Dear Mr. Thomas: Please get a clue

While I can't get online from home, I can still write stuff - there's something to be said for not doing recaps, as it gives me time and energy for other things! My task today is to respond to this article in the Republic, entitled 'Dear Mr. Hall, D-Backs losing it all' - it was published ten days ago, but having canceled our subscription to the paper and been otherwise engaged, it managed to escape my attention. It's worth going and reading the piece in full [I'll wait for you here...], because it's a beautiful illustration of the kind of fair-weather fans for which Phoenix is infamous, possessing the memory-span of a goldfish with Alzheimers - and the baseball savvy of one too...

As a brief summary, I love, and totally agree with, valuearb's second comment in response to the piece:

The debt is being retired, bigger payrolls and a better future is on the horizon. We can look forward to it happy that we still have hope this year, or we can all piss and moan about this unlucky season, after being blessed with two winning seasons in a row, including a NL West championship. We could become Yankees fans, because they spend three times as much as us and win the world series every year. What? Not since 2000? Missed the playoffs last year with a $180M payroll? You don't say. I wonder what their lawyer/fair weather fans are bitching about?

But after the jump, I'll give you my full response...

Dear Mr. Thomas,

I know you're an attorney and so are naturally used to presenting a biased, one-sided and completely inaccurate portrayal of the facts, in the 'interests' of the client. However, I sincerely hope, for your clients' sake, that you are a better attorney than you are a baseball fan, because you have singularly failed to grasp the reality of the 2009 season, and indeed, the realities of being a supporter of a mid-market team like the Diamondbacks. Here you were, barely one-third of the way through the team's first losing season since 2006, less than two years from when the team won the division and swept the Cubs in the NLCS, and you're jumping ship.

Firstly, I think you forget just how mind-bogglingly awful the 2004 team was. Sure, we are only a few games better at the present time, but the Baby Backs then fell off a cliff. At this point, they had just started a streak where they would go 4-32. Let me repeat that: 4-32. You claim that team had some "lovable-loser qualities" - roughly tranlated, you drank Jerry's Kool-Aid - but you'd prefer that to one a great deal more competent on the park? You also berate Chris Young performance, but the most frequently-used catcher on that team, Juan Brito, had an OPS almost one hundred points below CY's to date [even allowing for the date of your letter].

Overall, the 2004 team OPS was twenty points worse, and the ERA more than half a run higher, with starters that combined to go 34-80 [and Randy Johnson won 16 of those], while the bullpen were 17-31. If you meekly sat through that abomination without posting 'open letters' to Jerry in the newspaper, demanding better, you pretty much lose the right to object to this team. For the 2009 version are currently on pace to win 17 more games, with basically the same salary [it's 5% higher now, less than the rate of inflation over the five intervening years].

You say, "even the most loyal fan is relegated to watching for milestones of ineptitude." Only if you want to be, Chris. Why not watch for milestones like Reynolds' current pace of 43 homers, Dan Haren's league-best ERA [oh, hang on, I forgot - that's one of the 'dumb trades' on which we 'frittered away young talent'], or Justin Upton having among the best seasons by a player his age in the past fifty years. That's what gets this 'loyal fan' excited, even as hopes for the playoffs this year fade.

Truth is, this season has been destroyed by unforeseen injuries, in particular that to Brandon Webb. It's been pointed out before, but is worth repeating. After 71 games last season, our ace had eleven victories. The triple-headed Beast of Webb Replacement [Billy Buckner, Bryan Augenstein and Yusmeiro Petit] have just two. That difference alone, nine additional wins, would vault this team into the wild-card spot, with the third-best record in the National League. And our best hitter from last season, Conor Jackson, will likely also miss the great majority of 2009, due entirely to unforeseen circumstances.

This ties in with managing expectations, because the Diamondbacks can not sustain a Yankee-sized payroll, and so do not have the necessary margin to replace their best hitter and a pitcher of Webb's quality simultaneously. Even for the richer outfits, it is damn hard to keep winning games in modern baseball: only three of the 16 NL teams have had a winning record each of the past three full seasons, 2006-2008: the Mets, Phillies and Dodgers, with salary bills over that time of $354m, $276m and $327m respectively. [Arizona's two winning seasons = $178m, barely half the Mets]  More franchises than that failed to manage a single winning year over that time [Giants, Nationals, Reds and Pirates].You just can't realistically expect to win every time.

And If you're going to bail on a side when they have a bad/unlucky year, I don't care how long you've had your season tickets - and were they, by any chance, a delightfully tax-deductible 'business expense'? - you were never a fan to begin with. The next time you lose a couple of cases, I'd be amused to see 'An open letter to Chris Thomas' from Derrick Hall in the Republic, outlining what you're doing wrong as an attorney. Still, I'm sure we'll see you leaping back on the bandwagon, the next time the Diamondbacks make the playoffs.

Best,
Jim McLennan

I do have to say, given Derrick Hall's reputation as the great communicator, this is far from the only such complaint you can find. The nattering nabobs of negativity over on azcentral.com have basically blown up the forums there since the appointment of Hinch, and discontent generally seems to run broad this season. Which is weird, because there is still a lot to enjoy and appreciate, certainly a lot more than 2004 - I remember that season vividly, and it was baseball hell. There's no other word for losing fourteen games in a row [compare 2009's worst streak: four].

Could this be a marketing mis-step? The thing about the 2004 team - and this was mentioned, independenty, to me by the work colleague who showed me the article - is that they had 'personality'. Say what you like about that roster, and "Johnson aside, they were one of the most miserable, wretched excuses for a major-league team assembled in living memory" would be close, Colangelo sold the hell out of the Baby Backs. That just hasn't happened with the current team, where Hall has concentrated on the 'ballpark experience' - the reaction to that is nowhere near as positive, even though it's a much better outfit.

It is undeniable that we know, basically, nothing about Upton, Drew, Reynolds, Young, etc., who are baseball-playing cyphers. I can understand reluctance on the part of the organization to go with a 'face of the franchise' after the monthly kick in the teeth which is The Eric Byrnes Show, but if you're selling the ballpark experience, the product on the park is perhaps a more significant part of that than current management realizes. Fans want a winning team; if they can't have that, it seems they want players they can relate to, and if they don't have that either, then twenty-five cents off nachos just isn't going to cut it. 

Comments? Thoughts? What would make you stop supporting this team?

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