Sometimes I think White Sox fans aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. I know that’s a colossal generalization, but what can I say? I’m the five-star general of generalizations.
Luckily for them, the franchise gives them a steady stream of reasons to be miserable.
Yet fans’ recent fit of pique was harsh even by their standards. When James Shields walked off the mound after giving up seven runs and three home runs in his Sox’ debut Wednesday, fans booed him at The Cell.
An absolutely brutal two-plus innings, but kind of a small sample size, wouldn’t you say? Small enough to fit on a postage stamp. But out came the boos, starting somewhere in the larynx and heading for daylight. Welcome to town, James!
In fairness to many of those booing in the park and at home, they had been up in arms when Shields’ name first came up in trade rumors; when the Sox made the trade with San Diego; when he prepared to take the mound for the first time for his new team; and pretty much whenever he inhaled and exhaled. They didn’t like the whole idea of James Shields. They wanted hitting and bullpen help.
And surely the boos were a reflection of fans’ frustration over a once-promising season collapsing and team management’s deafness to their concerns.
But I wonder if Sox fans would have reacted so angrily if the Padres’ executive chairman hadn’t ripped his team and Shields before the trade. Ron Fowler was extremely critical after the right-hander gave up 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings in his previous start. A terrible performance, for sure. And, finally, an executive not afraid to speak the truth, right? It’s probably not worth mentioning that Shields had a respectable 3.06 earned-run average in his 10 previous starts. It would spoil the narrative that Shields is a bum and the Sox are dumb.
We tend to be a little parochial around here, so it’s worth noting that 66 percent of respondents in an mlbtraderumors.com poll thought the Sox did well in the trade. I’m guessing that number would have been significantly lower among Sox fans – probably south of 50 percent headed toward the low teens after a few stiff drinks.
The standard expectation from Sox fans is that, during this season from hell, they’ll see more Wednesday nights from Shields. His career will fall apart upon reaching the radioactive atmosphere on the South Side, the Sox’ tailspin will continue until the franchise collapses in on itself and we’ll all die.
There doesn’t seem to be room in such dark thinking for the possibility that Shields might rebound from one game in a Sox uniform and revert to the form that made him a career 129-105 pitcher.
But what if he does rebound? When you boo a veteran in his first start with the team, where do you go from there? If he pitches well in his next start, how do you cheer him without any hint of self-consciousness? It’s one thing to boo someone who has been playing poorly for your team. It’s another to boo him as he steps on the welcome mat.
Sox fans are scarred. Not like Cubs fans, whose scars are depicted on cave paintings, but they are scarred after years of mind-numbing inactivity by their team. That played a huge role in what happened as Shields pitched Wednesday. I hope for his sake that he pitches well in his next start, Monday against the Tigers. At home.
Even when the Sox were rolling early this season, their fans were wringing their hands. They saw the holes, they saw the weaknesses and they saw right. But there were fans waiting for the bottom to fall out, because they always do and because of the genetic happiness-unhappiness connection.
We saw the same thing in 2005, when the Sox won the World Series. Some fans didn’t believe until the final out, and even then, they asked for more proof.
There is Jerry Reinsdorf fatigue in town, there is Rick Hahn fatigue and there most definitely is Robin Ventura fatigue. So when Shields gave up all those runs to the Nationals, it was the perfect opportunity to boo everything.
Fans pay good money for tickets and have the right to express their displeasure. But Shields didn’t deserve what he got Wednesday, not in his first start for the White Sox, no matter how badly he pitched. Maybe somebody should have let him know that it wasn’t the pitcher they were booing but something bigger.