Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez has created a bit of controversy by blaming the fans for the team’s poor attendance. After making his initial comments on Saturday, it appeared that he was about to apologize on Sunday before expressing even more frustration.
The tribe is last in attendance in Major League Baseball by a healthy margin, behind hapless franchises like the Athletics, Mariners and Pirates. It is understandable that a player on a first-place team is frustrated. The only thing players can control is winning. Chris Perez probably feels that if he and his teammates are pulling their end of the bargain, then the fans should do their part by showing up.
Ripping the fans is not a constructive way to get people back to the ballpark. The fans that are staying away for whatever reason probably feel like they have good reasons for not turning up. Yes, the Indians are in first, but they are a mediocre team in an even more mediocre division. The fans are smart enough to realize this and aren’t storming the gates at Progressive Field to support a club they are not yet convinced is really that good.
There are many theories as to why attendance has been this bad: Cleveland is a Browns city first and foremost, the economy in the area has been particularly hard hit, and the fan base is overly jaded and, based on history, expects the team to fail at every turn. Realistically, it is likely a combination of factors. A fish does rot from the head down. After the tribe’s run of success in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Jacobs family sold the club to Larry Dolan. As their sellout streak ended and attendance waned, Dolan aggressively slashed payroll.
As the club slid down the standings, he told fans to only expect the club to make the playoffs every four or five years. When the club did return to the playoffs, major contributors were sold off. To be fair, they did lock up Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, but trading back-to-back Cy Young Award winners in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee did leave a bad taste in fans’ mouths. It is hard for fans to get attached to a club when the perception is that, even if the club does succeed, it will be broken up.
If last year is any indication if the tribe is still in the race, the fans will come. Cleveland’s attendance did improve 450,000 fans from 2010 to 2011. They will likely never reach 3 million fans like they did in the late 1990s. Placing blame is not going to help close that gap.