Enough with the attendance shaming

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This morning’s Chipper Jones post, in which he called out Braves fans for not showing up and/or not being loud, has brought out the usual comments we see whenever attendance comes up. “Braves fans suck!” is a pretty well-worn trope around these parts. As are the more nuanced comments which attempt to equate a team’s worthiness and quality with the fervor of its fan base.

I always scratched my head at these things. I mean, I know the Braves don’t draw people. I know that some teams always draw people. I wish my team had a rockin’ stadium every night, but it never has, likely never will and, given the Braves success over the past 20 years, it doesn’t really matter. It certainly doesn’t affect my affection for the team, so why does anyone else care?

Cee Angi of The Platoon Advantage wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. She called the phenomenon “Attendance Shaming,” and like me wonders why in the hell it’s even a thing.  After analyzing what we’re really talking about when we talk about poor attendance, using the White Sox as an example, she concludes thusly:

In the end, there’s no accounting for taste, and you can’t blame the consumer for not liking the product as much as you think they should, for whatever reason. But again, unless you’re Jerry Reindorf’s wallet (which Forbes says is flush with cash), why should we care anyway? The focus of fans should remain on Win-Loss records, not attendance records. Spinning turnstyles is not a civic duty, particularly not in a time of economic distress. Whether he does so or not is between him, his God, and Jerry Reinsdorf.

But hey, if it makes you feel better that your team draws well — if you think being “a better fan” makes you a better person — by all means, continue to care about such things.  Just, please, explain to me why in the hell it should matter to anyone else?

Oh, and finally: if you still insist on pointing to attendance as a signifier of your worth, at least use a better number than total butts in seats. Use attendance relative to stadium capacity, which Carson Cistulli looks at over at FanGraphs today.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.