Nick Swisher only played one season for the Chicago White Sox, so I had to chuckle the year after he was dearly departed when I saw a fan wearing a Swisher shirt in the bleachers. The fan committed his allegiance to Swisher longer than the team had. It probably cost him more than $100, too.
The point is, with the advent of free agency, the sheer amount of player movement, it’s more difficult than ever to throw your heart and soul, never mind your wallet’s contents, behind an individual player. Do you really want to pay a hefty sum for a jersey that will be out of fashion in a year? Will you feel like a dork when you go to the park and display it when your favorite dude is now hustling merchandise for another team, not to mention hustling in their outfield?
It strikes me that baseball personnel acquisitions are a lot like acquiring a new girlfriend. You are excited about the prospects. You root for it to work out in the long term. But if you are wise you withold a little piece of your heart so it doesn’t get broken again.
When I was a kid (and we are talking eons) rosters were much more stable. Players on the fringes who mostly sat the bench or reclined in the bullpen except in hopeless-cause games were still disposable and might come and go. But no player of consequence ever walked away. The blockbuster trade was the way to move players who were starters or All-Stars. You really did feel closer to players who were there year after year, even if they hardly won a game for your team.
The way journalism was back then (no one used the word media to describe the people who covered games) we didn’t usually find out if a player was a bad dude not worthy of our admiration, so things were jake as long as Jake was around. It really was a case of my team, my guys. Anyone wearing the uniform was on your side and even though it happened sometimes, you never really dwelled on whether a player would be back the next season. Now we start hearing about players being in the last year of their contract half-way-through their next-to-last signed season. Fans spend more time wondering whether Joe is going to be on the team next year than how much help he is providing this year.
Fans don’t like to be told they must be patient and wait for the franchise to build a winner. They want a winner right now. Their allegiance is much stronger to the front of the jersey than to the back of the jersey, to the place where it reads “Chicago” compared to the place where it reads “Swisher.” They get over the comings and goings as long as the big picture looks promising. The lights must have got in the eyes of Mr. Big Spender who bought the Swisher shirt. Maybe he invested on two-for-one beer night or something.
Now if Mark Buehrle ups and leaves in free agency after 12 years on the mound for the Sox, hearts will break. But he has given a lot to the club for a long time, so it will still be socially acceptable, even if a bit sad, for fans to wear Buehrle jerseys to U.S. Cellular Field next season. With luck, Buehrle will still be wearing his White Sox jersey, too. If not, the same fans will transfer their hearts to the guy who takes his place, wishing and hoping that he becomes a 15-game winner.