By Mike Steffanos
From MetsBlog I found a link to a Lisa Olson column in the Daily News about Kaz Matsui with the inference that Mets fans are unhappy with Kaz' success in Denver. Olson is definitely not one of my favorite columnists, as she is emblematic of a growing trend in sports journalism to paint all fans with a broad brush for the actions of a loud and sometimes obnoxious minority. In this case, she is referring to Mets fans who went over the top taunted Matsui and some who apparently (although I never witnessed this behavior) used some racial slurs and gestures. I suspect the number of fans who Olson witnessed, "[mocking] Matsui by pulling back the corners of their eyes and spewing racist nonsense" was quite small, but reading Olson's piece might lead you to believe there were many.
Actually, Kaz' descent from a signing that was going to help revitalize a moribund franchise to whipping boy for a disgruntled fan base had as much to do with the current reality of media coverage in a hyper-competitive marketplace as any latent racism lurking in the hearts of the fan base. The media jumped on Matsui fairly quickly as a convenient way to tap into the frustration of Mets fans.
After Steve Phillips was shown the door in 2003 and the last vestiges of the 2000 NL pennant winner was dismantled, there was precious little major league ready talent in the system. The Mets weren't about to spend much on free agents, either, after some really poor decisions in that regard over the previous off-seasons. After badly mishandling a chance to score points with the fan base by signing Vladimir Guerrero that off-season, Matsui was heralded by the team as the major signing among a group that also included Mike Cameron, Braden Looper, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer and Todd Zeile. Too much was made of an infielder that hadn't played in the U.S. yet, and to compound this the Mets had promised Matsui the shortstop job already held by the one significant young talent they had at the major league level, Jose Reyes. Granted, they wouldn't have signed Kaz without this move but, in retrospect, this may have been the biggest mistake of all.
When Kaz had some problems making the throw to first base early on, he had Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile and Jason Phillips getting the bulk of the playing time at first base. Only Zeile approached competency at the position. Almost every poor throw became an error, whereas a good 1B might have bailed Kaz out. Fans grew frustrated, and both the print media and the ever-present sports talk radio personalities seized on Matsui's struggles as a way to attract ears and eyes. Make no mistake, this had a lot to do with the perception surrounding Matsui. They also fueled the flames of discontent against Mike Cameron, who was struggling with a wrist injury for most of the season. Remember how badly Cameron was booed at times that season?
The talent and terrific personality of Mike Cameron eventually turned that around, but Kaz wasn't as fortunate. Along with Braden Looper (who happens to be white, Ms. Olson) Matsui became the symbol of dissatisfaction among some elements, and that never went away. As bad as it got, though, the majority of Mets fans were pulling for Matsui to succeed -- not making taunts, racial or otherwise, at him. Unfortunately, people like Olson don't seem to understand the simple truth pointed out in this space over and over -- the minority who boo (and taunt) make more noise than those who don't.
I never cease to be amused by this kind of self-serving self-congratulatory rubbish from some of those in a media that has a great deal to do with the much less kind and gentle sports reality we live in today. This is a media that includes such types as Wallace Matthews, whose only reason for existence is to work the most rabid of the faithful into a frenzy. If those in the media feel it is unfair to assign the blame for the actions of the few onto the many -- welcome to the club. We've shined a light on Olson's disingenuousness before in this space, and will continue to defend the vast majority of Mets fans who are neither as racist nor classless as some in the media insist on portraying us.
I have about 200 emails to answer, so if you've emailed me and haven't yet heard back, I promise I am not ignoring your email. I also promise to get to some of the book reviews that have languished for months.