CLEVELAND - Baseball players and baseball fans will never understand each other. There is a fundamental disconnect.
Players may say they love the fans, but that's in the collective sense. When things are going well, who wouldn't enjoy being backed by 10,00, 50,000, or 100,000 cheering fans? Fans can be an energy source.
But on a one-to-one basis, players have no clue what it is to be a fan, to have a DNA inherited from a parent who rooted for a team, as did his father and his father. They don't know what it's like to spend an entire day waiting for a big game and getting there after working at a job he or she detests. They don't know, or care, about an incident that cost the team a key game five years earlier or perhaps before the player was born. They just don't seem to understand that many people have a hard time getting past the (unfathomable amounts of) money.
Fans don't know what it's like to be judged publicly for your every action. Fans at the major league level have no idea what it took for the player to get where he is. Baseball players pay significant dues as they attempt to master this fiendish game. Fans don't know what it's like to be traded the day before your wife is due, this being your 10th move in nine years (see Rudy Seanez).
Fans sometimes don't fully appreciate how hard this game is. The worst major league player can do things the rest of us simply cannot imagine. All it usually takes to shatter the illusion that hitting might actually be easy is one trip to a batting cage's fast-pitch machine. Turn that up by 50 percent and you get Paul Byrd's fastball. Never mind Joba Chamberlain's.
Even if a player could have a reasonable conversation with an enlightened fan, there is no way a player could relate to the loonies, the ones who hang around outside the parking lot, day after day after day, or the ones who haunt the hotels when the team is on the road. Players cannot relate to the obesssives who call talk shows the day after a game in order to micromanage what took place the evening before, especially when nothing happened that doesn't happen every night of the year someplace. Unless something important happened to him, a player knows there is a game tonight and tomorrow and on and on and on, and in this game, it is necessary to move on. In fact, it is mandatory.
Most of all, players don't understand how deeply fans care, and why they care, when, in the minds of the participants, they're the ones who are actually performing. It just doesn't make sense to them.
Fans automatically assume that if they care, players must care even more. But they would be shocked to learn how few even approach the fan level of grief when big games are lost and seasons don't turn out the way everyone hoped. Oh sure, there is short-term sorrow. Every writer can tell tales of entering locker rooms that are unbearably quiet following tough losses. But 24 hours later, the losing players are going about their business, while the fan mourning has just begun.
OK, so we finally arrive at Manny.
"If we go play hard and the thing doesn't come like it's supposed to come, move on," Ramírez said Wednesday. "We'll come next year . . . If it doesn't happen, who cares? There's always next year. It's not like it's the end of the world or something."
The thing is that in this instance, Manny probably spoke for many. But he did it in a regrettably clumsy fashion. A savvy player would know instinctively not to disparage caring, that fans have a strong need to believe that in the event of an unsuccessful season's outcome, players will be plunged into personal grief. They do not want to hear, "Who cares?" and "It's not like it's the end of the world or something," especially from the lips of a player who makes $20 million a year and comes off, rightly or wrongly, as being generally indifferent to begin with.
As difficult as it would be to hear this proclamation from, say, Mike Lowell (speaking of savvy players), it is a hundred - nay, a thousand - times worse for fans to hear it from Ramírez. I don't know the exact percentage of Manny detractors vs. Manny enablers, but they are substantial, and when they hear this kind of thoughtless utterance, their worst fears are confirmed: "See, he really doesn't care."
Well, I'm sure he does. In his way.
I don't like some of the things Manny does, but I try to keep things in perspective with him. He's not into baseball etiquette, as the Angels and Indians have learned.
But let no one ever doubt that he tries to win. Batting is Manny's thing, and when Manny is swinging the bat well - and in the 2007 postseason, he is swinging the bat extraordinarily well - he makes the Sox a better team. He is completely engaged in the postseason (recall the alert extra base he took on that short wild pitch against the Angels?). Can anyone look at Ramírez right now and say he's the problem?
Saying, "Who cares?" was inappropriate. But the rest of it was simply Manny speaking for the many. For the generic player, once it's over, it's over. What Manny meant was, "Hey, when it's over, it's over. You try your best, and if it doesn't work out, there's nothing you can do." At least I think so.
People don't want to hear that. People want to think that when it's over, and their team has lost, the player will go home, turn off the phone, cancel the paper, and put his head in the oven. The fan likes to think that were he a player, that's what he'd do.
But players aren't fans. They're players. Players come and go, but fans stay. Fans pile up the memories and the hurts. If the Indians don't pull this out, no Cleveland Indians player will reference Jose Mesa or Dusty Rhodes. But plenty of Cleveland fans will.
It's what fans do, and players will never understand.