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).