Chris Perez met with the media Sunday morning to expand upon his comments from Saturday evening, when he expressed displeasure about being booed during a scoreless appearance on Thursday and about the club’s home attendance, which ranks last among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Below is a full transcript of Perez’s comments from Sunday and comments from Indians team president Mark Shapiro on his reaction to what the Tribe closer had to say.
Is this something that has been building up for you?
There’s no motivation. I don’t have an ulterior motive. I’ve been here since 2009. I was one of the first trade pieces when the team signaled they were going to start rebuilding. So, I’ve been here. In 2010, I wouldn’t have said those comments. We deserved to get booed, we deserved for nobody to be here. But we’ve been building up for this season and we’re good. We have a good team. We haven’t even played our best ball and we’re in first place. It’s been years building up and Thursday was the last straw for me. I had it on Thursday and yesterday was my first time to talk.
Are you worried about any backlash from fans?
Were you amused by the backlash?
Some of it was funny. It entertained my timeline last night. That was fun. I expect it, but I really don’t care anymore. I’m here to do my job and play for this team and if the fans come, they’ll come and if they don’t, it’ll be just like it was in April, so who cares?
Have you talked to other players who have specifically said they don’t want to come here?
I have not. I’m just talking about perception of teammates and guys on other teams, not guys that have had the chance to say no to coming here, but guys looking on the outside in. I’ve talked to ex-players, guys that we have released in recent years. It’s the consensus pretty much.
…that they don’t want to be here?
It’s not a good atmosphere. It’s not fun to be here. Especially when you’re not playing well or not getting that many hits or you’re not pitching well. Baseball is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s a child’s game, I understand that. But if you have the choice to go an atmosphere where it’s fun every day, like Philadelphia or some place like that where every day it’s fun just to go there, that helps you get through some seasons sometimes, some games. In August, when it’s 100 degrees out and you come back from a West Coast trip and you’re tired, that energy can help you push through a couple of games. Maybe it gets you a couple wins here or there. It makes a difference, it really does.
Like I said, it was the first time I got interviewed since Thursday. I got booed for no reason.
Have you talked to Sandy Alomar, who was here when the energy sparked them in the ’90s?
I have. I talked to ex-players who were here when it was like that. Ask Derek Lowe. When he was with Boston, they were like, ‘God, we’re going to Cleveland. That place is loud. They’re on you. That’s the home-field advantage. That’s what I want to get back to. That’s what helps us win. That helps us get to where we want to go. It’s not like that anymore, unfortunately. I don’t say that teams like coming here, but it’s just another game for them. It’s not like, ‘Oh god, we’re going to Cleveland. It’s going to be a loud series.’ When we go to Boston, it’s going to be loud. We just know. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s fun to play in those kind of situations.
So why do you want to be in Cleveland?
Because we have a good team. I want to get back to that. I was in Florida in ’97 when they lost the World Series to the Marlins. I saw the atmosphere here. It’s great. It’s a good baseball town. I don’t know how to get back to that. I think everybody says ‘Winning, winning.’ Well we were in first place for three months last year. We’ve come out strong this year. Obviously it’s not a fluke. Last year, we tailed off because of injuries. This year is a different year. At the end, if you don’t want to get your heart broken again, then we don’t want you.
Why do you think people don’t come?
There are all kinds of reasons: weather, the ownership. I hear it all the time. You guys know the reasons. I’m just repeating what you guys write.
Why do you think the fans are so negative toward the ownership?
I think some of it is the media. Some of it is the fans. They want a winner. I think some of the ownerships in this city aren’t accountable. There are a lot of reasons. The economy. I’m not stupid, I understand the economy is bad around here. I understand that people can’t afford to come to the game. But there doesn’t need to be the negativity. I don’t understand the negativity. Enjoy what we have. We have a first-place team. How many teams in the country would want that right now? You think the Tigers are happy? They’re in third place. You might think, ‘Oh, they can turn on that switch.’ It doesn’t work that way. We’re in first place. Enjoy it. We could be in last place. We could be the Royals or the Pirates and haven’t won anything in 20 years. We’re not. Enjoy it. I don’t understand the negativity.
Do a lot of your teammates feel the same way?
They feel the same way. They just won’t say it.
Do you feel like this could ignite fans that have been waiting for somebody to speak up?
I hope so. Like I said, I don’t have an ulterior motive. I’m going to go out there and play well and do my job. School is out now. The last three days have been amazing weather. The fans are going to come. I know that. It’s just a slap in the face when you’re last in attendance. Last. It’s not like we’re 25th or 26th. We’re last. Oakland is out-drawing us. That’s embarrassing.
Have you given away tickets yourself?
I’ve basically bought season tickets for six seats for the rest of the year. I’m not doing anything to bring any extra attention to myself or distract myself from the team. I’m here to win. I want to win here. I care. We have guys on the team that care, younger guys. Kipnis cares. Pestano cares. Older guys care. We want to win. But right now, we’re winning for ourselves, basically.
