Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ryan Franklin
Ryan Franklin after giving up a
homerun to the Mets' Jose Reyes.

Philadelphia has, for about the last 45 years, been the Mecca of uncouth fan behavior. At least, according to hyperbolized reports from journalists.

Booing Santa Claus. Booing Donovan McNabb on draft day. Throwing batteries at J.D. Drew. Cheering a potentially career-threatening injury to Michael Irvin. The Flyers fan jumping into the penalty box to fight with Tie Domi. Booing Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Philadelphia, before, during, and after the 2002 All-Star Game. Mitch Williams, the closer for the Phillies who gave up the infamous three-run, World Series-winning homerun to Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, receiving death threats from Phillies fans in the offseason.

Unabridged fandom in Philadelphia is popular folklore among out-of-towners, the media, and even many of the athletes who pass through the city. Young athletes are forewarned by veterans that consistent failure will be rewarded with obstinate boos and sarcastic cheers -- perhaps worse. Veterans know well enough the risk to sign with a Philly-based team whose fans do not easily let memories gently fade into oblivion.

On consecutive nights May 26 and 27, 2006 against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, Phillies reliever Ryan Franklin was given a taste of both the good and the bad the Philly phaithful have to offer. While Franklin was warming up in the bullpen during the top-half of the eighth inning on the 26th, one sober fan with his friend silent at his side, stood over the railing overlooking both the home and visitors' bullpens and yelled, "Franklin sucks! Franklin sucks!" Franklin gazed up grudgingly at the fan, who did not use foul language, and motioned for him to come down and repeat the accusation within arm’s reach. He then gestured for security to have the man removed.

Aaron Rowand
Aaron Rowand broke his nose running into
the centerfield fence.

Franklin was watching a teammate receive the inverse treatment from that same fanbase on the 27th. The recipient of the fans' good graces was centerfielder Aaron Rowand, he of the broken nose circa May 11 after robbing New York Mets right fielder Xavier Nady of three RBI and extra bases. Rowand was honored with a standing ovation from the crowd at Citizens Bank Park during the announcement of the starting lineups when he trotted out to centerfield in the first inning. The ovation grew louder when Rowand took his first at-bat. Rowand was 0-4 but was cheered and clapped for vehemently each and every time he went up to the plate. Franklin apparently failed to learn his lesson, as he pitched the eighth inning, gave up three runs on two homeruns, and was saddled with the loss, leaving his record a paltry 1-4 and his ERA at 5.32.

There is not one athlete will never be on the short end of the fan appreciation stick eternally; likewise, there is no athlete who will always be on the long end of said stick at all times. Athletes go through peaks and valleys, and fans tag right along for the ride. If an athlete is in a slump, the fans will let him know they do not particularly care for his recent and continued failure. If an athlete gives up his body to make a play and help his team, the fans will also let him know how much they appreciate it. Such is the case be it Philadelphia, New York, or even the more docile Florida.

Philadelphians did boo Santa Claus -- well, what was a sad excuse for one, anyway. The original Claus (not Kris Kringle) failed to report, and the replacement was a skinny, drunken fan from the crowd at an Eagles game. Philadelphians did not boo Donovan McNabb because they did not like him; they booed McNabb because he was not Ricky Williams (in hindsight, it worked out particularly well). J.D. Drew was booed because he sat out the 1997 season (because the Phillies would not pay him upwards of $10 million), essentially wasting the second-overall pick the Phillies had in the draft. The fans were not cheering Michael Irvin's injury; they were cheering the hard tackle made by their defense on a player on a rival team. Tie Domi was the instigator in the penalty box-brawl by dumping water from a water bottle onto a heckling fan. Kobe Bryant was booed because the Lower Merion High School graduate said he was "an L.A. guy." Mitch Williams, while the death threats are indeed excessive, deserved everything else -- he handed his opponents the knife, which was sunk into the hearts of Phillies fans.

Sal Fasano
Sal Fasano and his Fu Manchu mustache.

All Philly fans ask for their unadulterated love is that athletes give their best effort in each and every game, and that they don't bash the city and its fans publicly, or, in Phillies backup catcher Sal Fasano's case, a Fu Manchu mustache. A seasonal .303 batting average, 23 HR, 93 RBI, and 29 stolen bases are wont to make a collective fanbase forget about a reluctance to dive for balls or to back into the outfield fence, as is the case with Bobby Abreu. And if a player is not good enough to win the team games throughout the season, he better not cost them any. After all, the phans really are gracious people, but one would not know because all it takes is one bad egg to spoil the omelet. Don't believe it? Here is a list of other cities' phans' transgressions (also note the Gary Sheffield incident in Boston, repeated Milton Bradley scenes, and Barry Bonds in every other city outside of San Francisco, as well):

So, the next time they bash Philadelphia fans for their behavior, set them straight. Remind them of how they cheered Moises Alou when he was carted off the field after spraining his right ankle chasing a foul ball in an 8-3 loss on May 5. Remind them of how graciously and frequently Aaron Rowand was applauded in his return 16 days after his face met the outfield fence in centerfield. Explain to them that Philadelphia is a city just like any other, whose denizens have watched their four collective major sports teams fail to win a championship for twenty-two years running. More importantly, make the comparison that booing a drunk, emaciated Santa Claus pales in comparison to shooting a fan of a rival team or tossing a cherry bomb in a stadium full of people. Philadelphia fans have been misreprestented for nearly forty-five years, it's time to set things straight.