Cubs fans have developed the nasty habit of turning bitterly on certain players that put on the blue and white uniforms. The anger and vehemence that some spew seems to largely be fueled by stathead drivel on fan web-sites from people who, if they only were able to run the team, would call an end to the team's century-long vacation from titleland. This phenomena, augmented to demented degrees over the last five years, is my least favorite aspect of being a Cubs fan.
Certainly, some Cubs players deserve to be booed and derided (Felix Heredia). More recent targets of fans' spite, however, are not as defensible. At spring training the year that Maddux returned to the Cubs and Todd Walker was unveiled as the new second baseman, Walker spent a lot of time with fans at HoHoKam. After one game, he stood around, signed autographs, and chatted leisurely with people in the stands. While near us, a fan behind me screamed out that had Walker been playing shortstop and not Alex Gonzalez, the Cubs would have played in the World Series the year previous. That claim is, obviously, idiotic and, to his credit, Walker responded simply that the fan was not correct. AGone was certainly not the best shortstop I've ever seen in a Cubs uniform, but he did nothing to deserve the emnity of any fan of the team (because, of course, as any true Cubs fan knows, fault for Game 6 lies squarely with Bernie Mac and Fox). In the NLDS and NLCS, AGone hit four home runs, knocked in eight runs, and had an OPS of .966. AGone had the game winning rbi (a solo home run off of Mike Hampton) in Game 5 at Turner Field that resulted in the first postseason series win that most Cubs fans had ever seen. He deserved to be remembered for those contributions, not damned for a botched double play ball.
That same spring training the Cubs unveiled another prominent free agent signing, LaTroy Hawkins. Never has a relief pitcher with a 2.63 ERA been more reviled by North Siders. LaTroy's sin was that he blew three saves at Wrigley and six saves on the road. He would blow nine saves in 2005 as well, (cumulatively, as a Cub and a Giant, after the Cubs dumped him for Jerome Williams and Aardsma). The hatred for LaTroy, however, was and remains inexplicable given the horrid performances of many other Cubs players during those two years. In 2004, I traveled significant distances to watch two of Hawkins' meltdowns, the Rob f'ing Mackowiak double header at PNC Ballpark and the Victor f'ing Diaz debacle at Shea. And I remain one of Hawkins' biggest fans. Hawkins didn't fail because he wasn't trying, he put everything into his job, and sometimes it just didn't work out. The fact that LaTroy is African-American should have made the vile spewed towards him even more reprehensible for the rest of Cubs Nation.
Fast forward to 2006 and the Cubs' brass acquires Jacque Jones. The GM starts off Jones' tenure by throwing him under a bus by informing dissatisfied Cubs' fans that Jones is sure to improve at Wrigley. JJ puts up decent numbers in 2006. In fact, his offensive numbers are the best for him in any single season outside of his career year in 2002. And yet, Cubs fans hated him. Annoyance with Cubs management for trying to plug a hole (one of three) in the outfield with Jones is aimed upstairs, but largely rains down on Jacque from the bleachers. When Jones struggled during the first half of 2007, Cubs fans called for blood both at Wrigley and on the internet. Many openly mourned when a deal giving Jones to the Florida Marlins for nothing fell through. Needless to say, I've remained one of Jones' biggest fans, largely because of who he is (thanks also to Sam Walker for confirming my thoughts on Jones in his excellent book FantasyLand) and because he works harder then almost everyone I know to be good at what he gets paid (handsomely) to do. And so it is with great joy that I watched Jones lay out today in centerfield -- on a ball that Soriano probably would have caught -- to insure an out that would maintain a one-run deficit that could be erased by one swing of DLee's bat. And it was with great joy that I watched and listened to Cubs Nation, short-term memory fully in action, give Jones a hardy ovation for his efforts while he lay on the grass with the wind knocked out of him. And it is with great joy that I can go back to the fan sites that I frequent and ignore the blowhards who still claim that we would be better off with Pie in centerfield.
The Cubs are in first place. In August, with Soriano out for the bulk of the month, Jones hit .349, knocked in 21 runs, stole four bases, played a good centerfield and posted an OPS of .909. Jacque Jones has carried this team. And when this hot streak cools, when the boos start to begin again, I hope that most Cubs fans will remember what Jones has done for our team this last month and tell their drunken neighbor to shut the hell up and drink his beer.