Treat pro athletes with standard respect

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Darin Ruf lasted just 29 games in New York before the Mets released him.

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief

April 13, 2023

Darin Ruf is no superstar. In fact, he’s what some would call a journeyman MLB player. But, just like you and me, he’s a human being.

Ruf was traded from the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets on August 2. He played only 29 games with the Mets, hitting just .152 (10-for-66) during his brief tenure in Flushing-Queens.

He was released by New York on April 2 before being re-signed by San Francisco six days later. Now, he’s back in a market where he’s more comfortable, and he was transparent about his up-and-down stint with the Mets.

“Anywhere you struggle, fans are going to be tough on you,” Ruf recently told The Athletic. “I think the media [in New York] really runs with what fans’ perceptions are. So you’re kind of getting crushed by two entities. Even if you’re not on social media a heck of a lot, you still have an idea and you see things.”

Ruf’s tale is a cautionary one. Why should he have to come to work knowing that he’s outright hated by fans all because of his on-field performance, and why should that issue be exacerbated by sports media personnel who are out for blood?

He’s a professional athlete, sure, but he’s still a human being.

Ruf isn’t the first player in recent memory to have a run-in with the “norm” in New York City.

Last year, just after being traded from the New York Yankees to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Joey Gallo shared a struggle similar to the one that Ruf endured.

Gallo told that he didn’t even show his face in public because he knew how disliked he was by fans because of his on-field struggles.

“I went through a lot of adversity and I really had to question myself a lot,” Gallo said. “My confidence suffered. I would say I hit rock bottom for the big leagues. So for me, I was just trying to remember to be a good teammate, play the game the right way, play the game hard and not do something stupid that I’d regret.

“I learned a lot about myself, I guess. Baseball is a tough game. But it definitely made me stronger because not many people have gone through what I’ve gone through.”

In 140 games with the Yankees during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Gallo hit just .159 (67-for-421). Those aren’t desirable numbers by any stretch. But if a player is so afraid to go outside out of fear for how he’ll be treated by fellow human beings, that’s downright despicable.

It didn’t help Gallo’s case when, in October 2021, after a rocky couple of months to begin his tenure, Gallo was being mocked and criticized for things as simple as his dressing routine — he would sometimes dress and undress if he felt the fit wasn’t right.

In a tweet criticizing the criticism, Gallo said, “Me: Literally gets dressed. Media: Yup that’s why he sucks.”

Good on Gallo for standing up for himself.

Even Chris Russo, a well-respected member of the national baseball media, referred to Gallo as “Joey Galloway” during last year’s trade deadline. That’s inexcusable.

Fans are allowed to be entitled to fair criticism. They pay for tickets, television, concessions and so on.

What isn’t fair, however, is to treat an athlete like a lesser human being because they’re struggling on the field. It’s also not fair to show athletes a complete lack of respect, such as critiquing their quirks or misspelling their name, when you’d want the same level of respect and attention from them when you try to cover them in any given story.

Athletes don’t show up to your local accounting firm or your newsroom to discuss your performance. Are you allowed to critique them? Yes.

But don’t be so harsh that they fear even walking the public streets because they don’t know how they’ll be treated. That’s not right.