Enough with all the stupid when it comes to Kris Bryant.
The amount of venom and hateful snark targeting Bryant on social media and even on local airwaves reeks of the kind of meathead, knee-jerk reaction that represents the lowest form of the what-have-you-done-lately mentality that is a natural byproduct of sports fandom and sports talk in any season.
And maybe in these hardest of real-world hard times for so many of us, it’s an even more natural — and relatively harmless — way to get in some much-needed venting.
But the level of ignorance when it comes to this issue with this team’s best hitter, in this short, challenging, COVID-19 season is astonishing.
These were some of the responses to news Monday night of Bryant’s oblique injury that took him out of the Pirates game, to one tweet from one timeline in just a few hours:
“See ya China doll.”
“He’s the worst player on the team so who cares.”
Worst player on the team?
That might have been a typo on the apparent reference to injury-plagued former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior. But that was no typo in the fourth paragraph: “best hitter.”
This guy has consistently taken the best at-bat, with the best results, for the Cubs for the last five years.
And no delayed, abbreviated, injury-hampered season during a coronavirus pandemic that has eliminated many preparation routines and added the unprecedented daily stress of protocols and testing has changed that.
“At the end of this season your numbers are not going to define who you are, at all,” manager David Ross said of the general conditions and performances this year.
Bryant’s offensive numbers are awful this year. If he doesn’t return to the lineup in the final five games of the season, he’ll finish with a .195 average and .583 OPS in 138 plate appearances. He missed time because of elbow, oblique and, most significantly, wrist/finger issues this season.
But “China doll”? Come on.
It’s pretty ugly stuff to start questioning players’ toughness based on injuries.
Bryant’s worst season came in 2018 when he continued to play through a shoulder injury that sapped most of his power for much of the season. And still hit .272 with an .834 OPS. Then bounced back to All-Star form with 31 homers and a .903 OPS last year.
He also chose to play this season with a newborn at home despite admitted hesitation over the health risk while stars such as Buster Posey, David Price and later Lorenzo Cain chose to opt out because of COVID-19.
The coronavirus protocols required this season, including every-other-day testing and various levels of distancing and quarantine conditions are almost impossible to overstate for their impact on players — in a sport that might already be the most mentally challenging and stressful because of its game-a-day schedule and built-in failure.
“The mental aspect of this season is something that I don’t think we talk about enough with what these guys are having to go through — everybody,” Ross said.
Average offensive performance levels are down across the league this year, and injuries are up.
And to judge any baseball player on a 60-game season that involves unprecedented conditions — especially a player who’s 28 with a track record of All-Star performance on display as recently as last year — is ludicrous.
Sometimes it seems as though fans and media have been lulled into normalized perceptions as the season has continued largely uninterrupted since early virus outbreaks with the Cardinals and Marlins.
One local broadcaster even spent a segment in recent days discussing Bryant in the context of this question: “Can you remember a Chicago athlete who had the immediate STAR climb/shocking fall like Kris Bryant w/o a serious injury?”
Five years ago a Rookie of the Year. Four years ago an MVP. One year ago a third-time All-Star.
And now a bad season during a pandemic-delayed and shortened season amid a sea of unique conditions within the team/league bubble — never mind the chaos in the world outside of it — qualifies as a “shocking fall.”
Maybe the question included some discount on previous performances (RBIs anyone?). Maybe the front office’s criticism in recent years of the core and willingness to shop Bryant in trade talks sowed discontent among fans.
Maybe we’re all just a little quicker these days to feel like throwing punches.
But consider that the 60th game of this season was originally scheduled for May 31.
And then consider the likelihood that Bryant has another three All-Star seasons in him over the next five years.
“I think there’s a real danger in saying, ‘Oh, that guy had a great season,’ or, ‘That guy had a poor season,’ and evaluate it,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
In fact, it would be stupid.
And writing off Bryant, or ripping any player, because of injuries? That’s not exactly the stuff of genius, either.
“I know a Kris Bryant in the lineup is good for the Cubs. That’s what I know,” Ross said. “Scrutiny comes and goes in this job. He knows that. All the players know that.
“If somebody wants to criticize Kris for getting injured, I don’t know. Bad people do that. Good people don’t do that.”