Justin Upton on being booed at home: “I don’t care anything what the fans think of me”

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Both last season and this season Diamondbacks fans have booed Justin Upton at Chase Field when he’s in a slump, with last night’s booing being particularly loud after he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres.

Asked afterward what getting booed by his own fans feels like, the 24-year-old right fielder said:

To be honest with you, I don’t care anything what the fans think of me. My teammates, my coaches, they know I come here and I bust it every single day. I try to do everything I can to help this team. My teammates have my back and whatever the fans want to think, they can think. They can call me lazy. I have heard that in the outfield. They can call me washed up. Whatever they want to call me but at the end of the day I am thankful for every opportunity to come out on a baseball field and I will try my hardest every day.

I’m sure the same fans who boo Upton will find a way to spin those comments as reason to boo him even more, but that seems like a pretty reasonable response to me. Or at least more reasonable than screaming “boo!” at a good player on your home team because he’s not playing well.

And while Upton has struggled for much of this season, particularly when it comes to power hitting, he’s hardly been disastrous with a .263 batting average and .722 OPS. He’s also still just 24 years old and coming off an All-Star season in which he hit .289 with 31 homers and 21 steals. All of that seems to have been forgotten, which is similar to what I’ve seen first-hand in Minnesota from Twins fans who’ve frequently booed Joe Mauer at Target Field both last season and this season.

Like it or not, once a great player signs a big contract a certain segment of the fan base expects him to go 3-for-5 with a homer every single game while never getting hurt or falling into a prolonged slump and is all too eager to lash out when those unreachable expectations aren’t met.

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.