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How do sports fans turn on players so quickly?

by Nik Gaur

This is part two of a two-part series on the disappointing 2022 White Sox season. Part one, posted yesterday, explored where the White Sox might go from here and how their efforts may ultimately be futile, while part two explores criticism directed by fans onto players. You can read part one here.


What does it mean to be a fan of a team? Considering the entire premise of being a fan is typically devoid of meaningful, personal connections with the players one roots for, the definition should vary greatly from person to person.

Individual fanbases, too, would likely react differently to the question. For example, being a Chicago White Sox fan may often imply a special connection with Chicago, specifically the south side, as well as an “underdog” mentality.

The way I see it is that while many cliches of being a White Sox fan are indeed true about me, at the end of the day, I root for players more than an organization as a whole — especially when the organization, by nature, does not have my best interests at heart. For example, while this is obviously easier to say than carry out, I genuinely do not think I would continue to be a White Sox fan if they brought a Deshaun Watson situation upon themselves.

On the bright side, it just so happens that I like the vast majority of players on the White Sox roster. It may be difficult to feel this way during this particular season, but as recently as 2020, I would argue that likability was one of the greatest allures of the White Sox’ core talent (of course, outside of their on-field potential).


Grappling with underperformance from those same players, then, is a different task for individual fans. Some will react negatively and wish for the players to be traded, designated for assignment, or demoted. Others may be disappointed enough to cease their support of the players. And others might hold out hope that a performance rebound is near.

Every reaction (short of sending threats or negative messages directly to players online) is valid, especially for passionate fans who understandably feel lied to given the circumstances of a rebuild that, at least as of now, appears quite unlikely to result in a championship. However, I personally have been bothered by the way White Sox fans have reacted to player underperformance this season — particularly when it comes to Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, and Yasmani Grandal.

Perhaps you are aware that these three players happen to be among my favorites on the team. Of course, I realize that all three have had dreadful seasons. I mention this because I feel as though, to some, mentioning that I like a player who is not playing well comes off as me foolishly believing that they have been playing well. Maybe this is simply because of the different ways fandom manifests itself, but for me, a favorite player of mine underperforming is not a reason to simply stop supporting that player, and supporting a player through a bad season does not mean you believe his production has been satisfactory.

For example, Lucas Giolito might have experienced the most sudden downturn in fan approval for the White Sox this year. As we all know, after a terrible 2018 season, Giolito worked hard to reinvent himself and was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2019-2021. He became one of my favorite players, not only for his success on the field but for his cerebral approach to the game and his obvious work ethic. I feel as though many White Sox fans agreed with my sentiments.

However, during a much worse 2022, I can’t even read social media on days when Giolito pitches without seeing incessant complaining, wishes for him to be traded, or comments mocking his potential salary/contract (Giolito is set to hit free agency after the 2023 season). For me, this is the kind of behavior I just struggle to understand. I know that there has always been a vocal minority of White Sox fans that never liked Giolito, even during his outstanding three-year run. But this type of over-the-top criticism is not just limited to that faction.

Personally, it is difficult for me to see Giolito struggle. He is clearly working hard to get things right, and the absolute last thing I feel compelled to do as I watch him underperform is to mock him. I will never understand how fans can turn on a player so quickly, warranted or not, purely based on performance (as opposed to an off-field issue, such as sexual misconduct).

I am quite confident that Giolito will perform well in his contract year en route to securing the free agent contract he covets, whether with the White Sox or another team. If he spends next year with the White Sox and performs well, will the same fans who tried to run him out of town and mocked his desire to be paid what he is worth suddenly turn back to rooting for him? I genuinely do not mean for that to come off as condescending or gatekeeping Giolito/White Sox fandom — it just further underscores my confusion about how fans who root for organizations above all can rationalize the inconsistency in their treatment of players. It is one thing to criticize, but what I have seen this season is over the top.


This brings another pet peeve to mind, which is the tendency by fans to (at best) undersell or (at worst) gaslight when it comes to past performance. For instance, when people defend Giolito by pointing to his three years of solid pitching, detractors will often “well, actually” his 2021 by claiming that it was not good, or that Giolito was bad after MLB cracked down on foreign substances (in fact, he was better after the ban).

