It sounds so absurd. Cheer for Chone Figgins? He of the negative WAR since signing that thirty-six million dollar deal back in 2010? Who are we clapping for next, Alex Rodriguez?* Most people are ready to boo a player when he can't get his batting average off the interstate, but even for those with a kinder disposition, frustrated silence is often treated as a more acceptable response to mediocrity than open applause.
But, put to the test, the act of booing breaks down in this case. Chone Figgins is not trying to play badly. Based on every piece of available evidence, he's actually very clearly doing his damndest to help the team. He's moved around the batting order. He's played all over the diamond. He accepted his demotion from the lineup and (at least publically) never complained when his assignment plummeted from 'utility player' to 'benchwarmer.'
Furthermore, Figgins's transgressions pale in comparison to other notable Mariner insubordinates. Milton Bradley openly loafed while fighting with friend, foe, and umpire alike in his Seattle days. Richie Sexson's Mariner tenure ended when he threw a mini-tantrum upon finding his name absent from the starting lineup one day in Oakland. And most infamously, Scott Spiezio simultaneously discouraged prospective free agents from signing with the M's and blasted everything about the city of Seattle in one fell swoop. By comparison, Figgins comes off as a choir boy.
The worst part for everyone is that this could have been so different. It's easy to forget how good and exciting Figgins was in Anaheim: he was worth fourteen WAR over his last three seasons as an Angel, stealing 114 bags and playing a marvelous third base in the process. He did it all as the smiling, pint-sized catalyst of the league. Had he aged gracefully, kids all over the city might be pounding their fists together after a big base hit, or trotting to first fifteen feet away from the foul line after a walk.
But nobody will be emulating either gesture. Figgins played adequately in 2010 before a cliff dive in 2011 sealed his fate as another Mariner free agent flop. And while the absolute nadir of his status in Seattle occurred when he was raucously booed by a full crowd during Dustin Ackley's debut, a recent crowdsourcing effort reveals that Figgins remains as unpopular as ever.
These days, I mostly feel bad for Figgins. I mean, not too badly. We are talking about a healthy professional athlete with one of the coolest jobs on the planet and tens of millions of dollars in the bank. There's a ceiling to the sympathy someone like Figgins can get.
Still, until we see his effort sag or hear him badmouth the city, there isn't a compelling reason to boo Chone Figgins. Sure, his numbers are bad, but that hardly matters anymore, as he hardly ever gets on the field. And while Figgins's production is destined to fall laughably short of justifying his contract, I don't think it's something fans can get too upset about. At the end of the day, Figgins is undoubtedly far more frustrated by his performance than we ever could be. There's also a decent chance he's done as a Mariner before Opening Day 2013. When that time comes, the Mariners will be applauded for improving their twenty-five man roster. Until that point, there's no reason not to support Figgins. This isn't his fault.
*- I root for Alex Rodriguez.