Adam Jones, the always-opinionated center fielder for the Orioles, gave a bizarrely cantankerous interview to a few reporters last week.
What he said became a little kerfuffle on the eve of the Orioles opening their quest for their first .500 or better season since 1997.
Let me be up front and say that I don’t know anything about Adam Jones, other than what I’ve read in The Baltimore Sun. Generally cast as a jovial, playful guy, he’s probably weary like anyone would be after answering years and years of reporters’ questions.
And maybe he was just on edge because the start of the season was so near. Athletes can be like that.
Listening, you can tell that Jones is on edge. He's also not reserved, as always. He calls the Orioles' last week before the season -- in which they had several days of long travel -- "a cluster." This is something we -- fans and reporters alike -- admire in Adam Jones. He's not afraid to get a little messy.
But then Jones goes out of his way to bring up a group of fans called "Occupy Eutaw St" (I wrote about them for last Sunday's paper.) Jones says, in response to a question about the feeling of playing on opening day, the following:
"I was reading my Twitter early and saw this thing, Occupy Eutaw Street, these fools or something, trying to create a walkout or something here in this ballpark. And you work for that station, I don't care, and I've seen that going on a lot."
It's clear that Jones didn't know the details about Occupy Eutaw Street, which was careful to direct its ire at owner Peter Angelos. They certainly did not want to disrupt anything happening during the game, or to state a walkout. Theirs was an informational campaign.
Much of the ensuing reaction was stoked by WNST -- Jones went on to single them out for their part in "Free the Birds," -- but what their hosts expressed was echoed by plenty of people I spoke to. Mainly, that the center fielder of the Orioles shouldn't be going around labeling fans of the team who dare to have an opinion on how it is run "fools."
Jones eventually apologized on Twitter, and even dealt personally with one host who was particularly offended. And now that the Orioles have won three games and sit atop the AL East, well, all is forgotten if not wholly forgiven.
Except that the O's early run hardly seems destined to last, and even if the team improves drastically upon last season's efforts there will be trying times this year. And so this question about the relationship between fans and players will arise again.
So I'm wondering: What do players owe the fans? And what do fans owe the players?
This is a difficult question, now more than it used to be. Salaries are so high that it is not simple for pro baseball players to relate to the people sitting in the stands. But the salaries are that high because of the fans sitting in the stands. That's the real value for any owner, even Peter Angelos. As long as the people of a city take pride in their team -- and O's fans certainly still do -- that team will be able to find ways to generate money.
The Occupy Eutaw St. crew still loves the Orioles. They'll go and support the players. They appreciate manager Buck Showalter. Their beef is with Angelos, who they see as having done too little to help the Orioles compete during their decade-plus of inadequacy.
It comes down to this, really: What the players owe the fans is their very best effort, every single day. For the most part, the fans I've spoken to don't doubt that they've gotten what they deserve from the guys in the uniforms. But if they look toward Angelos, they feel they've been cheated. They don't see him investing the money needed in scouting or development or free agency.
Taken in a vacuum, this way of looking at things seems clean and logical. Problem is, Adam Jones and the other players are capable of extrapolating. Even if Angelos is to blame for failing to support the infrastructure of the franchise, the end point can't be hidden: the current players are not good enough.
So of course Jones will be hurt, and his first reaction will be to lash out. He's trying to establish himself as a leader in the clubhouse, and calling the team's doubters "fools" at least shows that he's fighting for his guys. He's got to support them, publicly.*
(*Though I always find it interesting that players will criticize ex-teammates en masse, retroactively. In the same interview Jones said that the "one thing we're trying to get away from is the egos." He'd probably never expand on these comments. But wouldn't you love to know who, on the Orioles teams of the last few years, could actually sustain a big ego?)
Some players do expect unrelenting love and support from the fans (and they get it from a good portion of them.) But other players acknowledge the fans' right to have an opinion while feeling, in general, that fans, being fans, have uninformed opinions. And there are surely players who have the proper feeling on the topic: that fans, being ultimately responsible for the players' paychecks, are more than welcome to vent all they want as long as no lines are crossed.