I was in the building for last Thursday's Mets-Cubs game and experienced the early season booing of David Wright. The ignorant howls of the fanbase's dregs were audible during recent teevee broadcasts so it wasn't a totally unexpected phenomenon. Regardless, it was a firsthand reminder of the "blame the superstar syndrome" that has plagued Mets fans, the mainstream media and even the Mets front office in recent years. It's not exclusive to the Mets, but given the disappointments of the last few seasons, and the presence of legit superstars on the roster, there probably isn't a more drastic example of the syndrome anywhere else in MLB.
Conflating team performance with individual performance seems to be one root of the problem. When a team has success, its stars are unreasonably glorified. Witness the deification of Derek Jeter or the suggestion that Andy Pettitte (but not Bert Blyleven) is a Hall of Famer. Conversely, when a team fails, the stars seem to unfairly bear the brunt of the vitriol from fans. The Phillies-Mets dichotomy is a perfect illustration. Met fans know the storyline by heart now -- the Philles' core has been no better than the Mets core, yet Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are a bunch of gritty winners while Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are choke artists with no testicular fortitude.
In the specific case of Wright, another problem is that most fans don't realize just how awesome he was before 2009. Team-wide failure diminished individual triumph. He was a 7-8 win player on multiple occasions but fan perception was probably more like 5-6 given the circumstances. Had the Mets won the World Series in any of those seasons, he would probably be perceived as a 9-10 win player. When Wright's performance dropped off last year to the three win range, it probably felt more like 1-2 wins for a lot of fans. Met fans were spoiled by the Wright of '05-'08. Hall of Fame caliber performance was taken for granted.
This syndrome is fostered by media bigshots like Bill Simmons, who created an incredibly flawed meme, "Ewing Theory" (Ewing won a national title at Georgetown, how does this theory make any sense?) which fosters the "blame the superstar" mentality. The New York based press is notorious for this behavior as well. Kevin Kernan and Mike Lupica are two noteworthy
trolls Beltran haters. There are dozens of similar examples but I have neither the time nor motivation to link them.
Recent comments by Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti displayed that it's not just fans and talk radio blockheads who play the superstar blame game. The Dodgers aren't playing very well, so Colletti took to the airwaves and called out Matt Kemp, otherwise known as the Dodgers' best player. Kemp was undoubtedly annoyed, and his agent Dave Stewart had some harsh words for the man who gave bloated Andruw Jones a fat $36 million contract and traded solid prospect Josh Bell for middle reliever George Sherrill. Colletti messed up big-time with his comments about Kemp and doesn't seem to be remorseful (check out Memories of Kevin Malone for a good take on the situation). The whole thing reminded me of Omar Minaya's "edge" comments about Wright and Reyes last season. For anyone who's forgotten, here is what he said:
There is a smile on David Wright's face, a smile on Jose Reyes's face. But there is not an edge to them.
It's not on par with booing or Colletti's invective, but it's something. Wright and Reyes don't complain about Omar's failure to surround them with complementary players; Omar shouldn't make asinine statements about the goldmine he inherited on the left side of the infield. Rob Neyer recently relayed a Bill James-ism that "lousy organizations tend to blame their best players when things aren't going well." The Mets and Dodgers aren't exactly the Royals or Astros, but I would classify them as lousy organizations. Contrast Colletti and Omar with Theo Epstein defending Jacoby Ellsbury's defense or Brian Cashman never publicly saying Jeter's defense was subpar. Bill James's line rings true.
This post is sort of all over the place and not as eloquent as originally hoped. And I suspect most reading this probably feel the same way about the human garbage who boo the best position player in Mets history. It's just something that needed to be expressed. There's no real message here, outside of the obvious concept that fans, and general managers, shouldn't crap on their team's laudable players.