Alternate title: Can Die Hard Fans Ever Be Satisfied ? (John McClain just keeps coming back)
Although I’m not a Philadelphia Phillies fans, I hear what they say. Most of it is justified–the Philadelphia Phillies are the losingest franchise in sports history. They have an ownership group consisting of 13 different people, none of which especially give a crap about A) winning and B) baseball, two things you should probably enjoy if and when owning a baseball franchise.
Anyway, this isn’t a diatribe on incompetent management. It’s about fans. Diehard fans. In the case of the Phillies, I constantly hear diehard fans gripe/bitch/moan about Ryan Howard. 2005 Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard. 2006 Home Run Derby Champ/Nationl League MVP Ryan Howard. Even after having a “down season” in 2007, Ryan Howard finished 5th in MVP voting behind Jimmy Rollins. In 4 full season, he has 159 homeruns, exactly what you want from a first baseman who pushed another great basher, Jim Thome, out of town.
Here’s the thing: Ryan Howard strikes out. Alot. If strikeouts were Emmy nominations, he’d be Mad Men. When Ryan Howard strikes out, it looks really bad. You know the kid on your little league team, and no offense if that kid was you, who look completely overmatched in the batter’s box? He would swing 9 seconds after the ball already hit the catcher’s mitt and/or spin around and fall down on a missed swing? That’s Ryan Howard when he strikes out–childish, foolish, painful.
With a baseball glove in his hand, Ryan Howard is also laughable. He bungles routine ground balls. He makes errant throws to second base. He can’t dig balls out of the dirt. A cardboard cutout of Mark Grace would do better defensively for the Phillies over 162 games than Ryan Howard.
But guess what? When he’s in the batter’s box and is locked in…it’s Russel Simmons time: God bless and good night.
If he stays healthy and on this pace, Ryan Howard will probably hit 500 homeruns before all is said and done. He’ll still strike out close to 200 times a year and at best bat .270 in a given season. But if you want a guy who you could safely pencil in for 45-55 homeruns and 110-130 RBI a year for the next 5 years, he’s your man.
With all of this in mind, there’s alot of Phillies fans who want him traded. “He kills you on defense,” they say. “He strikes out too much,” they surmize. “He wants too much money,” they conclude. What these fans fail to realize is that they watching an absolute juggernaut night in and night out. Ryan Howard’s skill lies in his all-or-nothing approach to hitting: he’s either going to strike out or massacre a fastball, shooting it into the Philadelphia night further than almost any human can fathom. Does it matter than he plays first base like a snack machine? The Bulls didn’t pay Dennis Rodman to shoot free throws.
This Ryan Howard doesn’t strike out as much and is a terror on the base paths in company soft ball.
Diehard Phillies fans demand more from Ryan Howard. They have unrealistic expectations at times. They take for granted how amazingly potent and jawdropping Ryan Howard can be when his bat gets hot. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In hip hop, two artists that instantly pop into my head in terms of always catching hell from their diehards are Nas and Wu-Tang Clan. Like Ryan Howard, both seemingly came out nowhere and dominanted instantly. Nas and the Wu dropped albums held not only amongst the greatest in rap music, but in all music. Once the magic wore off in a few years (Nastradamus and albums by U-God, Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, etc), diehard fans either walked away or apologized and waited like grumpy old men for a return to glory days of the past. Both acts had their teaser moments–a great guest apperance here, an introspective interview there. Ryan Howard does the same thing: he’ll go on a 2 week stretch where he wouldn’t hit sand if he fell off a friggin camel and then POW!!!! Five homeruns in 3 days. The romance is reignited, memories are erased, threats are recinded. The diehards can breathe again.
But can diehards ever truly be content? I remember reading a review of Wu-Tang’s album The W when it dropped. The reviewer said it was a good album but knocked it because it had too many guest apperances from outside rappers. I’m sorry–do you want to hear Islord on a RZA beat or Nas? Carlton Fisk or Busta Rhymes? When Supreme Clientele dropped, heralded as Ghostface’s best work and one of the best hip hop albums of this decade, I remember a critic knocking it for its lack of originality. Nevermind the fact that he invented slang (“Nutmeg”), covered concepts no one had done before (“Child’s Play”), and had certified bangers in every direction (“Apollo Kids,” “One,” “Buck 50”)…Ghost used familiar drum breaks and old school hooks, so fuck him.
Nas’ recording career has suffered the same fate: it’s been 14 years since the masterpiece Illmatic, 12 years since the really good follow-up It Was Written. If you’ve listened to any of his last 3 albums, it’s clear that he will never be that good again for a whole album. He hasn’t had a crossover hit since Vin Baker was sober. And yet Nas fans will either hate on his beat selection or wrongly praise him for testing new gimmicks designed as “social awareness.” Technically, he is the greatest writer in hip hop history and has a collection of songs that can rival anyone in the business. But crafting excellent LPs front to back are the sliders low and away he can’t hit.
So what are diehards left to do? Yankees fans hate Alex Rodriguez mainly because he isn’t Derek Jeter, isn’t clutch, hasn’t won a title since joining the team. In reality, he’s done his part, winning 3 MVPs in the last 5 years, carrying teams with mediocre pitching, and living up to a contract some rich guy was smart/dumb enough to give him. He will probably retire as the greatest offensive player in baseball history…and it’s not enough.
Wu-Tang fans were divided on their last LP, 8 Diagrams. It was the first album from the entire Clan in 7 years, produced almost exclusively by the RZA, and featured tons of kung-fu samples, Shaolin slang, headcrack beats, and a Beatles cover. But it wasn’t 36 Chambers, so it wasn’t enough.
Being a diehard allows you to see flaws up close. Casual fans don’t grasp the nuances and subtleties–there are not invested. As a diehard, you are making the commitment to spend your time, money, and energy on something you will stand behind. Is it ethical to walk away from something that doesn’t return the favor?
Once you undestand the flaws of your favorite team or favorite rapper, is it your duty to understand them or demand better?
Are you comfortable being passionate about something with a glaring weakness that does not get addressed?
Can you appreciate something for what it is or for what it potentially could be?
Let me know what you think.
*Goes back to listening to “Camp Fire”