USA TODAY Sports
When athletes chose to make sweeping characterizations of their former fanbases, disaster inevitably ensues.
I'd like to propose to every agent representing baseball players that consistent use of the following script be made a mandatory part of any representation contract with any player about to enter free agency, should he be asked a question that in any way calls for an opinion on his former team or city, or a comparison of his new team or city to that former team or city:
You know, I really enjoyed playing with the [former team]. They've got some great fans, and I'm really going to miss that/those [food item that reductively represents the entire former geographical area]. But I couldn't be more excited to be a(n) [new team's mascot, singular] now, I'm here to help this team win, and I can't wait to try some of that/those [food item that reductively represents the entire new geographical area].
It's not an interesting answer, not by any stretch, but therein lies its beauty. Get this one simple thing down and you don't ever have to worry about pissing off an entire fanbase, new or old. Observe:
Q: Kevin, you spent a lot of time in Boston, with your new team's biggest rival. How do you feel about them?
A: You know, I really enjoyed playing with the Red Sox. They've got some great fans, and I'm really going to miss that clam chowder. But I couldn't be more excited to be a Yankee now, I'm here to help this team win, and I can't wait to try some of that greasy, thin-crust pizza.
Boring. Corny. Inoffensive. I suppose some Yankees fans might've had a hard time hearing anything nice said about the Red Sox, but it's not the kind of thing whole articles get written about.
Q: Jayson, your new GM is really not a big fan of your former team. Do you share those feelings?
A: You know, I really enjoyed playing with the Phillies. They've got some great fans, and I'm really going to miss that cheese steak. But I couldn't be more excited to be a National now, I'm here to help this team win, and I can't wait to try some of that Senate bean soup.
Barely even quotable. Zero extra Phillies fans are going to make the trip south to boo Werth in his home park for that one.
Q: Josh, you've arrived here in Orange County from a metropolitan area that's pretty well known for its professional football team. Care to comment on that?
A: You know, I really enjoyed playing with the Rangers. They've got some great fans, and I'm really going to miss that Texas chili. But I couldn't be more excited to be an Angel now, I'm here to help this team win, and I can't wait to try some of those oh God, I have no idea. Ice cream bars shaped like Mickey Mouse? Dodger Dogs?
Okay, so it's not absolutely perfect for every occasion. It's still a lot better and less likely to draw unwanted attention than what Josh Hamilton actually did say, directly to Dallas, in an interview on CBS 11:
Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. They're supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time, pretty quickly. There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it's not a true baseball town.
I'm not a Rangers fan or a Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlingtonian. Never been there, actually; in fact, I think Texas, for all its close-to-everythingness and bigger-than-most-countriesness, is one of six or seven states in which I've never set foot, so I can't give you any opinion on whether or not the metropolitan area within which the Rangers play is a "baseball town." I know a lot more Cowboys fans than Rangers fans, but I've always been under the impression that those were people without geographical ties to an NFL team who grew up liking Emmitt Smith a lot. Hamilton could be right, or he could be wrong; I have no idea.
I know this, though: he had absolutely no business saying that, or anything like it. It's become a little bit like politics, where a major the goal of the media covering it is to catch and dissect missteps (like, say, an awkward drink of water), often taking single words and phrases out of context, and often to the exclusion of the substance of the message. Kevin Youkilis is heavily complimentary to his former team and gets slammed for it; Josh Hamilton is mildly critical of his, and he gets slammed too. The only safe thing to do is make your answer as boring as possible.
It's not just all about avoiding the predatory media though; there's never any reason to make sweeping generalizations about an entire fanbase or city. It might be true that the proportion of football fans to baseball fans in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area is larger than that in some other areas, but it's also true that the Rangers ranked third in average attendance last season, just behind two teams in pretty good baseball towns, and a lot of those 3.5 million people are totally dedicated fans, as rabid as any Yankees, Red Sox or Cardinals fan. Cities are artificial things, really, convenient collections of people; whatever tendencies emerge are just convenient shorthand characterizations, each contradicted thousands and thousands and thousands of times by the cities' residents. Things like Philly cheese steak and chili or Tex-Mex are convenient because they satisfy our weird need to assign personalities to geographic areas, but do it in a totally frivolous way, without really offending or alienating anybody. Start to characterize the city's passion or dedication to something quite a lot of people are passionate about and dedicated to, and you're going to have problems.
What's more, there's the whole glass houses problem. Dallas (or Arlington) might not be a baseball town, but what does that make Anaheim, which was seventh in average attendance, whose residents are notorious for not being terribly passionate about sports in general, and whose Angels are clearly the second-most-beloved team within a forty-mile radius? It's just not something you want to get into.
Enjoyed the Rangers. Miss the food. Excited to be an Angel. It's boring, but it works.