Has anyone from the front office approached you?
I talked to [general manager Chris] Antonetti. I don’t really want to get into what we talked about. I didn’t get reprimanded or anything. I’m not suspended or fined. We had a good talk.
Did they force you to talk today?
What was this for?
Just to keep it out of the locker room and so I could do it all at once.
Is it deceiving when you go out through the offseason and see what seems to be a swelled fan base at the mall tours and the offseason public appearances, but then you get here and see the empty seats?
It’s not deceiving. It is what it is. It’s been like that since I’ve been here. It’s not like that’s a one-year thing. It’s been like that since I’ve been here. That’s why it’s frustrating, because it doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better. What else can we do? That’s the frustrating part. I understand 2010. We were terrible. I wouldn’t want to come watch crap baseball either. But we’re getting better. That’s what you do with a hometown team. You watch the rookie come up and struggle and then two years later he becomes an All-Star or whatever. Then you say, ‘Hey, I remember when he couldn’t do that, and now look at that.’ That’s what you do with a team, at least when I grew up that’s what I did. I think most fans do that. They fall in love with a team. The names change, the players change, but it’s the team. We play in Cleveland. We’re here.
There were the two largest crowds Friday and Saturday since Opening Day. Do you think that’s a sign of things to come?
I hope so. The weather is nice. All of the factors are lining up for the fans to come. It’s a weekend. We’re playing well. I expect it to continue. I hope it does. It helps. It really does.
I, myself, and we, as an organization, have a lot of respect and appreciation for Chris. I understand the emotion and the passion and the competitiveness that drives his performance. I mean he’s been one of the more dominant closers in baseball this season. What drives him to succeed in that role is his emotion and his competitiveness. I think a lot of that was what behind he said yesterday. Talking to him with Chris Antonetti, it’s clear that what’s behind that emotion is how great he feels our situation is. How incredible he feels the team is, the ballpark is, and his desire for more people to experience that. That’s the root of it.
We as an organization clearly disagree with him. We appreciate our fans, we respect our fans. We certainly want more to come and we’re working extremely hard to make that happen, but it’s our underlying belief that if the team continues to play the way it plays and we continue to win, then more fans will come out. It was about this time last year that more and more fans began to come.
Do a lot of players feel the same way as Perez?
No. I get the sense they do [want to be here]. You have two recent examples in Asdrubal and Carlos Santana that signed extensions. In my experience, this has been a place that, for certain types of players, they want to be here. They want to come here for the culture, for the city, for the quality of life. Great ballpark, great place to play. I’m sure there are some that don’t, but a lot do.
Were fans too spoiled with old ownership?
One of the unfortunate aspects of our current owners is the timing of when they bought the team. I think that, to be judged through the lens of the mid-90s teams is unfair. It’s a different situation in every way. If you measure us as a different era of Indians baseball, we’ve done well. They are an ownership that cares deeply about the team. It’s frustrating for me to see them criticized, but I understand that people need to point a finger somewhere. I don’t think people are making a decision not to come to games because of ownership. The bulk of people anyway. Ultimately, we’re focused on trying to control the things we can control.
Did you ask to speak with Perez?
Yeah, but we have a good relationship with him. He’s certainly one not to shirk from responsibility. Easy conversation. Obviously he’s a guy with strong opinions, and he’s a smart guy. He had thought out what he said, and had some reasons behind what he said. It was a good conversation. I think we agree on a lot of fronts, and disagree on a few.
Are you disappointed in the attendance?
Am I disappointed? I want more people to experience what we have going here. I have that feeling in a moment, but I turn that more to resolve because I think once they get here, they’re going to want to come back again.
Are you worried about the comments alienating the fans even more?
I don’t. I really feel like it’s a moment in time. It’s a story for right now. If you polled our players by and large, if you talked to our fans by and large, and if you talked to every single person in this organization, what you’d see is a largely universal respect for our fans.
Is ownership is a scapegoat?
I don’t know if it’s a scapegoat. I think we, as a society, tend to need to place our finger on one aspect to be able to understand and digest things that are challenging for us. I think that’s unfortunately where a lot of the focus has gone in recent years.
What was your initial reaction to Perez’s comments?
I tend not to react too quickly until I have all the information. My initial reaction was just, ‘What happened? What was said?’
Do you think Perez disrespected the fans?
I don’t, but I’m not going to speak for Chris.
Do you think it could distract Perez’s on-field performance?
That’s a unique role, and I would say no. That role is all about how a guy handles the blown save, how a guy handles the tough moments. He’s shown over and over again is he can handle the tough times.
Could this ignite fans to come out?
Talking to [Perez], I think some of his hope is that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying, ‘Hey, pay attention. Good things are happening here. Look at this ballpark, look at what you’ve got here. Come on out.’ I don’t know whether that will happen, but I would conjecture that part of his desire is for that to happen.