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The Rays and the Process of Grief

One of the buzzwords surrounding decision making in MLB front offices, especially in  the Rays organization, is "Process". During the off-season, fans seem to understand the process behind decisions and are very process oriented, but once the games count, some fans can't help but be results oriented. In just six games, we've witnessed the transformation of a segment of the  Rays fanbase from energetic and optimistic to angry and defeated. Whether you are reading comments here on DRB or other Rayscentric sites, following along with Rays fans on Twitter, or listening to sports talk radio, it is impossible not to hear the anger and dissatisfaction from the fanbase.

Coping with the emotional deflation that comes from a failed baseball season can be very similar to coping with the grief from the loss of a loved one. To say that the Rays 0-6 start hasn't negatively affected me would be a lie, but being a longtime Cleveland sports fan has taught me how to cope with falling short of expectations. As much as I personally am bothered by the 0-6 start, the analytical side of my brain won't allow me to lower my expectations for the Rays 2011 season after just 6 games. 

But there are some fans that have cashed in the season and are quick to detail the many reasons why the team is finished, these fans have rapidly entered into the 7 Stages of Grief. Since process is the key word surrounding the Rays, let's take a look at the 7 Stages of Grief: Through the Process and Back to Life.  

Please keep in mind that I believe that a fan has every right to be passionate, angry, exuberant, negative, or whatever emotion may grab them during a season, but several questions did come up while looking at this segment of fans through the prism of the 7 Stages of Grief.   

  • Are these fans who have taken on a defeatist attitude any less of a fan than those who are holding onto hope of turning this thing around?  
  • Why do these fans feel the need to be the loudest (most critical) and suppress the enthusiasm still held by some? 
  • Is it ridiculous to be having a "the seasons over" conversation after just six games? 
  • What benchmark could the 2011 Rays achieve to win them back (.500 record by game 40, 5 games out at All-Star Break, etc)?
  • How many of these fans support the booing of Manny Ramirez?
  • What one move could management make today to appease these fans (fire Derek Shelton, bench player x in favor of player y, etc?).

Stage One is Shock and Denial (react with numb disbelief). 

The majority of fans (whether we want to admit to being here or not) fall into this stage. This is the stage where fans are either in the "Jimminy Christmas!!! it's only 6 games" and "no team has made the playoffs after starting off 0-6". The rest of the stat based arguments are dressing for either arguemnt or individual performances. 

Stage Two is Pain and Guilt (sufferring or unbelievable pain).

This is  the "I'm not even going to watch the games, let me know how the Rays are doing after the NHL playoffs are finished" crew. Many of the "no team has made the playoffs after starting 0-6" jump immediately into this category.

Stage Three is Anger and Bartering (frustration gives way to anger).

If a fan moves to Stage Two, they are apt to let everyone know why. It should be noted that these critical voices will be the most illogical and the loudest. Small sample size arguments will be made to suggest a player can not have future success and that he should be benched or sent to the minors. These fans are the first to call for a change to be made in the coaching staff. If the team is pitching poorly the pitching coach must go, if the team isn't hitting, the hitting coach must go. Some disgruntled fans will suggest that the manager be fired. This anger and frustration can grip a fan and result in booing a player in his home ballpark after a very limited number of at bats.

Stage Four is Depression, Reflection, Lonliness (sad reflection overtakes you).

Many fans will spend a lot of time in Stage Three letting people know why they are unhappy. Their negativity becomes a replacement for the euphoria of winning. This spewing of negativity will, in a sad way, provide them with a "high" but like any drug at some point that fan will crash and come down. Some fans will gradually move their way through stage three and stage four and move onto stage five. From my experience of years of watching baseball teams fade, the stage 3/stage 4 period is usually surrounding the All-Star break. 

Stage Five is the Upward Turn (life becomes a little calmer and a little more organized).

Fans will begin to discuss the teams strengths and weakness, not relative to the win-loss record, but more in terms of how the individuals fit the future of the team. 

Stage Six is Reconstruction and Working Through (seek realistic solutions to problems posed by life).

Fans become very process oriented once again. Weaknesses on the team are discussed from the point of view of who is in the minor league system, who may be available via trade, etc.

Stagve Seven is Acceptance and Hope (accept and deal with the reality of your situation).

Wait Til Next Year. Fans will begin to look at the positives of the season and begin to believe that their team can once again compete the next season.