I feel ridiculous writing and posting this. This is especially true considering a very similar situation occurred recently ... and by recently I mean the last time one of these events were held, and it was news then. Unfortunately, however, the Home Run Derby (the event in question in which Robinson Cano of the Yankees was booed mercilessly) was broadcast by ESPN.
It's to belabor the point to say that the Worldwide Sports Leader has gotten bad at their jobs - this is the Internet, after all, and right there next to the funny cats and babies there are complaints about the network that costs you on average about nine dollars of your cable or satellite bill. And I find a lot of the "gotcha" snark levied against big media outlets to be distasteful on occasion, although that's sort of the Pyrrhic victory that goes with the modern landscape. All in all, it's a trade most would take.
ESPN is very, very bad. Their commentators are entrenched, politically motivated, and are mailing in any effort remaining that they can scrape off the bottom of the container, and have been for years. There are many exceptions to this rule, as the juggernaut is far too large to dismiss out of hand (anyone who saw Keith Law at the Futures game knows what I mean). They tend to be very good at college basketball and tennis ... in short, they are excellent when no one is watching, and they can afford to replace personalities with talent. The Home Run Derby, as stupid as it is, does not fall into that category. It is big enough for their stars, which is to say it is big enough to just absolutely suck.
Chris Berman, John Kruk, and Nomar Garciaparra make up your booth for this, and if I know my audience (what audience there is), I don't need to pile on here, although I will note that George Brett had the stage for ten minutes, and despite basically being at the fulcrum point of basically all of Kansas City's All Star week activities, including multiple appearances at the FanFest, managing one of the Futures teams, participating in the charity run, and playing in the Celebrity Softball game, just clowned the professionals who had, oh, a full week to prepare. And pointing out Berman's woefully out-of-date schtick is not critical to the thesis point, which has something to do with Robinson Cano and a bloodthirst from normally laid back Kansas City fans. Let's review what happened, for those who did not watch (and no one can blame you for missing three hours of batting practice).
The story, as it unfolds: American League captain Robinson Cano gives an interview about his team's chances before the Derby, and is booed. Cano bats last in the Home Run Derby and is booed almost back to the picnic table area, eliciting only loud cheers upon every weak foul ball or lazy fly to left-center. Karl Ravech rips the Kansas City fans, accusing them of showing a lack of class not befitting their midwestern-ness, or something along these lines, and all huffily agree. The argument, at its core, is not entirely without merit, although certainly overblown. But the comment is, without question, condescending and ill-informed.
The back story (immediate version) goes as follows: Cano is announced as captain weeks ago, and is asked about his selections for the American League home run team. He agrees that selecting a Royal in their hometown is "the right thing to do" and that he will pick one if an appropriate Royals hitter is available. Fast-forwarding, the criteria are met, as Royals DH / mascot Billy Butler is selected to the American League team. Cano does not select him for said team, fans are disappointed who acquired tickets thinking they would see a hometown slugger. When asked about the change of heart, he explains the difficulty of selecting so few deserving individuals. When later asked again, he says he didn't know that he would be on the team. Sports talk radio overreacts, builds fan base into a frenzy. The end.
I wouldn't expect anyone reading this to know any of this who doesn't live within a forty mile radius of my crappy midtown Kansas City apartment. I would, however, expect people covering the event to know, as this is, you know, sort of their job. But Berman has moved past the point of researching, and probably past the point of reading the research the interns did for him. (The camera man who focused on the plane banner reading "Congrats, Billy, you blew it Cano" is probably now unemployed). And so, yes, Royals fans booed Robinson Cano when he batted. And when he spoke. And when he appeared on camera, and they cheered his outs. And we were given a harsh lesson about minding our manners from the Worldwide Leader, which is more than a little bit of a bitter pill to swallow.
As others have stated more eloquently, Kansas City is not likely to host a major sporting event ever again, completely independent of this relatively small-time story. The World Series as a possibility (insert Royals jokes here) is just simply not in the big-time category. Baseball is a regional game. The All-Star event is its biggest stage. We aren't used to this kind of thing, and aren't particularly well equipped for it. We don't draw big revenues, the weather is lousy, the convention facilities barely adequate. Heck, there are probably five VIP-type hotels in the entire city, and MLB is taking up one of them right now. There are Japanese press staying in trucker suburbs on the edge of the sticks.
The people here (much like this last paragraph) are polite but embarrassed. It's diverse-ish and has adequate culture. It's very cheap to live here. The food is plentiful and excellent. But it is not a sexy place, and no one knows that more than we do. I personally love most cities, this one definitely included, and the underdog status strengthens my loyalty, for sure. It will surprise you, and charm you, if you let it. But it is most certainly on the back burner. And we are reminded of that constantly.
Few things drive home this point more than, well, the Royals place within the baseball world. There are some easy facts you can drop out of the sky: no playoff appearances since 1985, and frankly, not all that particularly close. Since we're talking about the All-Star events, the last Royals position player to get a hit in the midsummer classic was Bo Jackson. That was 1989. And the economics and discrepancies in baseball are terrible, horrible things to overcome. And for the Royals (or a handful of other small market franchises), nothing represents this discrepancy quite like ESPN and the New York Yankees.
You see, as mentioned, you should not have known about the snafu with Billy Butler, but the network certainly could, and should have, told you. Laziness and incompetence are forgivable, however, and with Royals coverage, you get used to cut corners. But it was unquestionably seen as a slap in the face in a war in which their cheeks are already pretty well bruised ... explaining the frustration of being a baseball fan in this environment. The fact that they still care enough to show some fight is ... well, astonishing. And the fact that Cano is a Yankee? And his full throated defense is coming from the network that shamelessly promotes that team as their baseball cash cow? I think you can forgive a little bit of jeering, honestly. And be honest with yourself, here: reverse the situation. Imagine that Billy Butler captains the team, and the game is in Yankee Stadium, and he promises a Yankee, and reverses course. He'd practically need a police escort.
All that being said, I hope this thing is put to bed and quickly. I hope Royals fans give him a standing ovation when he's announced at the All Star game, and I hope Cano makes a pithy joke about how Butler should have played for him instead. I mean, I don't want to defend booing someone at an exhibition and cheering for less money for charity. I think Cano's a genuinely good guy, and a lot of the misunderstanding can easily be attributed to language barrier. It's over, it's time to move on.
So please, if you would kindly, don't judge us too harshly for it. It's been a tough couple of decades.