The other day I was in a bar in Rhode Island talking to a few people. This was the day the Beltre press conference happened, so of course the Red Sox came up in our conversation, as replays of the press conference were playing all over the TV's in the bar.
I first mentioned to these guys (who were huge, old time Red Sox fans) that I was excited to see Beltre playing for the Sox (he's been one of my favorite players for a while, and I really do believe he can put up huge numbers in Boston), and expecting some kind of excitement in return, what I found instead was one of them getting a sheepish half-smile on his face and saying "Yeah, but it's really gonna be too bad to see Lowell go. He's been such a great player." And then the other joined in and pointed out "Yeah, plus Beltre only hit 8 home runs last year. He's not that great. It's also gonna be hard to watch the Red Sox without Bay playing for them."
Now my first thought was that these guys had been Red Sox fans longer than I've been alive, they should by now be well familiar with lineup changes and you would think grow immune over time to losing players. But then the more I thought about it, the more I thought that there are really two types of fans of baseball. I'll look at them after the jump
The first, and most obvious ones are the team fans. These people (though this is a generalization) tend to end up supporting what the front office does no matter what if the team is doing well or questioning it the most if the team is doing poorly. Either way, these are the fans that really love the team as whatever entity it may be and see the players as tools used by the team to achieve the goals they want. They tend to get more attached to personnel than they do to players- who get moe caught up in the decisions Theo is making than they are in how many homers Papi had this week.
The second type, which is really probably more common, is the type of people I was talking to the other day. These are the real fans of the particular players. These are the people that have seen Lowell absolutely crush the ball in the 2007 World Series and who have seen that Bay hit a ton of home runs in 2009, regardless of his other stats, and as a result are very attached to the players. These are the most common fans for a couple of reasons.
When you're watching the players day after day, it's very easy to become used to them, and it's very easy to value them for what they have done in the past instead of what they will do in the future. Going back to the Lowell example, he had a huge career year in 2007- it was one of the best fielding years of his life and hands down his best year at the plate. After that season, fans were clamoring for him to be extended for a long time because they thought that would mean 3 more years of that same production. As an absolute outlier year for Lowell, that was completely unreasonable to expect and although he produced well until he got injured, Lowell became a liability in 2009 because he got injured and could not perform to the level a starting player on the Red Sox needs to perform at.
Despite this, the fans of players look at what he did in 2007 and say "we wouldn't have gotten a championship in 2007 if it wasn't for Lowell, we owe him the rest of his contract" and while, in a contractual sense, they are right, we need to pay him for the rest of his contract, it doesn't mean that the Sox are required to field a gimpy 3rd baseman until his contract is over. The contract means that the Sox have to pay him as long as they promised and that he has to play for them as long as he promised, but if they no longer want him to play, they have no responsibility to play him. Similarly, if he wanted to play for the team but didn't want them to pay him anymore, they wouldn't have to pay him. The fact is that he will probably never return to his 2007 glory, and this is very hard to expect for some fans.
It may be partly that the career life of an athlete is far shorter than that of a fan. An athlete may burst onto the major leagues scene with huge potential at age 25 and then, at age 30, people are starting to talk about how he is starting to get too old to give a huge contract to. This could seem odd to the casual observer who has been watching the team for over 20 years and thinks that the player is still a new acquisition.
I really think that the hardest part of becoming a fan of a team is overcoming loyalties to one particular player and putting your loyalties into the team. It is difficult to realize that no matter how good a player is, they can't keep it up forever, and to think about what the team can do in the future instead of just keeping the players they have had in the past. Years like this with massive turnover are particularly hard to bear for some fans, but in the end, the 2010 team should be a much more solid team than the 2009 one was.
Jason Bay and Mike Lowell, the Red Sox will forever appreciate what you have contributed to them and what a huge part of the team you have been on and off the field, but their job is to win championships, and at this point, there are other players out there who will just make that goal more achievable. Red Sox fans all over the place will still be rooting for you and wishing you hadn't left, whether it was the best choice or not.