favre to be selfish enough to start a game with broken limbs just to keep a streak alive, but then we're appalled when it turns out he's a self-centered egotist off the field.

We expect Barry Bonds -- wait, sorry, Bonds was just a jerk.

Did Robinson Cano trick the fans of Kansas City? Yes, and it was wrong.

But he was tasked with picking the best team possible. When he ultimately picked the best team possible, the fans were outraged.

The Derby was supposed to be fun. It wasn't. It was sad.

zhelfand@baltsun.com twitter.com/zhelfand