Bob Elliott is a legend, and I’m not going to win many friends by picking on him a little bit here, but let’s talk for a second about this passage in his Roy Halladay tribute piece for the Canadian Baseball Network:
This off season he wanted to work with Blue Jays minor leaguers. He applied — yes Roy Halladay was made to apply for a job with the Blue Jays — with the high performance committee.
And then the decision whether to hire him was kicked upstairs.
The Jays did not hire him. Instead, he was re-hired by the Phillies to work with their young pitchers.
Now, it’s not really relevant whether or not I think it’s appropriate to drop a bomb on the hated front office in the obituary of a franchise legend who was just killed at 40 years old, but it’s hard to argue that’s not what this is. I have a hard time believing Mr. Elliott is oblivious to how this information is going to read among the faction of mouth-breathing cretins in his audience who are constantly desperate to find any possible hint of fault in the people running the Blue Jays and explode it into a giant steaming shit-pile of resentment.
Granted, he can mostly be absolved of any malice here because it’s merely a fact (a disappointing fact, I’ll admit), and — hopefully — because a reasonable person would recognize that the Jays can hire whomever they want, no matter how loudly certain members of the media want to present themselves as self-appointed HR managers for the club. A reasonable person would also recognize that it’s entirely possible that Halladay’s views on working out or on sports psychology simply didn’t jibe with the methods or beliefs of the Jays’ High Performance team, and that the Blue Jays are under no obligation to give someone — even Roy Halladay — a job just because he wants it. Nor should their hiring practices be dictated by fear of what fans or media might freak out about. A reasonable person might recognize that no one in their right mind would have thought that last spring would have been the last time the Jays would have had the chance, too.
But, of course, the conversation around this front office these days makes it really difficult for a lot of people to be reasonable. Over and over and over fans are being told, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, and reinforcing among themselves, the idea that the people running the club they love don’t know the history, don’t respect the history, don’t respect the country, are not one of us, or simply don’t care.
It is really, really, really, really, really fucking tiresome.
And yet it persists.
Sure, it persists partly because of genuine missteps, but it persists even more so because what might be small missteps — or not missteps at all, just things that have the air of misstep, or can be spun as either misstep or tone deafness — get seized on because there’s such a receptive audience for all things negative about Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, and because with each “incident” the narrative grows louder.
Right now fans are understandably frustrated. This week in particular they’re hurting badly. Many have already lost their centre when it comes to thinking like actual human beings about the front office. And so when you nudge them in a particular direction, it’s not hard for what feels like half the herd to start stumbling to where you’re pointing.
The power to do that, as far as I’m concerned, is maybe a little too often not being used in a way to enlighten and serve those fans, but to reinforce their worst, shittiest instincts, and to continue to dehumanize the people running the club (i.e. to poison fans’ relationship with the thing they just want to fucking love and enjoy). I can’t say I believe that’s the intent most times, but it’s certainly sometimes the result. So much so that many of the worst things it’s believed about these people are practically taken as a given at this point. Look at how casually this nonsense was tossed off, for example:
Nice tribute to Roy Halladay at the ACC before Leafs-Wild, including a moment of silence. Showed more heart than the Jays have, to be honest
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) November 9, 2017
It's been so strange: the franchise that Halladay played for has been almost entirely absent in the last 24 hours.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) November 9, 2017
Now, I’ve met Bruce, I like Bruce, and I think he’s great at what he does, but huh? The Jays were maybe a little oddly slow at first, but very much not absent, for one. And for two, the “heartless” trope? Seriously? And we’re really turning social media mourning into a litmus test? And declaring that the Blue Jays have not met some imaginary standard? (Fortunately there was some good push-back in the replies to these tweets, but still.)
Bruce and Bob, who I both have tremendous respect for, are far from the only voices in this conversation, so I hesitate to single them out, especially for such small things, but these are really just a couple very fresh examples. Examples of fans being all but openly invited to think the absolute worst about the people running the club — and, in these cases, at the a time when it couldn’t possibly look worse. And the thing is, it’s sometimes not so simple as a fact being a fact and therefore being fair game to send spinning out into the world. What gets highlighted, what doesn’t get highlighted, the way things are presented, and the way they’re allowed fit into the prevailing narrative about the club — it all matters. And it’s that stuff, more than the things we’re supposed to be angry about, that actually irks me here.
That’s because too often when it comes to this front office it feels like people — fans mostly, but sometimes media get in on it too — have been kicking and kicking and kicking for so long that they don’t even remember why they started kicking in the first place. There’s nothing particularly coherent about what a great many people think of this front office, it’s just constant unthinking bashing in one very easy, very obvious direction. I shouldn’t have to tell anybody why that’s bullshit.
