With two on and one out in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s 8-0 loss to the Angels, Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond struck out looking on an 0-2 slider from Angels starter Jaime Barria. The K was met with a smattering of boos from the crowd.
Desmond came up again with two on and two out in the sixth, and again struck out, chasing a 3-2 slider in the dirt from reliever Justin Anderson, his third strikeout of the game. Rockies fans booed more lustily this time.
In his last at bat leading off the ninth, Desmond got his golden sombrero as he was caught looking at a fastball from reliever Akeel Morris, and the boos from the 33,689 in attendance reached a crescendo.
For many teams, fans booing a struggling player would be nothing new, but Coors Field is not Yankee Stadium, where fans boo when a team that has won 16 of 17 has the audacity to give up a couple of home runs (yes, this actually happened.) Rockies fans have a reputation of being a group that mainly just wants to enjoy a nice summer afternoon (or evening) at the ballpark, drink a few beers and have a good time regardless of the result. That reputation is not unearned, as Coors is one of the more laid-back atmospheres in baseball — it is rare for Rockies fans to turn on one of their own players, and almost unheard of for that player to be a hitter.
Two of the more notable recent cases of Rockies players being booed at Coors Field involve Wilton Lopez during a disastrous 2013 season that saw him allow multiple runs in 11 different relief outings, and Jeremy Guthrie’s infamous “tip of the cap” game against Oakland in 2012. That those examples came five and six years ago should illustrate how rarely Rockies fans boo their own players. Rockies fans didn’t even boo Adam Ottavino when he allowed a game-winning grand slam to the Dodgers’ Andrew Toles in the ninth inning of a 2016 game.
To say that Desmond has disappointed since signing a five-year, $70 million contract prior to the 2017 season would be an understatement. Since joining the Rockies, he has hit .250/.300/.374 in 502 plate appearances with just 30 extra-base hits and 121 strikeouts. Some of his 2017 struggles could be attributed to injuries, but he has been even worse in 2018, hitting .176/.218/.360 with five walks, 38 strikeouts and a ground ball rate hovering around 70 percent.
Perhaps adding to the frustration of Rockies fans is that Desmond has somehow been even worse at Coors Field since joining the team, hitting .238/.276/.314 in 60 games with as many double play balls as extra-base hits. In his 14 games at home in 2018, he has hit a miserable .125/.157/.229 with 18 strikeouts in 48 at bats. Given those numbers, it is easy to see why Rockies fans are at the end of their rope with their first baseman.
Purple Row’s Adam Peterson, who made the case for DFAing Desmond last week, was in attendance Wednesday and this was his take on the fans booing the Rockies first baseman:
To say I was surprised by the booing would mask the relief I felt. Rockies fans are a notoriously patient group, but apparently a second rally-killing strikeout in as many at bats is more than the Coors Faithful can bear. Maybe the taste of playoff success has already started to change expectations. Maybe it was the long winning streak that now seemed likely to end. Or maybe Desmond’s struggles have finally gone too far. Sitting in the third deck listening, though, it seemed less an intellectual choice between these and more the sum of them leading to a purely visceral reaction. It felt like Rockies fans were having their Howard Beale moment. This was Coors Field, faced with yet another fruitless Ian Desmond at bat and saying, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."
And so I did something I didn’t think I ever would: I joined in.
After Wednesday’s game, Rockies manager Bud Black said he plans to have Desmond in the starting lineup again when the Rockies open a four-game series with Milwaukee on Thusday, according to The Athletic’s Nick Groke:
Bud Black on Ian Desmond's four K day: "He just wasn't seeing the slider. I'll trot him out there again tomorrow."— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) May 9, 2018
It seems as the fans’ patience with Desmond has come to an end, the team’s patience with the 32-year-old has not, and unless something improves quickly and dramatically, the frustration among Rockies fans will continue to grow, especially as Desmond continues to get chances that were not afforded to others, most notably top prospect Ryan McMahon.
If Desmond continues to struggle and continues to play every day, the Rockies may have something on their hands they are unaccustomed to: a toxic situation with a player and their fans. It would be wise for them to do something about Desmond, be that bench him, release him, try to fix his swing or something else, before it reaches that point.