When Indians’ closer Chris Perez began entering games last year to the song “Firestarter” by The Prodigy, I doubt anyone—Perez included—knew how fitting of a choice it would prove to be.
Good or bad, win or lose, Perez has been all over this Indians season. If something worthwhile was happening with the Indians, Perez was right in the middle of it. Blown save on Opening Day, followed by not blowing another one until right before the All-Star break (oh, and he was named to his second consecutive All-Star game, for whatever that’s worth). Sprinkle in a few pointed tweets (and a Twitter fine), some frankly needed criticism of the fanbase, an implosion in Detroit to send the Tribe to their then-ninth-straight loss, and Perez has had a busy and probably trying season.
Through all this, I, along with what seems to be a decent part of the fanbase, have stuck by Perez; his performance on the field was speaking for itself, and he while he wasn’t always diplomatic in his public comments he was usually right. But more importantly, the Cleveland Indians have stuck by Perez, the player and the personality.
After an ugly verbal altercation with an Oakland fan before Saturday’s game in Oakland, the Indians can no longer stand by Perez. Some kind of hefty fine or perhaps even a short suspension is in order. Win or lose, Perez is a professional ballplayer who was representing the Cleveland Indians at the time. He gave this franchise another headache when he engaged the fan in an argument, and it was all caught on video.
You don’t really need to see the video to understand what happened (this is a family-friendly site so we can’t post the profanity anyway). What you need to know is that Perez had an ugly argument with a fan before the game while in uniform. Perez came over to the taunting fan and made some off-color remarks, and the fan’s friend caught it on video. What he actually said to the fan, while vulgar, was already meaningless because Perez was in the wrong the moment he went over to the fan. Perez gave in to the jeering, and this should cost him.
Since the video went viral, Perez has spoken about how this particular fan has been taunting him for the past four seasons, and how he regrets that the incident was caught on tape. I’m not satisfied, and hopefully neither are the Indians.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Chris Perez. I love his fire, I love an athlete not using cookie cutter quotes and not afraid to speak his mind, and it’s even better when that kind of athlete is also an intelligent person, as Perez seems to be. But what he did Saturday was just stupid.
One of the first things a professional athlete needs to learn is to not let a taunting fan get to him, and it’s especially true for a guy in high pressure situations like Perez. Chris, we get that you don’t like Cleveland, but if you can’t handle one guy in Oakland taunting you, do you think a team such as the Yankees will come calling when you’re a free agent, with all the Bronx boo-birds ready to pounce at your first mistake? What will happen if he takes the mound at Fenway Park wearing pinstripes? Athletes have to have thick skin.
Thankfully, the incident was just a verbal argument—we’re not talking about a Kenny Rogers-and-a-cameraman kind of situation. But the Indians shouldn’t be satisfied with Perez’s apology, even if it never turned physical. Perez was representing the team, he was wearing his uniform, and he was at work. I doubt many of us have a job where we can tell paying customers to remove a body part that’s not a foot from the customer’s mouth and not have any repercussions (but if you do I’d love to submit an application), and Perez should be no different.
But the key here is that Perez was in the wrong just by walking over and engaging the fan, and the Indians simply cannot allow Perez to think this is acceptable. I don’t understand MLB’s arbitrary scale for player fines, but I’m sure the Indians could toss out a number. Or, they could suspend him for a game or three, which is probably more appropriate because the team is out of the race and a message needs to be sent. This behavior is not representative of the Cleveland Indians, is not acceptable will not be tolerated.
Chris Perez is an excellent closer, a passionate and fiery competitor, and seemingly a pretty OK guy. This incident shouldn’t (and hopefully won’t) define his career. But the Tribe’s “Firestarter” has created an inferno that needs to be snuffed out immediately, or this franchise could receive another unneeded black eye.