It is a fundamental truth of baseball, football, soccer and varsity tiddlywinks. Fans spend good money on tickets. Fans have opinions. Fans are entitled to express themselves, as long as they do not break the law or run afoul of good taste.
But Kansas City fans should not have booed Robinson Cano as relentlessly as they did during Monday’s All-Star Home Run Derby.
Royals fans were upset Cano didn’t pick Billy Butler, the lone Kansas City All-Star, for the four-man American League derby team. They booed lustily when Cano was interviewed on the giant center-field scoreboard during batting practice.
That was fine. Royals fans haven’t seen their team reach the playoffs since 1985. They wanted the popular Yankees second baseman to know they were offended by the Butler snub. Cano initially told ESPN that choosing a Royals player would be “the right thing” to do, before apparently changing his mind. Royals fans were standing up for their guy. I got it.
But the boos grew louder — exponentially so — when Cano stepped to the plate for his first round. (And he was competing for the home team in this instance.) Earsplitting cheers followed each out for Cano — and my, how he made outs. Cano failed to hit a home run, going 0 for 10, and the people loved it. When Cano sauntered toward the dugout, the fans offered a rousing ovation more commonly associated with postseason walk-offs.
Of note, this wasn’t the first time an All-Star crowd booed the home league’s derby captain. It happened in Phoenix last year, when Diamondbacks fans jeered Prince Fielder for his failure to select hometown favorite Justin Upton. (As if to illustrate the shallowness of popular opinion, Diamondbacks fans are booing Upton these days, and it’s possible he will be traded in the coming weeks.)
In all seriousness, Major League Baseball must institute a rule change whereby one player from the host team is obligated to appear, just to avoid this sort of nonsense in future years. One way to do that, while stimulating interest in the derby, would be to stipulate that a player from the host team is the captain. So, for example, David Wright would be the NL captain at Citi Field next year.
I’m not going to say the behavior of Royals fans was classless. That is too strong a word. However, it was needlessly tart and probably unwise.
Kansas City and the Royals have been wonderful All-Star Game hosts, with their Midwestern charm on full display. The week has been a terrific showcase for the city, which hadn’t hosted an MLB jewel event — All-Star Game or postseason series — in 27 years. It’s Kansas City’s chance to re-establish itself as a vibrant baseball city, a trial run for the October baseball that (we are told) could return as early as 2013.
So it was foolish for Royals fans to let any negativity seep into Kauffman Stadium — even if it was directed at a member of the loathed Yankees. A more discerning group of fans would realize the marketing power that accompanies an All-Star Game. Presumably, the Royals will want to compete for top-tier free agents as the team moves closer to legitimate contention. Why risk leaving a bad impression with any of the would-be free agents in attendance?
I’m not naïve enough to think that the response of fans to one player during a home run derby will be enough to sway a free agent’s decision. With very few exceptions, players sign with teams that offer the most money. But Royals fans who truly care about the team’s future shouldn’t have done anything that would make one player turn to another and say, “Man, what’s the deal with this?”
Opportunities for Kansas City to self-market to the larger baseball public — players, league and union executives, media — have been sparse over the past three decades. On Monday, an excessive display took a little luster away from what has been, and still is, a sensational week for the city.
And by the way, Cano’s AL team won in a landslide.