COMMENTARY | If calling out a fan base for booing didn't work out well last year for 13-season Chicago sports icon Brian Urlacher, it's not going to work out for a bullpen guy with all of 187 career innings under his belt and a fastball that sometimes tops out higher than my roommate's.
Chicago Cubs reliever James Russell came to the relief of teammate and fellow bullpen arm Carlos Marmol Monday after fans let the former closer have it during the Cubs' 7-4 home-opening loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
"You lose some respect for the fans," Russell told ESPN Chicago. "It's your home park, they should be behind you no matter what. It's not like he's going out there trying to give up games. He's out there busting his butt every day. Personally, it gets under my skin because that's my teammate. I have his back no matter what. It kind of bugs you whenever you hear that. There's no room for it."
There are probably three current Chicago athletes who can get away with that statement. Paul Konerko, Jonathan Toews and Derrick Rose. They've all won either a title or a MVP in Chicago. James Russell may or may not have attended a Chicago Bulls game and won a free taco when they scored 100 points.
A crowd of 40,083 showed up to watch Russell, Marmol and their teammates play baseball yesterday, despite approximately zero of the informed fans expecting them to win. It is, in large part, a fan base that is trying to be patient while the organization builds. No one is enjoying this, but people still showed up. That's the reality of the team Russell plays for, and it's something he might want to consider before voicing such direct post-game comments.
The fans booed a guy who entered Monday with a 27.00 ERA, is making $9.8 million this season, and is more concerned with the placement of the gold chain around his neck than he is with the placement of his slider. I'm not going to be out at Wrigley Field screaming at players anytime soon, but I don't fault anyone for allowing their voices to be heard with reasonable and appropriate displays of disappointment.
That said, I'm also not against a teammate sticking up for another teammate, but find a way to do so without directly calling out a fan base that has nothing to cheer about.
A week in, there's a whole lot of frustration building already. The lineup is averaging 2.4 runs per game. The bullpen can't close out a game with any level of composure. The $52 million dollar pitcher they signed got lit up in the first inning of his first Wrigley Field appearance. Due to Darwin Barney's injury, Brent Lillibridge has been in the starting lineup for five of seven games, and his batting average and on-base percentage are a four-letter word: Zero.
These are things that sports fans boo. The alternative is having fans like the Tampa Bay Rays, who don't show up during pennant races. Cubs fans have plenty of their own faults. If loyalty is one of them, it's because they've been known to show too much of it. Russell hasn't been in town long enough to understand that, just like he hasn't been in town long enough to tell people how to act at the ballpark.
The irony of it is Marmol and Cubs fans aren't so different. Marmol's bipolar performance as a Cub has been a common target of Chicago sports fans and media. Cubs fans are a common target of other markets' fans and media, a running joke across multiple other baseball cities, including half of their own. They know it, they're likely quite sick of it, and booing has over time become a part of the losing culture at Wrigley Field.
And after his comments Monday, Russell could be the next to be on the receiving end.
Kevin Chroust has covered baseball and various other sports since graduating from Colorado State in 2005. He has been following the Cubs since age six when Mark Grace hit .647 in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinchroust.
- Sports & Recreation
- James Russell
- Chicago Cubs
- Carlos Marmol