1998 Topps Gold Label Class 3 #3 - Albert Belle
Why do Chicago fans boo? Why does any fan boo?
Alfonso Soriano opened his mouth and stuck his foot in it this week, when he criticized fans for booing. I can't speak for any other region, but I feel like I can speak for the majority of Chicago fans. I've lived nearly thirty-five years on the south suburban outskirts of the great city of Chicago. In fact, if I stand on the northeast corner of my hometown, I could literally throw a stone into the Chicago city limits without much effort. I would just have to throw kitty corner across a busy intersection and hope that the red light cameras wouldn't catch my purely scientific toss.
Ozzie Guillen added that he never got booed when he played in Chicago and he was a terrible hitter. Well, those things are mostly true. As with any Ozzie Guillen statement, there is a grain of truth to it. Ozzie wasn't a great hitter, but he knew what to do at the plate. Ozzie specialized in wearing a pitcher down. If he couldn't get on base, he would foul off pitch after pitch to give the rest of his teammates a better chance. Chicago loves a player with a blue collar work ethic and this was one example of something we loved seeing.
Ozzie also had the benefit of lowered expectations. He wasn't expected to hit. He was expected to field. The teams that he was on during the first third of his career didn't exactly scream contention either. Those parameters tend to lower expectations on hitters. When the Sox were good during the middle of his career, all he had to do was field in the great tradition of Venezuelan shortstops and everything was fine. He accomplished that and managed to stay ahead of Ron Karkovice in batting average every year, except for his injury shortened 1992 season.
Alfonso Soriano, Adam Dunn and Scott Linebrink were/are booed for the exact same reason. Money. They all have had expensive contracts during their tenures in Chicago. All had greatly underperformed at some point of that contract for an extended amount of time. Soriano was booed during a stretch where his production was down from his usual career standards. Age and injury were to blame for those, which Chicago fans did take into account. A surly attitude and arrogance by Soriano didn't help his cause. The rest is the fault of unfulfilled expectations of a huge contract.
Don't get me wrong. A surly attitude won't prevent Chicago fans from embracing a player. Take Albert Belle. His reputation coming into Chicago wasn't exactly sterling. There was the whole Batgate controversy that irked White Sox fans to no end. When it came time for Belle to play on the South Side, most fans put those feelings aside, and they were rewarded with one good year and one incredible year. Albert kept his nose clean, concentrated on the game and good things followed. He still holds the White Sox single season record for home runs.
Scott Linebrink came into Chicago with great expectations and a big contract for a non-closer reliever. He fell apart for the majority of his first season here and it seemed like he gave up amazingly long home runs every time he pitched. Chicago fans gave him the benefit of the doubt for quite awhile, until it was apparent that he couldn't accomplish his main purpose for being on the team. He did improve greatly during the last few years in Chicago, but a good chunk of fans just couldn't embrace him after a horrific first season. Again, money had a lot to do with that. If he was paid close to the league minimum, I think he might still be in Chicago.
I was skeptical of Adam Dunn ever since the White Sox tried to land him last season. I embraced him after he signed. He said all the right things and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He got off to a terrific start and then was sidelined by an appendectomy. Since he came back from that ailment, he hasn't been the same. He has shown signs of his old self, but so far, nothing has clicked for any extended amount of time. The booing was there after awhile as his struggles continued. The boos have gotten really bad this month. The fans have given him the benefit of the doubt for three months. I can't imagine any other major market giving a struggling player with a big contract that much of a leash. The boos will subside for Adam once he returns to form.
In Chicago, we love characters. We love a great work ethic. We can't stand self righteous players, especially when they don't produce. There is a reason why Chicago didn't embrace Nick Swisher. His year here was highlighted by a self thrown pity party and career low statistics. He tried too hard to be "the guy" and Chicago fans don't like phonies. We love eccentrics. We love unique individuals. We love team guys. Chicago fans can't stand phony players and crybabies. We don't mind complainers, but the complaint had better be something that can be backed up. We can tolerate Ozzie Guillen dissing Wrigley Field because there are kernels of truth to what he says. Orlando Cabrera calling the official scorer to overturn an error on two different occasions is something most Chicago fans consider petty and is a good example of why he wasn't embraced in Chicago.
The next time Alfonso Soriano hears the boos of Chicago fans, maybe he should be reminded that he makes more in a year than most of the fans booing him will see in twenty years of working steadily. If he doesn't want to hear the boos, perhaps he should consider going back to D.C., where they aren't expecting a contender this year. Maybe they will appreciate a player who hops as he catches a ball and shows up on time.