Be nice to Ervin Santana, and he’ll be nice to you.
FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
— New York Daily News, October 30, 1975
Ever since it was announced a few days ago that the Angels would recall Ervin Santana to pitch one of the two games in yesterday’s Boston doubleheader, critics have been sharpening their knives in gleeful anticipation of destroying whatever was left of Ervin’s reputation.
In particular, people who claim to be Angels fans filled blogs and fan boards with proclamations of impending doom, almost as if they looked forward to it so they could write more nastiness. The press dutifully reported Santana’s woes this year that led to his demotion, but the undercurrent in many articles was that disaster was imminent, given Ervin’s problems pitching on the road in 2007.
As Ervin’s failures mounted this year, his attitude towards the press soured, especially after they kept repeating the same inane questions. Ervin became increasingly defensive, if not downright sullen.
Those of us who knew him in the minors saw a different Ervin Santana. He was sweet, gentle, playful. Happy-go-lucky.
And he was a **** good pitcher.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Dominican kids. They live life with a certain joy, if not naiveté, about the real world. They grow up in such poverty, with such low expectations in life, that they find fulfillment simply by playing ball.
The first-year Dominican players at Tempe see me running around with the camera and run up to ask, “Picture?!” I think they know maybe ten words of English. “Picture?!” is one of them. Your heart can’t help but go out to them, which is why I always send back photos to the clubhouse after the summer league trip (and why I’m working on them now).
So to read in the papers that Ervin’s attitude had soured was disturbing, because I knew that’s not Ervin.
FutureAngels.com was pretty much the only outlet this week that predicted a more positive outcome for Ervin yesterday. In my August 13 entry, I wrote that his Triple-A demotion was no more than an emotional "time out" to let Ervin compose himself away from the pennant race and the media glare. I noted that if you looked at his starts in the "normal" Triple-A ballparks, he was dominant. Pitching in the PCL’s high-altitude parks distorts statistics for both pitcher and hitter. So looking at those "normal" starts — on the road, no less — there was every reason to think he’d return with his head straight.
The Angels dropped him into a pressure cooker — Fenway Park, second game of a doubleheader, the Angels had lost the first game, they’re playing the team with the best winning percentage in the majors, and the Seattle Mariners are on the Angels’ heels for first place in the AL West.
Ervin responded with a big DROP DEAD to his critics.
Ervin took a perfect game into the 5th inning last night, and finished by allowing one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
The beat writers reported that, after the game, Ervin refused to grant interviews to them. Coach Alfredo Griffin came up and cajoled Ervin into answering questions — but he’d only do it in Spanish. (Ervin speaks acceptable English.) Griffin translated the answers, which makes you wonder whether what Alfredo said in English was what Ervin said in Spanish.
Santana’s disdain for his critics can be summed up by comparison to an infamous New York Daily News headline published on October 30, 1975. The City of New York was on the brink of municipal bankruptcy, and was seeking a bailout from the federal government. President Gerald Ford promised to veto any bill bailing out the city. The Daily News responded with the infamous tabloid headline, “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD”. Ford never said it, but that didn’t stop the paper from running the inflammatory headline.
Of course, this was only one start, but it earned him the right to remain in the big leagues. The papers quote Angels manager Mike Scioscia as saying Ervin will get another start next week — at home, against either New York (pressure cooker time) or Toronto.
The media have their job to do, but as the cliché goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
As for the instant-gratification know-nothings who soil Angels fan boards with their presence, they’ll just move on to attacking someone else. These were the people who at various times have called Garret Anderson "lazy," called John Lackey "Lacknuts," wanted Chone Figgins released, wrote that Casey Kotchman was "a slow-running singles hitter who will never amount to anything," etc., ad nauseam.
Well, to quote the Daily News … DROP DEAD.