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Papelbon's Philly pandering is no big deal

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 9, 2012 11:04 AM

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I'll presume you're already familiar with former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon's comments comparing Philadelphia fans favorably to the Boston faithful by now. I've long suspected buzz-generating stuff like this actually trips a "hot topics" alarm at the two sports radio stations around here. This should keep the phones busy for a couple of days.

But what he actually said -- on sports radio, naturally -- really wasn't all that controversial, or surprising. During an interview on Philadelphia sports-talk station WIP Thursday, Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies in the winter, compared the fans of his former team to those of his new employer. He came down on the side of the people whose patronage helps pay his eight-figure salary now. Shocking.

“The difference between Boston and Philadelphia, the Boston fans are a little bit more hysterical when it comes to the game of baseball,” Papelbon said. “The Philly fans tend to know the game a little better, being in the National League, the way the game is played.”

Maybe the comment was annoying or patronizing, but don't we know the source well enough by now? I'm not saying Papelbon should definitely refrain from commenting on others' intelligence, let alone the collective smarts of an entire fan base. But let's just say I like my chances against Papelbon in one of those ubiquitous online IQ tests. And if you've read this space for any length of time, you know I'm not all that bright.

This is a guy who closed out the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, and yet arguably his most iconic moment with the Red Sox might be doing a jig in bicycle shorts while wearing a Bud Light case on his head.

Papelbon wasn't doing anything more than awkwardly pandering to his new fan base -- heck, it's right out of the Johnny Damon this-place-was-meant-for-me playbook. In retrospect, you could accuse me of doing something similar when I tweeted this last night: You say the fans are smarter in Philly, Papelbon? Well, the closers are smarter in Boston.

Cheap jab? Guilty. But while I do think Andrew Bailey could probably whup him in one of those online IQ tests as well, Papelbon's words weren't that inflammatory. And he was not without praise for the place where he spent the first seven seasons of what has been, save for a few big-game hiccups in recent years that altered our perception of him too far toward the negative, a superb career.

“It’s a religion, it’s a way of life,” said Papelbon of Boston. “They come to the field and they expect certain things out of players. It’s an environment where you put up or shut up. I enjoyed that. It got my motor running.”

I am curious about his level of awareness regarding Philly fans at this point. Not to generalize too much, but it seems to me its fair to perceive their fanbase as similar to but edgier than Boston's. Or, as Hardball Talk's Aaron Gleeman put it, "You know, because Philadelphia sports fans have long been known for their calm demeanor and reasoned opinions about star athletes.")

Papelbon's transparent bid to win Philly fans over before he ever throws a meaningful pitch in front of them suggests he has at least a clue about what he's getting into. He may discover, though, that the zaniest thing he cited as happening to him at Fenway is probably just another day in the bleachers at Citizens Bank Park.

“I’ve had a guy take off his prosthetic leg and throw it in the bullpen in Boston,” Papelbon recalled.

Wait until he realizes in Philly they actually throw the prosthetic leg at you. Probably after ripping it off the woman sitting the next seat over.

It's understandable why he did it, but there really was no need for Papelbon to pander. He truly does feed off an intense atmosphere.

Provided his fastball moves a little and he doesn't have to face Robert Andino any time soon, he'll handle Philly just fine.

He would be wise, however, to keep an eye out for the random airborne limbs. Just in case.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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