C.J. Wilson returns to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington tonight to oppose the only franchise he had ever played for prior to this season.
I am curious how Rangers fans will treat him, and I’m curious how other people think they should treat him.
And I’m curious, in general, what the “protocol” should be in cases such as this when a player who isn’t especially well-liked, but who helped lead a team to success, returns later to face that team as a member of the opposition.
There really is not better testing ground for answering these questions than Wilson.
C.J. Wilson: Successful Pitcher
One fact cannot be disputed: C.J. Wilson’s tenure as a pitcher with the Texas Rangers was overwhelmingly successful.
Yes, I realize that Wilson was not stellar in the playoffs (1-5, 4.82 ERA. 1.433 WHIP), which is why I would not have paid him ace money this offseason. However, it seems like Wilson’s playoff struggles overshadow his regular season success too much.
Wilson has spent two years a full-time starter. In each season he pitched at least 204 innings, won at least 15 games, struck out at least 170 batters, and finished with an ERA+ of 134 or higher. That is excellent production.
It is hard to find major league pitchers who can eat up 200 innings in a season. It’s even harder to find pitchers who can do this while maintaining an ERA consistently in the low-3.00s. And it’s really, really hard to find pitchers who can do it in back-to-back seasons in the sweltering Texas heat.
C.J. Wilson did this, ultimately finishing a deserving 6th in the Cy Young Award balloting last season.
So okay, his postseason pitching left a lot to be desired. But are the Rangers even in the postseason the last two years without the 400+ very good innings they got from Wilson? Maybe, maybe not.
Regardless, Wilson’s contributions to the Rangers’ terrific two-year run were very valuable. They were even more valuable considering the franchise’s moribund history and what Wilson helped fans experience for the first time.
C.J. Wilson: Renowned Douche
But here is the other side of the CJ Wilson story: a lot of people think he’s a douche bag.
I will leave my personal feelings out of it, but let’s just say that this is a widely-held opinion here in Dallas. When the radio hosts I was listening to this morning brought up Wilson’s name and tried to come up with the single word that best summed up his time in Dallas, guess what the word was that they came up with? Yep: douche.
They then played this rather humorous “C.J. Wilson Bragging Montage” to sum up why Wilson has rubbed so many people the wrong way.
The radio hosts were also surprised that the CJ-Wilson-as-douche narrative is not just relegated to Dallas. As this Funny or Die video shows, it’s become a national punchline.
When Wilson tweeted out former teammate Mike Napoli’s phone number during the offseason, it further cemented the douche label and upped the ante for Wilson’s return to Texas as a member of the Angels.
How Should Rangers Fans Treat Wilson?
So we have this weird dichotomy with C.J. Wilson: he was an undeniably successful pitcher who helped the Rangers and their fans reach heights they never experienced before; but he is also a guy who has proven to be easy to dislike by many despite his seemingly admirable “straight edge” lifestyle.
If you were a Rangers fans, how would you treat C.J. Wilson when he takes the mound tonight?
Personally, I would give him a standing ovation initially.
I know that there are hard feelings now, and that many Rangers fans didn’t even like him while he was a Ranger, but sports are about production and Wilson produced.
Not many pitchers in baseball can boast Wilson’s credentials over 400+ innings the last two years. That certainly deserves respect, especially considering the fact that Wilson’s primary “transgressions” were having a cocky personality that rubbed people the wrong way and scuffling a bit in the playoffs. Wilson never got into trouble off the field, never had an attitude that negatively affected the clubhouse, and generally represented a classy organization with class.
Sure, he bolted Dallas for his home state of California in the offseason, but it’s tough to blame him. He was able to head home, and the Rangers’ priority was signing Yu Darvish anyway, not Wilson. It would be silly for any Rangers fans to hold that against Wilson (and I don’t think many do).
So when he C.J. Wilson takes the mound at Rangers Ballpark tonight, I think he deserves the fans’ respect for the good times, of which there were many over the last two seasons – the two most successful seasons in franchise history. Give him a nice ovation, allow him to tip his cap, and then move on.
Once that moment is over, then Wilson becomes something other than a recently successful former Ranger who helped the team get to two straight World Series. He then becomes a pitcher on the hated Angels who thinks he’s better than you and who tweeted out Mike Napoli’s phone number. Treat him as you wish then.
But before that, allow a few moments of respect to take place. Douche or not, Wilson deserves it.
In general, this is how I like to see sports fans handle the first return by a player after a meaningful tenure than ends in an acrimonious divorce.
If guys have given years of their best efforts to help the franchise win, that should be respected by fans — assuming the player never did anything so egregious as to not deserve it.
What do you think? Should there be a fan protocol of initial respect in these instances? Or is it fair game for fans to lay into the former player immediately, regardless of how successful his time was in their uniform?