July 12, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
by Dave Long

It’s hard sometimes to understand why people like what they do, though not always. But one thing you can’t do is make someone like something no matter how much you want them to.

Take the early days of TV. Most pundits say I Love Lucy was the greatest comedy of its day, maybe of all time. For me, it’s The Honeymooners, as there are many more laugh-out-loud moments between Ralph, Norton and Alice than Lucy ever dreamed of. The chemistry was perfect between Art Carney and Jackie Gleason and Gleason’s facial expressions said every bit as much as his “Get out, Geeeet Ouuut!!!” did when Norton drove him over an edge that was never far off. And there’s the look of humility on Ralph’s face when admitting to Alice he’d done something dumb again, by saying, “You want to know why I did that, Alice? I’ll tell you why. Because I have a BIIIIIIIIIG MOOOOOUTH!!! No matter how many times I see that one, I laugh out loud.

I bring this up because I was thinking about the who-ha started by F-Cat manager Bill (Sunday) Masse when he expressed displeasure with the reception locals gave on foreign soil to Clay Buchholz after the rising young hurler held the F-Cats at bay with a three-hit, 11-strikeout performance. Apparently readers felt his comments in the paper the next day were harsh and it sent them to the UL blog (which I didn’t even know they had) and the phones to call Mike Mutnansky and Eric Margtignetti on (plug, plug) WGAM to express their displeasure back in classic tit-for-tat fashion. It was the kind of thing that is taken as a victory by those who subscribe to the old PR adage “I don’t care if you love me or hate me, as long as you spell my name right” (which, as an aside, is always the tough part for me), because fans can’t fire back unless they know who they are shooting at.

Still from a marketing standpoint it seemed like a blunder on par with Coke changing formulas way back when despite being the number-one soft drink in the world. The fact that crowds are pouring into the Dot in record-setting numbers over consecutive weekends should have indicated to more than just a business management major that locals are interested in the F-Cats, otherwise so many of wouldn’t have been there to see them play New Britain a week earlier. Still Masse felt the congregation was out of line and he blasted them with a sermon that didn’t sit well with many who saw it.

It’s hard to imagine calling fans’ actions “disgraceful” as anything but what was said. Some in these situations revert to the old “I was misquoted” favorite, where the best ever came from Charles Barkley claiming he was misquoted trying to quell a controversy started by a book he wrote about himself. However, while the “I was taken out of context” line has been used more than “the dog ate my homework,” I can tell you seeing something in writing can seem a lot different from how it was intended when actually said.

When I was covering the Celtics people would routinely grumble about something someone (usually Antoine Walker) had said in the morning paper. And it would help develop — or in the case of the much-maligned Walker, fortify — public opinion on a player. The funny thing is, even though the quote appeared exactly as I heard it the previous day, many times it didn’t remotely resemble the intention behind it. It wasn’t something reporters had done, it’s just that when you don’t hear the inflection in a voice, or the smile that goes along with a statement, things can get lost in the translation to the written word.

Now I’m not sure that was the case with Masse, but I think he should get a pass until more evidence surfaces to the contrary. Anybody can make a mistake. Sometimes emotions can get away from you and it’s better to lay low. Like the day Rick Pitino blasted off at fans that Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird were not walking through that door. From the second he entered the press room it was clear — he should have simmered down first.

However, what does seem evident is that Masse doesn’t quite get the baseball culture here. Yes it’s hard to play for any farm team in the heart of Red Sox country. But people have been polite and support the team. And it could be worse — like back in the day when a YANKEE Double A team played here. Would we be as polite for them? Maybe, but given the pervasive “Yankees Suck” mentality I hate so much, I’m not so sure. But, even if it’s a not a Yankee farm club, they’re still developing players who in a few years will be hearing cat calls when they play in Fenway. So here’s a helpful guide to the baseball culture in these parts to make life a little easier for all involved.

There are three kinds of people who go to F-Cat games. Baseball fans, major-league baseball fans and the night-out-on-the-town crowd. We don’t need to talk about the latter, because they don’t even know (or care) what the final score is when they leave. The baseball fans are folks like my friend Lou (the battling barrister) DeMato, who’ll watch whether it’s the Sox and Yanks, F-Cats and C-Dogs or Hillside taking on Parkside because it’s baseball. They know how talented the young Cats are and root for them because they are the home team.

And then there are major-league baseball fans. It’s not baseball they like, it’s major- league baseball and all that goes with it — history, parks, atmosphere. To them, the curiosity of minor-league ball relates exclusively to which guys will be playing in Fenway someday. It doesn’t mean they don’t respect how good the F-Cat players are, but they know they’ll eventually be the enemy. An enemy respected and fondly remembered probably, but still the bad guy. They want Buchholz in the 2009 rotation — thus when he does well they’re happy.

This doesn’t mean they don’t like seeing Gustavo Chacin, Aaron Hill and others do well. But if they’re facing Bucholt at Fenway, the Nation wants the latter to win. And he won’t learn how, if he doesn’t do it in the minors first. Hence the cheers. No matter how much that bugs Bill Masse, it’s going to happen and, sorry, there’s nothing wrong with it either. So here’s my advice. Follow Ralph’s lead when he did something goofy. Learn to live with it and make peace with a baseball version of “Baby, you’re the greatest.”

Because if he can’t, he’s probably managing in the wrong place.

Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).


7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit

6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat