Don't whine, ballplayers, it could be much worse


Ozzie Guillen, who plays baseball for the Chicago White Sox, is unhappy with the fans.

Although the strike has ended, he says fans are being unusually abusive and he doesn't understand their attitude.

"We're human beings," he has said. "And I don't think people have the right to act with players the way they've been acting. Right now, fans are acting like we owe them something. We don't owe anybody anything."

That wasn't very tactful of Guillen, with players and owners trying to win back the hearts and the attention of their customers.

But Guillen isn't entirely wrong. The players owe the fans nothing except, as he said, "an honest effort."

I suppose I'm a baseball fan, although I could live quite happily without seeing another game. When the players went on strike, I didn't share the weepy view that it was a tragic unraveling of the fabric of American life.

It was just a piece of commercial entertainment that wouldn't be available for a while. But so what? If there is anything we have no shortage of it is entertainment. Surrounded by multichannel TVs, CD-ROMs, movies, videos, home and car stereos, Walkmans and Nintendos, we are the most entertainment-saturated society in history. With the O.J. trial, we've even managed to turn murder into a form of mass entertainment.

So why should I or any other fan be angry at the players or the owners? The players withheld their labors and lost their paychecks, as any worker does when on strike. The owners lost considerable profits, as hard-nosed businessmen do while fighting a strike.

Now, the players are again available to entertain us, and we are free to take it or leave it, just as we can do with a movie, a TV show, a disc jockey, an opera, a slot machine or the nasal howls that pass for pop music.

When the movie "Godfather III" came out, many fans were disappointed that Robert Duvall hadn't returned for the role of Tom, Michael Corleone's shrewd stepbrother. Duvall had asked for more money than the studio would pay. But moviegoers didn't whine that Duvall was greedy and owed them an apology.

So Guillen is right about what is owed. But he's wrong when he says that the fans don't have "the right" to act in an unfriendly manner.

Of course they have the right. The most precious right of any sports fan is the right to be obnoxious, abusive, nasty, disloyal, ungrateful and stupid.

Take away that right and there wouldn't be enough fans to pay for the grounds crew.

And the fans regularly exercise this right, whether they are dumping beer on an outfielder, running out on the field for 30 seconds of fame, bellowing obscenities at a hitter who is trying to cope with a 92-mile-an-hour fastball, or sharing their keen insights with a sports call-in show.

It is the right of every Joe from Cicero or Eddie on his car phone to call a sports show and say: "Hey, uh, you can take my word for it, that guy is over the hill, especially since the inside pitch hit 'em in the face and he was in that coma for a month, ya know, so why don't he just do us all a favor and get outta my face and retire?"

"Well, he's been a solid performer for many years and maybe this is just a slump while he's recovering from the near-death injury and the surprise of his wife divorcing him while he was in surgery."

"Nah, ya gotta play with the little hurts, like I always say, so I think he's had it, ya know, over the hill, lost the old whatyacall, can't come up with the big whatsis no more, so if he don't wanna retire and get outta my face like he should, why don't they just dump him, ya know, give 'em the old heave-ho, huh?"

"Well, he's been a loyal, dependable team player for all these years, so maybe they believe that they owe him a chance to work his way through his problems and resume his career and they don't want to just dump him."

"Yeah, well, then if he don't wanna do me a favor and retire and they don't want to dump him, how 'bout if he dies, huh?"

"Well, he's still a fairly young man, so maybe he's not ready to die."

"See, that's what I mean -- all these guys ever think about is themselves."

Guillen will just have to live with the jeers and remember that it could be worse. He could be playing in Philadelphia, where it is said that the fans would even boo a cure for cancer.

In Chicago, it would depend on whether the inventor of the cure was a White Sox or a Cubs fan.

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