THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
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In preparation for what should be an epic Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between two teams that have notorious droughts in baseball lore, I thought the excitement would be enough to take me through the day anxiously awaiting first pitch. Unfortunately, another story of poor sportsmanship ruined that and may have even altered some of my rooting interests.
As a reminder, I have no dog in this fight. The Yankees are not in it. At most, I am a big Andrew Miller fan for his lack of ego. I also have a huge deal of respect for Terry Francona. I enjoy watching many of the Cleveland Indians players. I also enjoy watching Anthony Rizzo after his good sportsmanship story with Angel Hernandez provided organizations like mine (The OSIP Foundation, Inc.) with the story of a generation of how to promote good sportsmanship. I also applaud Ben Zobrist's versatility. I wish more players had his ability to move around the diamond. Oh yeah, Kris Bryant is a heck of a player too!
If anything, I am constantly puzzled by Joe Maddon. Although he is an innovative thinker and a great speaker, I am constantly lost at how my alma mater, the treacherous Lafayette College, lauds him as the equivalent of Jesus Christ when he didn't even finish is degree there. He dropped out to pursue baseball, then never made it to the big leagues as a player. I also don't understand why Javier Baez is applauded when he still has enough baseball hubris to compare to Barry Bonds.
And the media kills me with their undying love of the Cubs. All you hear about are the stories about how this could be the year. You always see the celebrities and the front office executives being shown as they root for the North Siders. Do the Indians get that type of treatment? No. Typical media bias.
Yet, then I get word of a story like this, and everything gets thrown out the window.
Unless you've been living under a rock for a few years (and I can't say I would blame you due to the political landscape), you're probably aware of the "Marlins Man." His real name is Laurence Leavy, and he's an attorney from Florida. He usually sits directly behind home plate at these big games (to be seen on camera), and he is draped in the brightest of orange as he wears the alternate jersey of the Miami Marlins (as well as a visor). (As a credit to him, his jersey has recently been of Jose Fernandez, and people across America are signing it.)
One would come to expect that Marlins Man would be front and center at the World Series games. However, it was not meant to be this year. According to the story, Leavy attended a game at Progressive Field in June and was littered with abusive threats that caused him to seek the help of the police.
It didn't stop there. Since then, Leavy was constantly bombarded with the same type of behavior via Twitter, all from the fans of the Indians. I'd repeat some of it here, but this is a family-oriented blog.
I took the time to scroll through his Twitter feed to try to read some of it. Much of it was removed already by Leavy himself in order to avoid the negativity. But some remained, and it was bad. Go check it out for yourself if you'd like. Handle: @marlins_man
As such, Leavy will not be attending any of the World Series because he fears for his safety, and I can't say I blame him.
So what caused all this?
Although I can't speak for everyone with hate in their hearts, it probably has something to do with 1997. That was the year the (then) Florida Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians in 7 games in the World Series.
Have Indians fans held on to this grudge for that long?
It appears it may be so.
Look, I understand the disappointment that comes with the letdown of getting so close only to have it vanish. There's something to be said about the idea that some people would rather not have their team make the playoffs if they don't have what it takes to win the whole thing. I remember the same feeling in 2003 when the same Florida Marlins beat the Yanks in 6 games. It's not a fun feeling.
That being said, there's absolutely no reason to treat someone else that way simply because of someone's rooting interest. This is one of the staples of OSIP and why I started the organization. Sure, sometimes we kid with each other, but it never gets to the point of this type of nonsense. Even Leavy himself implores this sentiment.
By the way, if you read some of the hate that follows that tweet, you'll understand why this has become so ridiculous. There are people endorsing the use of trash talking as part of sports.
Now, let's play devil's advocate here. Some of the response is about people claiming Leavy is making it about himself. After all, why would wear such noticeable duds and sit in shot of the camera if you didn't want to be noticed? Is it about you or about something else? It's a fair point. It almost mirrors the argument that all of social media faces, in that it is a constant demand for attention so that people are noticed and recognized for reasons that serve the self. Do people need the endorsement of others in order to feel good about themselves?
Perhaps this has some weight. And maybe Leavy himself will answer this question for us. (Maybe he'll even come on my radio show to discuss it.) But until we know that answer, let's consider how the good might outweigh the bad.
When people become these icons and are given a forced celebrity status, they have the opportunity to promote good causes. It can be larger things, such as political candidates or charitable ventures, or it can be smaller social things, such as the memory of someone who has been lost tragically. It's not so much black and white as it is gray, especially when one of the major outcomes is a goal with a huge intrinsic value to the man himself: enjoying baseball! Hell, I might do the same thing if it meant I got to go to these great stadiums and watch the game I love.
Leavy has taken on some of this himself. The amount of love and support poured out for Jose Fernandez has been a key to this. One of his tweets actually references how stupid mistakes should not change how much we love people.
And yet some people (based on the responses to this tweet) continue to harp that Fernandez is now worthless because he made bad decisions. Yes, it's gray. Yes, it's tough. And we can be disappointed that he made these decisions under the circumstances. Personal responsibility is a thing that doesn't get enough attention these days. But tragedy is tragedy.
So why the hate? Is it because people just can't walk away? Probably.
If you don't like the Marlins Man, then don't follow him. Don't talk to him. Just respect everybody and enjoy the game. But some fans can't do that, perhaps out of a lack of self-respect that requires others to suffer in order for those people to feel good about themselves.
What's even more unfortunate, though, is that some of Leavy's claims are backed up by another unfortunate story about a 7-year-old Cubs fan.
Johnny Wallach got a ball from batting practice from Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler (via another nice fan). He was at Progressive Field for his birthday watching his team (the Cubs) in Cleveland in the World Series. Unfortunately, he left in the first inning after being knocked out by an elbow to the face. He suffered a concussion, and nobody bothered to help him and his father, David. If you read the story, you'll get the full scoop. But the highlight (or low-light) is when the young kid was unconscious with his father and a police officer tending to him, only to have Indians fans shout obscenities while passing by.
So it's not enough that your team is winning? You have to make sure a 7-year-old hears about it while he is unconscious?
I picked Cleveland in 7 based on the on-field talent. Now I question that based on the above accounts.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.