By Mike Steffanos
For the past decade, I have experienced the vicissitudes of owning a small business. Mostly, it was a positive experience. At the end of this year I will likely be moving on in my life, but I will never forget the lessons learned from the last ten years. Dealing with my customers was probably the source on my greatest joys and my most exasperating moments in that time. Some of them were great, some were small and petty, and tiny minority of them was downright unpleasant and dishonest. As a business owner, it was just common sense that I did my best to serve each and every one of them and not take any for granted.
Well, at least I thought it was common sense, but maybe I was wrong. When I see a growing trend in the world of sports columnists to treat their customers -- the sports fan -- with disdain and sometimes even contempt, I question whether common sense is really quite so common after all. I've become more and more frustrated with this, and wonder if the biggest cause of this phenomenon isn't just the simple truth that these people really don't have a clue who we are anymore.
I remember back in January when WFAN's Chris Russo started trying to get some mileage and ratings point over the silly theory that Omar Minaya was biased in favor of Latin players. Some of the local columnists decided to equate the fans that were calling in to talk radio or emailing them on the subject with all fans. There was a typical piece being written by both local and national writers that self-righteously condemned the perceived racism of Mets fans while conveniently ignoring the fact that those who made the most noise on the subject held very much a minority view. The vast majority of Mets fans chuckled over this manufactured "controversy".
Then when a loud minority of Mets fans chose to boo Carlos Beltran on opening day, there were those in the media who chose to overlook the simple truth that the people who don't boo make a lot less noise than the people that do. Most of them probably do realize this, but it gets in the way of writing a condescending self-indulgent piece of nastiness that has become so popular in the industry.
The "poster child", if you will, for this obnoxious type of writing was this lovely gift to Mets fans from Bob Herzog that appeared in Newsday's online Mets Blog:
So much for that quaint notion about New York baseball fans being so knowledgeable and so respectful of the opposition. The vicious booing and chants of "No More Streak" at Shea Stadium Friday night directed towards Chase Utley showed a distinct lack of class.
What is baseball without its history, and wouldn't have it been nice if Utley's 35-game hitting streak lasted a little longer to generate more discussion and make us appreciate what Joe DiMaggio did even more? The Mets have such a huge lead in the NL East that games against the Phillies can hardly be considered critical right now. And the fans booed Utley right from the start, not just late in the game when a hit might have been damaging.
Yes, that's right people. Because Mets fans had the absolute temerity to boo a player on the opposing team instead of cheering for him to continue his hitting streak, Bob Herzog felt the need to label us as unknowledgeable and lacking in class. We didn't measure up to the high standards to which Mr. Herzog would hold us. Perhaps he can publish a guidebook of do's and don'ts so that we can avoid an embarrassing equivalent faux pas in the future that would compel Bob to call us more names. Unspoken, but tacitly understood from reading Herzog's prose, is that he is very glad that he is not as uncouth and ignorant as the rest of us.
Just in case you think that this is an isolated example of criticizing fans for their low-class treatment of the opposing team, the latest example comes from Claire Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who turns her condescending wrath on Mets fans who dared to taunt the Atlanta Braves at Shea stadium last week. That's right -- Ms. Smith's thesis was that the Braves are such a classy operation, the fans had no right to do their mock tomahawk chop chant at the end of the game. I've already spoken my mind on Claire's arrogant drivel, so I won't go there again. The problem, as I see it, is not one self-righteous writer, it's a whole generation of columnists who have absolutely lost touch with real fans.
Mets fans, who have endured years and years of humiliation at the hands of the Braves, and have been the recipient of gibes directed their way by Larry Jones and others, responded to the joy of finally seeing the worm turn by some good-natured taunting of some millionaire athletes. There was nothing thrown on the field, there was no hate speech. We gave them a mock tomahawk chop chant, and Claire tells us we have no class. I maintain the lack of class is on the part of a self-important, self-righteous prig who equates a sports dynasty with something of true importance, and feels the need to put others down to prove their own superiority.
That's been the theme all year. Unlike small business owners, not only do these vaunted columnists take their customers -- the people who buy the papers to read their words -- for granted, but some of them even have contempt for us. We don't measure up to what they feel we should be. The sad truth is that they are so distanced from the rank and file fan they don't have a clue who we are any more. They lump us all together, thinking that those who call into talk radio and those that make the most noise at the ballpark are representative of all us, when nothing could be further from the truth. At times they look down on us, at others they pander to the most base instincts of who they mistakenly believe we are. Every day the gulf between us grows wider.
It's funny, but the ones that truly are the cream of the crop in their profession are the ones that never patronize fans. I've been reading Peter Gammons for years. He's obviously a highly intelligent man with a deep knowledge of the game he writes about, yet I never once had the impression he was talking down to me when I read something he wrote. Perhaps that was because, at his heart, Gammons is still a real fan, not just someone collecting a paycheck.
I don't flatter myself that sports columnists read what I write in this space, but maybe someone who is reading me now will become a columnist some day. If you do, perhaps once in a while you will pay your way into a ballpark and sit with real fans rather than other journalists who are every bit as jaded as yourself. Walk into a real bar every once in a while where real sports fans who hold real jobs hang out. Buy a round or two and take the time to find out what they really think. By doing that, you may be able to avoid the pitfall of looking down on your own audience -- your customers, if you will. You'll be a better writer for it.
This post is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.