Fans deserve a good faith conversation about what’s really going on with the team. I deserve to not feel I have to be out here on an island defending them. I don’t especially want to do it, and it’s not my job to do it. And reporters deserve the ability to say negative things about the team without me feeling the need to shit on them for it! Even I would love to be able to say, without worrying about what further dumpster fires of thought I’d empower or validate, that of course it’s dumb that the Jays didn’t hire Roy Halladay, and outrageous that they made him apply. I’d maybe even like to say that their initial response to Halladay’s death was disappointingly, yet predictably, underwhelming and perhaps indicative of the fact that the recent firings were a mistake and that they may genuinely have their heads up their asses when it comes to how to fix their enormous PR problem. But there are more than enough people out there willing to say all that anyway — and to say it far more often, and much more venomously — and not nearly enough saying what I think is the far more useful thing at this stage, which is: can we maybe lay off here, resist the urge to stoke fans’ resentments as they mourn, and then maybe actually think for a second about this stuff, and about the tenor of our conversation about the front office and whether it’s remotely fair, reasonable, or in any way makes sense?
Can we maybe not single out a couple choices we don’t like, play dumb as to how reasonable people may have come to them, ignore or dismiss everything about the front office that doesn’t fit what we want to think (like the barely reported fact that, after some recent additions, the club now has more Canadian scouts than at any point since 2002, for example), and then walk around acting like the people at the top of the organization are self-evidently some kind of force for everything negative and wrong and dreadful we can imagine?
That’s hyperbolic, obviously. But, seriously, It feels that way sometimes.
Now, believe me, I understand that there are a whole lot of people who are with me on all this, too. I don’t want to be just as cartoonish here in the other direction as some of the fans’ beliefs and pathologies I’m trying to describe. But it’s bad out there. It’s really rather frustrating and dispiriting sometimes. And — though these are far from the first people I have sympathy for this week — I can only imagine how it must feel to be in the front office, having to sit there and take this stuff — to have people who don’t know you at all constantly assume the worst, and to have it affect your job, your family, and perhaps even your mental well-being.
Some, I’m sure, would say here that the onus is on the front office to win back trust. And it’s absolutely true that the Blue Jays need to quit making it so easy for people to shit all over them — didn’t hire Roy Halladay! Jesus fuck, guys! — but I think that stopping there ignores how badly stacked against them the conversation has become in some corners, how much enjoyment some people get out of keeping it that way, and how comfortable so many fans have become in their total mistrust and willingness to believe the worst. It also takes time. So should we just accept that this is the way fans are going to think about these people for that indeterminate period? Maybe it’s inevitable that they will anyway — some I’ve interacted with I don’t think will ever come around — but, to me, that’s not reason enough to not call out bullshit when I see it.
Yes, I know, we can’t all appreciate this front office. We all don’t have to. There are always going to be people, rightly or wrongly, who can’t stand the things that any front office does, or who have legitimate disagreements. Shit, last month even I wrote a piece ranking the club’s trades and free agent signings in the Shapiro-Atkins era, and didn’t pull any punches when it came to the numerous bad ones. Bad things will happen. Mistakes will be made. But hopefully we can all appreciate that there’s a conversation about this team and the things it does that is worth having with everybody, not just those in our little faction, and that it’s not worth allowing that conversation to be poisoned by blind, unthinking negativity, and petty grievance, at what sometimes feels like every. single. fucking. turn.
We’re all much better off in our understanding of this sport, this team, where it’s going, and the people behind the Blue Jays, when we aren’t insisting that their motivations must either be completely inept or in atrocious bad faith — or feeling we have to drag people away from those notions and back to reality. But it’s hard when so many fans seem genuinely dead set against hearing anything but. And especially hard when such ideas are, if not being outwardly stoked, sometimes being allowed to fester in certain corners of the media.
What fixing it requires, I think, is diligence. Diligence in our willingness to avoid falling into the trap of lazy negativity, and diligence in contributing to the conversation in such a way as to avoid making this shit worse.
Yes, I’m sure the vast, vast majority of people are capable of being far more reasonable than I’m probably making it seem — especially among those actually on this website, reading this piece. But it truly sucks the way this conversation so often goes, and it sucks to watch the animosity people have for the people running the club they want nothing but to love continue to snowball over things that, with a little bit of effort, would look far more justifiable than they allow themselves, or are nudged to believe. A little understanding would go a long way toward changing all this. Maybe this is the wrong time to ask anything of fans, and maybe this is all too much to ask of them anyway. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of reporters, though.