Thursday, June 03, 2004

Busting Bobby | Mike Carminati ranted recently about what he sees as Philadelphia's shameful underappreciation of Bobby Abreu. He used a lot of very solid statistical analysis to support a contention of "greatness," and suggested that perhaps there is an ethnic bias preventing us from wrapping our arms around Abreu.

Acknowledging that the City of Brotherly Love has many, many reasons to hang its head when it comes to race relations, past and present, I'm nevertheless more inclined to accept Mike's other explanation:

I think it may be something more deeply rooted in the Philly sports fan's psyche. It's the reason that the fans booed Mike Schmidt on his way to hitting 548 home runs and to being the greatest third baseman who ever played the game. I remember in the mid-Seventies, when Schmidt was becoming the best overall player in the NL, Greg Luzinski was far more popular. Schmidt was said to be padding his numbers. He wasn't clutch. He struck out too much. He was too cold and dispassionate. Never mind that Schmidt was one stolen base away from being a 30-30 man, a concept that did not even exist yet, and that Schmidt's offensive and defensive growth was astronomical. Schmidt was not "one of us". Luzinski misplayed balls in left field. The Phils were always threatening to move him to first and had to pull him in the seventh in favor of first Jerry Martin and then Lonnie "Skates" Smith whenever they had a lead -- sort of a closer in left field. Luzinski was a Philly guy.

The same seems to be true of how the fans see Abreu and Jim Thome. Thome is limited in what he can do on the basepaths and defensively at first, but he sure can clout 'em out, And he was quickly accepted by the Philly brethren. The things Abreu does in each facet of the game add up to his greatness. They are more difficult to see. Everyone can grasp a Thome monster home run.

Like it or not, Philadelphia is a town that reveres overachievers, and I don’t think it has much to do with race. A hobbled Allen Iverson, recklessly playing with a warrior's heart and a battered body, was wholeheartedly embraced in leading the 76ers to an improbable berth in the NBA finals a few years ago. Donavan McNabb, whose jersey can be seen everywhere around here from September to January, played much of a game with a broken ankle, displaying the kind of toughness that has rendered him largely immune from substantial criticism despite losing three straight conference championship games.

More to the point, Abreu seems way too many times to be going through the motions. This has nothing to do with stats and everything to do with how he plays the game, and it's something that can be appreciated only if you see enough Phils games in person. Abreu is an extraordinarily gifted player -- and one who appears to be taking plays off from time to time. Mike Carminati has been a Phillies fan long enough to know that this is the cardinal sin around here. Losing, we're used to; we can accept it. Dogging it? Expect the boos to rain down like a summer thunderstorm, hard and with ultimate fury, whether the offender is a 30-30 guy or the team's 25th man.

For the record, Mike also lobbed a couple of hand grenades at Howard Eskin, an activity that can't be supported enough.


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