“Just give us a chance.” Those were the words of Marlins team president Michael Hill as he met the media and fans at the club’s meet-and-greet at Marlins Park on Saturday. They were words that, unusually for a front office in 2019, at least attempt to acknowledge fan frustration at a team that doesn’t seem too hung up on providing an entertaining major league product any time soon:
“I would tell our fans to just give us a chance . . . So many people have written off the Marlins and really haven’t taken an opportunity to take a deep look at what we’re building. When you have a lot to do, it’s going to take time and we understand where we’re at. But we’ve been able to add a tremendous amount of talent over the last 18 months.”
Unusual, but not too unusual, as his plea contained the now de rigueur pitch for fans to focus on draft picks or guys who will be playing in the low minor leagues while simultaneously asking them not to be mad that the team the fans actually care about and on which they are being asked to spend a lot of money to support will objectively and uninterestingly suck. In the case of the Marlins that includes trading away the last two National League MVPs and, just the other day, getting rid of the team’s best player from last season, J.T. Realmuto.
Still, Hill’s pitch is at least an attempt to acknowledge fan apathy and anger. The general vibe one gets from the front office statements of most tanking and rebuilding clubs is “We’re smart and we have a plan. The less-enlightened fans and the media don’t understand it. Just sit back and let us do this. You’ll thank us later.” It’s not much, but Hill’s “give us a chance” is at least couched in a plea that “you’re gonna have to trust us” is not.
In all of this is a complete failure of understanding on the part of ballclubs that, to fans, baseball has an emotional component. When we talk about fandom, we talk about loving and enjoying and supporting a baseball team, not understanding and assessing and observing it. It’s why it rings so hollow and empty when owners and front office types tell fans that they’re wrong to be down on the club because they’re simply not understanding or appreciating the wisdom of the plan.
It reminds me of a conversation a married couple might have about a kitchen remodel:
Spouse 1: “This is miserable. I can’t find anything and cooking on a hot plate in the bedroom is awful.”
Spouse 2: “You need to understand our kitchen remodel is going to be great.”
Both of those things may be true! But let me tell you, buddy, if you’re Spouse 2 and you don’t acknowledge and address Spouse 1’s feelings here — if you aren’t honest about how this sucks and maybe do something nice for them to mitigate the misery — you’re gonna have a really bad time of it. And that’s before we note that a given kitchen remodel is way more likely to result in a nice kitchen than a teardown rebuild of a baseball team is likely to result in a World Series championship.
Perhaps in business or science or academics or any number of other walks of life it’s totally acceptable to tell people that your plan is your plan and to expect observers to trust you that it’s going to be all fine. But, while sports is itself a business, it’s a business that depends on something more than a financial investment from customers. It requires an emotional investment. It requires people to get something more than an off-the-shelf product in exchange for money. It requires enjoyment and entertainment and some level of vicarious triumph, at least within reason.
Most of the current front offices in Major League Baseball either fail to see that or don’t seem to care about it. So many of them are asking for fans’ money and their trust but are doing nothing substantive in return to reward it.