With Yasmani Grandal, they will claim that his 2021 was actually not that good, or my personal least favorite argument: “if you remove Grandal’s best stretch of the season, his season was fairly unremarkable!” (I hate this argument because you could do this with any player to craft any narrative you want, and attempting to downplay a .420 OBP, .940 OPS, 158 wRC+ season is asinine. The only legitimate argument to take away from Grandal’s 2021 is time missed due to injuries).

Similar arguments are made against Yoan Moncada, and while it is correct that he has not repeated his superstar 2019, he was still a very good player in 2021. The idea that he was always his 2022 self could not be further from the truth, as he wasn’t even close to this bad offensively during his first two seasons with the White Sox.


At this point, it may sound like I am just excusing poor performance by pointing to players’ good track records. My intention, however, is to argue that it is fair to point out that a player has been performing poorly (as all three of the players mentioned have) without needing to discredit their past or wish harm against them on a personal level. The number of celebratory comments I saw the night it appeared that Yasmani Grandal suffered a season-ending knee injury was ridiculous.

Of course, I have discussed these three players because they happen to be some of my favorites on the White Sox. I have not brought up Leury Garcia, as while he has also been awful in 2022, I have never been particularly drawn to him as a player. Of course, I wish him well and hope he succeeds, but since I have never enjoyed his style of play, his failures do not faze me in the same way. In my ideal world, White Sox fans who have never been drawn to Giolito, Grandal, or Moncada would feel the same way.

Overall, I have not been the kind of person to tell others how they should be a fan, and I hope that this does not come off as an attempt to do so. I simply have struggled to understand how fans can so quickly turn on players that they so recently loved, even if their performance has cratered.

The most common idea I have read is that most fans see players solely as mediums for entertainment rather than human beings, so the moment their entertainment value is lost, they become burdens. However, that does not really explain the vitriol for Giolito and Moncada, two players in their athletic primes that figure to bounce back the same way Paul Konerko did after 2003 or Mark Buerhle did after 2006. (Before those comparisons upset anyone, the point is just that even good/great players can have unexpected bad seasons in their primes.)

If these players remain with the White Sox in the future and perform more in line with their career norms, I do hope that the collective fanbase gives them the respect they deserve (both currently, and in this hypothetical). This is not about believing in players when they are struggling so I can say “I told you so,” but maintaining my respect and admiration for them as athletes. Obviously, it has been a very frustrating year for White Sox fans, but I find it difficult to understand the logic in directing that frustration primarily at players who have been very good as recently as last year and figure to bounce back in the near future.


Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more updates!

Featured Photo: © David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


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obrien1950

What makes baseball an interesting game to follow is the aspect of it is a game of 9 individual talents combining to make a team. The players are judged as individuals while the team is judged only by wins and losses. The combination of these talents, including all the players on the roster, make for a winning or losing outcome. It is totally different than the other sports people follow. The fans, when upset at the team’s performance, usually take it out on individuals who are underperforming or not performing to the standards the fans have set for them. The… Read more »

Ryan

Many fair points and I appreciate your perspective. Despite my fierce fandom and team loyalty I admit I am certainly guilty of turning on players during extended periods of poor performance. I confess that it can go beyond simply acknowledging and forgiving poor performance in light of past success and hope for future resurgence, but it never crosses over into wishing ill or an irrational cry for immediate DFA as you so rightly call out can be all to common. For me, the impetus for turning on players is almost always tied to deficiency, admittedly perceived, in the qualities and… Read more »

John

It sounded like you were talking about the Stock Market and individual company stocks. But with investing in stocks, you can sell them when they don’t perform. There is no contract to force you to keep them on your team of stocks.

CPS

Often times we have no idea what players are dealing with on an everyday basis. Are they injured and trying to play through it? Are they distracted by family issues? Are they simply trying too hard and not getting results? (Abreu?) I’m a White Sox fan and a disappointing season doesn’t change that!

Larry VanDeSande

I played baseball since about age 6 and followed White Sox 60 years. It wasn’t until this year that I learned being a fan was conditional on the team meeting my personal expectations. 2022 is not the first time White Sox have underachieved. It has happened at least once a decade in the six decades I have followed the team. In 1968, 1984 and 2013 the team was more than 20 games worse than the season before with nearly the same or even improved roster. This year’s team had unprecedented number and type of injuries in my experience. Yet fans… Read more »

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