Thursday Thoughts: Don’t Buy Into The Fan’s Manny Shtick

After a brief hiatus, Andrew Stetka returns with his Thursday Thoughts column for ESR.

1. I was pleasantly surprised, for the most part, in the crowd’s reaction to Manny Machado’s return to Baltimore this week. It’s not that I expected to hear overwhelming booing from the fans, but I expected to hear more of it than I did. It’s great that, at least over the TV broadcast, it couldn’t really be heard at all. It looked all positive for Machado, who deserved all positive.

Machado provided Orioles fans with some of their best memories in the last handful of years. Anyone who wants to blame him for taking a contract elsewhere (especially when the Orioles didn’t make him a fair market offer), is only lashing out for their own health. They aren’t doing it for any practical reason. Machado is one of the best players to put on the Oriole uniform in Baltimore history, and certainly one of the most talented.

His “antics” that folks like to talk about are often overblown. I certainly didn’t defend him when he intentionally threw a bat into the field of play. I haven’t defended some of his other actions or words, either. But none of these things make him a bad person, and they certainly don’t make him a bad player. I also tended to get on Machado’s case quite often about his baserunning.

But I also came to realize that if being a bad baserunner came with the rest of his talents, I’d take those talents every day.

2. Much of the reaction surrounding Manny’s return to Baltimore and the “urge” to perhaps boo him was propagated by the local flagship radio station in town. I’m not here to bash the station. In fact, I used to work for the station, left on good terms, and know many of the people who still work there. But some of the nonsense spewed both on the airwaves and on social media about Machado over the last few weeks was really disappointing. Admittedly, I don’t listen to the station often. But what I heard was silly and still somehow not surprising.

There’s probably a larger conversation to be had here about sports talk radio in general. Most of what was being drummed up at the flagship was surely just “shtick.” It was all a wacky bit that was done in order to drum up interest and conversation around a baseball team that has really done nothing itself to gain any positive attention. All of that is fine, if you’re into it.

I’m honestly not super worked up about the station’s approach to Machado’s return, because I understand where it’s coming from. I do tend to question, however, the response to that approach. Perhaps the people who are really worked up about it and bothered don’t realize it’s just a bit. Perhaps those who got their pom-poms out to support such an approach are just joining in on the bit to have some fun, and don’t really mean to express some kind of angst towards Machado.

Either way, I think both are silly. Maybe I’m just an old guy now, but the idea of sports talk radio as it’s presently constituted just gives me a headache. I tend to listen to and read more nuanced takes when it comes to sports, and frankly, life. The back-and-forth yelling and “hot take” culture just isn’t for me.

Interesting debate and conversation is one thing, but that’s not what the flagship was trying to do when it came to Machado.

3. Seeing Adley Rutschman’s deal get done this week was a welcomed sign. The 21-year-old immediately becomes the most important player in the Orioles organization, which is a heavy burden. But it’s also one he can’t and won’t carry alone. There’s also a ton of pressure on Mike Elias and whether or not he got it right. I think the frustrating thing I’ve seen since the O’s drafted Rutschman is the instant comparison to Matt Wieters. It entered that sports talk radio “hot take” zone very quickly.

I heard a lot of disappointment that the Orioles drafted another catcher who wouldn’t live up to the hype. I don’t get the folks who say Wieters didn’t live up the hype. It was hype that was only created by scouts and media, then given life by fans. He never lived up to the “Jesus in Cleats” moniker that was placed upon him, but Wieters was a very good player on many very good teams. He was well worth it and the O’s got exactly what they needed out of him as a player.

The expectations for Rutschman are already beyond those of Wieters, from what I’ve seen. That’s fine, too. Expectations, which is that word I love to write about, are fine to have with a player. But if he doesn’t quite hit the high-water marks being set for him, that’s okay too. The Orioles need Rutschman to be an important piece of their future. There’s no doubt about that. But if he doesn’t turn out to be a Hall of Fame player, that’s okay too.

If he turns out to be Matt Wieters, the Orioles will survive.

4. In my small hiatus from writing in this space, I’ve been doing a lot of lurking. I’ve sat back and watched what people have to say on social media about the Orioles, and to be honest, it’s been more entertaining than the games. For those who are actually interested in paying attention to this team, I’ve been surprised at the number of fans who are genuinely disappointed or saddened at the way they are playing. It’s almost as if many are saying, “we expected them to be bad, but not THIS bad.”

Really? Not THIS bad? Frankly, I expected the Orioles to be exactly this bad. I expect them to be pretty bad next year too. Maybe not 2019 or 2018 bad, but close. This is what a rebuild brings to the table. It’s a ton of losing, and not a lot of fun.

I know it’s really tough for fans to stomach, but you also have other options. You don’t have to watch every game. The Orioles aren’t going to be offended if you skip a few here and there. I’ve done it. Apathy is a really dangerous thing, but so is holding your eyelids open with your fingers and force-feeding bad baseball into your brain.

I’ve written a lot over the last few seasons about expectations. I’ve probably even overused the word when it comes to the Orioles. Mostly, expectations were completely different than they appeared coming into this season. But the concept goes both ways. You couldn’t have expected anything more from this group than it is giving you. This is the bad end of what is supposed to be a long and drawn out process. There aren’t many (any) good players on the team, and newsflash, that makes for a pretty bad team.

Expecting anything different is just wasting your time and energy.

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