Ruben Amaro should have known better. He’s been around here almost his entire life, as a kid and as a major-league player and as a high-powered executive. He knows the way Philadelphia-area media and fans think and react, and over the years he’s heard plenty of other people stick a foot in their mouth and say something that haunts them forever, whether it’s Terrell Owens’ “For who? For what?” or Allen Iverson’s “Practice? We’re talkin’ about practice?” or, more recently, LeSean McCoy calling Eagles coach Chip Kelly racist because he got rid of black players (and replaced them with black players).
Amaro should also know that you can get away with a lot more around here when you’re winning, but not so much when you’re losing.
And then he went and said something dumb anyway.
Amaro, the Phillies general manager, has been the target of radio and television talk show hosts and countless blasts on Twitter, Facebook, etc., ever since he took what sounds like a cheap shot at Phillies fans, who, for some reason, are unhappy that the Phillies stink.
Amaro was talking to Jim Salisbury, the respected baseball writer for Comcast SportsNet, and the subject turned to the Phillies’ recent use of young players as they rebuild for the future. Amaro said that even though the Phillies recently called up third baseman Maikel Franco and have played him on a regular basis, there are other good, young players down on the farm that they won’t rush to the big-league roster.
Amaro added that he knows that patient approach isn’t popular with the fans, and then he kept talking when he should have stopped.
“They don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process,” Amaro said. “And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place, and we’re sticking with the plan.”
Well, the fans do understand some things, including the fact that the Phillies have gotten worse every season since Amaro took over as general manager in 2009, after Pat Gillick retired following the 2008 World Series parade. And the fans bitch and complain because the Phillies are one of the worst teams in baseball and will be for the foreseeable future.
And how much baseball does a fan have to know to look at the standings and see that the Phillies, who finished 23 games out of first place last season, are already nine games out and it’s still May. That brings to mind a line I use often when people question whether a sports writer is qualified to cover a sport he never played at a high level. I just tell them that I’m not much of a cook, but I know when something tastes like garbage (actually, I usually come up with a more colorful metaphor).
An interesting aspect of this latest controversy – it wouldn’t have been one if Amaro had made those same comments five or 10 years ago. Hardly anybody would have known about it at first and then it would have taken time for those comments to spread. But in today’s Twitter world, where everything is made public as soon as it happens, and sometimes even before that, Amaro’s remarks ignited an immediate firestorm of criticism from Philly fans in general and Phillies fans in particular. And because of all the online forums, etc., those fans now have an outlet to vent their anger.
Amaro didn’t burn a flag or insult anybody’s mother, but he did take a shot at legions of fans who have supported the Phillies for years. And Amaro realized the folly of his remarks soon after he made them. Once he and the Phillies public relations office found out that Twitter was all a-twitter with media and fans ripping their GM, Amaro jumped on local talk radio and did other interviews to say that his comments were taken out of context and that he didn’t mean all Phillies fans are knuckleheads and, no, he has never been a member of the Communist party.
Amaro has always had a good, easy-going relationship with local media, although that was easy to do when the Phillies were winning 100 games and everybody was patting him on the back for signing Cliff Lee and trading for Roy Halladay. For a while, almost all of Amaro’s moves were met with approval and his smiling face was popping up everywhere.
Then it all changed. The established stars got old and the new stars never shined and the fans stopped packing Citizens Bank Park, and what was once the best team in baseball is now one of the worst. And the fans – even the ones who don’t understand the game – are smart enough to see that.