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Treatment of Gary Sánchez shows the toxic nature of fandom at large

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Fans love to rag on Sánchez for not being better and not working hard. While he does need to be better in 2021, he’s one of the hardest workers out there.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If someone asked me to name the best and worst thing about the internet, my answer to both questions would be the same: everyone gets a voice. I love the idea that everyone gets a chance to be heard and share their voice, but I hate that idea too. Dare to disagree with someone and it can turn toxic in an instant. We here at Pinstripe Alley are no strangers to that.

I’m not here just to complain about the comments section of this website or any forum, but to address a larger issue. Fandoms of any sort are absolutely awful, in my opinion. I love the idea that people can find something to be so passionate about, but I hate where that passion can lead the most ardent fans. It’s not just in sports, either; movies, TV shows, music, books politics — all of these are both fascinating and toxic.

People get into literal physical altercations in the name of sports. It’s a weird world.

Then, there’s the power of the internet. People who might normally shy away from in-person discussions get to sit behind their versions of superhero monikers and play the part of a “tough guy.” They harass, abuse, and simply go too far, all while ensuring their true identities remain safe. It’s consequence-free. It allows people to live in a virtual Purge, except this isn’t just limited to one day. So where am I going with this?

Last week, Gary Sánchez spoke to Marly Rivera of ESPN about his 2020 season and so much more. In that interview, Sánchez described a lack of communication from Yankees management about why he was benched in the playoffs, the challenges of trying to live a life of normalcy in a world that was anything but normal, his past struggles, and fans’ perception of him.

Sánchez’s description of what happened during the playoffs or when he stopped catching Gerrit Cole was simple: no one explained to him what or why it was happening. After the 2017 season, when the team decided to move on from Joe Girardi and bring in Aaron Boone, the most important factor cited was Boone’s ability to communicate with this younger core that the team is built around. Game Two of the 2017 ALDS specifically comes to mind, when Girardi refused to listen to Sánchez’s pleas to review whether or not Lonnie Chisenhall was actually hit by a pitch. (Francisco Lindor promptly hit a back-breaking grand slam in the next at-bat).

Now, once again, communication issues have bubbled up, and coincidentally, they involve the same player. Yet when Sánchez talks about a lack of communication, instead of understanding, his comments are met with criticism. It’s no secret that Sánchez was bad in 2020. He’s been upfront about that fact. But when Sánchez had been previously benched for understandable reasons, the team would explain to him what was going on and what he needed to work on.

When Sánchez stopped catching Gerrit Cole, initially he thought he was just getting some rest, but then, he never caught the team’s ace again. When the catcher who was handed the keys to the most prestigious franchise in baseball wasn’t playing in the most important games of the year — again, nothing.

I played the second game in Cleveland, and I played well. Then we went to San Diego, to the bubble. I didn’t play in the first game because I wasn’t catching [Gerrit] Cole. After almost a week without playing, it didn’t go well for me in the second game. Actually, none of us did well in that game. After that, I thought I was going to play the next day, because it had been a very bad game for everybody. I struck out three times, but I felt like I was taking good cuts, good swings. I felt so much better. But I didn’t play. And I said to myself, “What happened here?” But my job is to support my team. But from then on, nobody told me anything. They just told me, “Stay ready.”

Great stuff from a team emphasizing communication. Yet the responses to Sánchez basically boil down to: “You were bad, you should know why you’re not playing.”

And while there’s some truth to that, it’s not really the point. If Sánchez needed to work on something, it’s only fair that he be told so that he can focus on correcting it. Anyone would expect the same from their jobs, but for Sánchez, he apparently just needs to figure it out.

Then, of course, there’s the description that any Gary Sánchez word bubble would be incomplete without: lazy. For years now, he has been plagued by fans calling him lazy. Sánchez addressed that as well last week:

I simply do not understand. I am always working hard. Yankees fans are great, but at the same time, they are very demanding. If you’re hitting well, fans love you, they do whatever it takes for you. But when you are not doing well, then it starts ... and you know. They will yell anything at you. Sometimes it can be difficult not to have a little encouragement. But those are Yankees fans, and the only thing that matters are results. And I would not have it any other way. I love the high expectations. I can be booed one day when I have a bad game, and the next day I am the hero of the game. But I think sometimes people do not understand that baseball is a game where you are going to fail many more times than you are going to succeed. I just don’t understand that criticism. The results were not there; that is true. But it was never due to lack of work.

That last line, especially, hits home and sheds the light on the toxic nature of fandom. Sánchez admits that his results were not there. He understands that he was simply bad in 2020, but he’s nothing if not a hard worker. According to Joe Angryfan, he’s unaware of himself, has an ego because he wants to go out and play every day, and of course, he’s lazy. Never mind the fact that this the lazy notion has been constantly disproven, even by his teammates and the organization.

In 2018, Austin Romine, who as the Yankees’ backup catcher had nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting Sánchez said this:

Nobody sees what’s behind the scenes, I just saw the guy hit for an hour and a half down there [in the cages] after he did his catching drills for an hour. People don’t see that. We do. That’s why you earn respect amongst your teammates...I respect his work ethic because I know how hard it was when I was struggling to be a good defensive catcher and I know how much work has to be put into it and I see him doing it…It would be one thing if he didn’t do anything or work hard or didn’t go look at video, but he is. He’s in there every day. He wants to get better and you can see it. And I respect that.

Luis Severino echoed Romine’s comments on Sánchez’s work ethic, remarking “He works a lot, I’ve been with him since I was in Double-A [in 2014] and I see the progress. He worked his [butt] off to get better.”

Even Boone added his two cents on Sanchez at the time, saying “He’s mellow in the way he moves around, he’s not frantic or anything like that, and especially if you’re going through some struggles, it can give off that impression, which I would say is complete B.S.”

Nonetheless, fans love to ignore these quotes in support of their own narrative. Therein lies the issue — fans get so caught up in using baseball to escape their realities and become so passionate about it that they project any shortcomings where they don’t necessarily belong. The whole team struggled in that second game against the Rays in San Diego, yet somehow, Sánchez was the only one who saw any repercussions, so the blame solely falls on him.

The lazy narrative has been around for years but his latest interview was met with calls of lack of self-awareness, when in fact, he admitted he needed to improve and was doing anything but making excuses. All he did was voice some concerns about how everything went down, and even went on to say the air was cleared between him, Boone, and the organization. But facts are just that: facts. They do nothing but get in the way. Narratives are more fun. So we can call this another entry in the “PSA defends lazy Gary Sánchez” saga, or we can look at ourselves and establish that just maybe, there’s nothing wrong with Sánchez’s work ethic or him as a person.