Left-handed relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, who had a solid career over 14 seasons with the Royals, Rockies, Reds and Giants, is retiring at age 36. Upon announcing his retirement, he wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated listing the five things he won’t miss about baseball.
Among those: Philadelphia.
“Philly is a great sports town, with passionate fans and a palpable energy. The problem, though, is that the city, more than any other I’ve played in, seems to condone and almost revel in its fans crossing the line. Nowhere else in this country—again, based on my experience as a 14-year major leaguer and the conversations I’ve had with other players—is the opposition treated in such a repeatedly vile and borderline threatening manner.”
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, leaving at age 17. I’ve since exclusively lived in the Boston and New York metropolitan areas. My first, very Philadelphian, inclination is to get angry. Who the F do you think you are, Jeremy Affeldt? Just another outsider throwing snowballs at us, hurting our reputation, setting us back even more. What a dope. You were a Giant. God we hate the Giants. Those sniveling jackasses. By the way, Giants and Dodgers fans don’t get along too well. Other cities have had attempted assaults and fan deaths. Why bash Philly?
But that’s the first inclination, the emotional response coming from years growing up in Philadelphia. It’s a defensive place. Borders are very strict and tight. Words fly pretty curiously.
I’ve taken a step back in recent years. And while I definitely have a history of writing things that jab at other teams and fans, we strive to present a balanced report and argument here. So I have to say this: He has a very strong and accurate point.
Affeldt notes he and other opposing players have been privy to vulgar and personal attacks, including epithets. He notes extreme negativity lingers at times when visiting the city, and it had given him pause about ever considering the city as a future home. Other players, he writes, have felt the same way.
“The irony is, while Phillies fans succeed in making many players dread traveling there, they also (not surprisingly) impact the decision-making process of those same players in free agency.”
That’s a serious allegation. It’s one thing to say that Philadelphians are negative, which gets annoying or tiring. It’s an entirely different thing to say it truly affects how the Phillies can improve their franchise on a player acquisition basis. And considering this comes from a man who has been in clubhouses for numerous teams over 14 years, you have to take this with more than a grain of salt. How fans act, and the mood that lingers from that, probably isn’t the lead cause for most players weighing whether to play in Philadelphia. It certainly didn’t highly affect the Phillies from making key free-agent signings in recent years (Jim Thome, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee), but again, one should take Affeldt’s allegation more seriously, as he has played with and knows hundreds of ballplayers.
Where I agree with Affeldt is that I’ve also been privy to the aggressive negativity that lingers in Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia and most everyone I’ve ever met or known there, and I’ve met or known tons of people. But there is a vile and loud negativity that surrounds more often than it should. It comes if I write about Domonic Brown. It comes if I mention that the Phillies were bad this season. I will note, however, that Phillies Nation commenters have always been generally thoughtful and reasonable. But that negativity even comes from me, especially when I watch the Eagles. Of all teams, they bring out in me the born-and-raised Philadelphian who isn’t afraid to spontaneously insult a player with vulgarity. It’s wrong. Sports can be serious. But it can’t be everything.
Of course, we Philadelphians take sports seriously, and maybe more seriously than in any other major city in America. Boston is at that level, and its fans can absolutely be wrongfully hateful (see most anything anti-Yankees). New York, while you’d like to think is terrible, is actually pretty measured for a large city. We’ve heard about Dodger fans, and even Giants fans. But the negativity that can emerge in Philadelphia isn’t merely about sports. It’s deep-seated, sometimes racially charged, sometimes economically charged, and sometimes class charged.
My first inclination is to be angry at Affeldt, to show negativity, to show hatred. But what does that do? It only increases the negativity, and it only proves his point. I’m proud to be from Philadelphia because it is an intensely passionate city, in my mind the true Paris of America. The passion shows when the city converges for major events, or in the city’s unbelievable dining scene, or – just to hammer the point home – how many celebrities that came from Philadelphia still represent the city’s sports franchises in public. That’s the positive Philadelphia I love, one of civic pride. It’s the Philadelphia I saw the day the Phillies marched down Broad Street nearly seven years ago. It’s the Philadelphia I still see, even though I’m away, like at a Nets vs. Sixers game at Barclays Center last season. The assorted Sixers fans and I who were at the game were overjoyed at a win. We stomped and sang and smiled even though the Sixers were playing maybe .300 basketball. That’s the Philly I love.
The Philly I love is me wanting to wear my decaying Phillies hat everywhere and anywhere. And when someone says to me “Oh you’re a Phillies fan?” with a touch of ridicule, I answer back with glee, “Yes I am!” I did that for two weeks back in 2011, driving the country to watch baseball game after baseball game. People shot me dirty looks. At once I felt sad because – yes, everyone in this country thinks I’m some deranged lunatic who throws batteries at people and screams obscenities to people – but then I felt proud because, you know what, that Phillies hat triggers a reaction. We are passionate. We care so much that people actually emit a response to us, even when we’re out in Missouri.
So let’s flip the script. Let’s stop the vulgarity, the quick negativity, the festering hatred. Please try to stop it. As I said, sports can be serious, but it can’t be everything. And above all, it should be fun, a nice release, a chance to be entertained by women and men who can do amazing things every day. It shouldn’t be the place to air your frustration with the world. It should be a place to enjoy the moment with the people who love you the most.
Jeremy Affeldt shouldn’t be derided for his comments. I commend him. Maybe his comments on Philadelphia will trigger a true discussion on negativity and vulgarity in Philadelphia sports fandom. It would be worth the time.