April 6, 2003
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Philadelphia Phillies fans have a reputation for being some of the worst fans in baseball. Phillies fans have been known to boo anything and everything. They frequently boo their own players, and have even booed Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
"It's a difficult place to play, for sure," said former Phillies first baseman John Kruk. "They have high expectations there. And if you don't meet their expectations, they let you know."
Former Phillies shortstop Steve Jeltz once said, "With Philadelphia fans, there's no loyalty or compassion, and certainly no patience. How much they like you is completely dependent on how well you are playing at the moment. And when you don't play well, they take it personally."
According to Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, Phillies fans are the worst in baseball. "They're worse than a bunch of rich suburban parents at a little league baseball game," he said.
So, surely, one would expect fans such as these to be edgy and skeptical when it comes to Jim Thome, the Phillies newest marquee acquisition, who signed with the Phillies in December for $85 million.
Not so. The Phillies fans have greeted Thome with unexpected warmth. At the Phillies home opener Friday against the Pirates, many fans brought signs welcoming Thome to Philadelphia. Thome already has his own fan club in Philadelphia. And Philly fans everywhere are singing his praises.
Marla Kline, a rabid Phillies fan for the past 35 years, shared her thoughts on why Phillies fans have been so kind to their expensive signee: "We know Jim is an excellent player who's worth every cent we spent on him. We are sure he's going to make an immediate impact. And he didn't hold out like that [former Phillies first round draft pick] J.D. Drew did."
John Holden echoed the sentiment. "Jim Thome is the best player to play with the Phillies for a long time. Even if he never plays at the same level he did in Cleveland, he's still a great player. And he's not J.D. Drew. We'll cut him a lot of slack."
That sentiment completely disappeared Sunday when Thome failed to catch an easy pop fly.
In the fifth inning of the Phillies 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Sunday, Pirates' pitcher Kris Benson hit a high pop fly that Thome lost in the sun and dropped. Veterans' Stadium instantly erupted into a loud chorus of foul-sounding boos.
In Thome's next at bat, Phillies fans again booed Thome, even more loudly. One man loudly cried, "Go back to Cleveland, you dumb carcass heap," among a dozen other vile and expletive insults.
Another large man who had drunk a lot of beer stood up and cursed Thome and forswore the next 100 generations of his posterity. He then dumped his beer on the man sitting in front of him, who had been urging him to cut Thome some slack. He was ejected.
A small woman sitting several rows behind me shrieked at the top of her lungs, "I can't believe we spent 85 million on a rotten piece of ratflesh like you." I recognized the woman as Marla Kline, the same woman who had nothing but praise for Thome before the game.
Asked about her sudden change in opinion, Kline could barely speak. "Oh my God, I can't believe I was happy... about that... blind cripple. I can't believe we're paying that sack of vomit 85 million to drop frickin pop flies! That douchebag couldn't catch a cold in a day care center!"
When I suggested it was just one dropped pop fly, she snapped back, "One pop fly? A pitcher hit it, for Christ's sake! We're spending 80 [expletive] million on a blind retard. That flying dipstick is worse than J.D. Drew." And so on, for several minutes.
Several hours after the game, there were already websites devoted to the immediate trading of Thome. Such sites include www.tradethome.com, www.jimthomecantcatchapopfly.com, and www.philadelphiansagainstthome.com, all of which were registered within a few hours of the game.
Thome had no comment about the fans' reaction, but teammate David Bell had this to say: "He knows all about Philly fans. We filled him in during spring training. He'll live."
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