By: Eric Thomas
Many fans are still sore from Max Scherzer’s rejection of the Tiger’s multi-year offer earlier in the week. Scherzer’s become the new poster boy for athletic greed in this town, and it’s not fair. Some fans are rubbing their hands together, planning his comeuppance, in some fantasy where Scherzer comes crawling back to beg for the offer he rejected early this week after he gives up four runs in some random start this season.
First of all, that’s not going to happen. Even if Scherzer only pitches in two games and spends the rest of the year on the DL, he’s still going to sign a $200 million dollar deal in January. Max earned his money in last year’s playoff run. There’s a generalized starting pitching shortage in the MLB, and the Tigers have been spoiled for the past few years. Scherzer and David Price will both get eye popping deals from their new teams.
Luckily this latest episode revisits an oft-repeated phenomena in sports around here: the prodigal son who throws a stick over his shoulder and heads off in search of a new contract; the athlete who made his name here now takes his talents to South Beach, or Chicago, or wherever. Sergei, Big Ben; any time it happens, Detroiters take it personally.
Fans ignore the truth: these athletes owe you nothing. It’s just part of the fan / athlete relationship that we have to live with. The fans reserve the right to turn on an athlete at any time; athletes reserve the right to leave town with a shrug and a wide smile at the new cities’ press conference.
Let’s look at Justin Verlander. He signed a massive deal heading into the 2013 season, and it was downhill from there for the first half of the season. He struggled, sort of, and fans completely freaked out. There were rumors about a split with his girlfriend; some had questions about his velocity; fans wondered if he was sitting on his cash and didn’t care anymore; Curt Schilling talked about the time he had a blister on his finger; he admitted he found something in a film session—all of these were questions asked at full volume by fans on Twitter and lengthy phone calls on live radio shows.
Fans aren’t going to give athletes the benefit of the doubt, ever. If Max signed that deal—lowballed himself for much less than what he can obtain on the open market—and he struggled a bit to start the season, would you urge patience? Nope. You’d fall into your fatalistic feinting couch, screaming and yelling about how mean Mr. Max took the Tigers to the cleaners. You’d boo him at Comerica Park if he strung two shaky starts together. You’d call into radio shows and demand he be sent to Toledo or cut outright—and the Tigers should just eat the contract because he gave up two runs in the second inning on a game where the Tigers lost 2-0.
Max has every right to get a mega-deal, he earned it. And it’s his money. Does anyone stand outside your job and scream about the deal you get? Okay, let’s pretend you’re NOT in a union. Bad example.
There’s no reason for any athlete to remain loyal to a team. In the caffeinated social-media sphere, you can be the toast of the town one minute and wearing the cone of shame in the next. It’s not about the love of the fans because they’re fickle at best and schizophrenic at worst. Best to get the most money possible and move on.
Is it just business? Not completely, but it’s part of it. There may have been a time when it was more personal, but the ubiquity of available media has rendered that abrogate—and it’s never coming back. Take solace in the fact that when an athlete leaves, it’s not about you. It never was about you.
Accept it going in, and weeks like this one will be easier to swallow.