No man to ever suit up for the St. Louis Blues was perfect. No human being is perfect in today’s world, nor can they live up to the expectations of the masses.
There are those that come closer than others, however. Those are the people with a spirit that we all hope to achieve and are drawn to.
As someone with no personal Bob Plager stories, I’ve still felt connected to the man. Perhaps some of that is simply his unending connection to the team we all love, but some of it is also how he managed to portray exactly what fans want from their sports heroes.
There is no question fans often ask too much of athletes. They’re entertainers, really, but we put them on pedestals that few are ready for when they become pros, or even high-level college athletes.
Some manage it and Plager did just that. When he was playing, he still found ways to connect with everyone.
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On Facebook, a fan shared a story and a photograph of Plager, full fu man chu and long hair, sitting at a corkball game in Union, Missouri. There was no charity event going on, nor any public relations mission set out by the franchise where Plager was selected to go. While I’m sure it was not completely out of the blue, it basically boiled down to Plager showing up just to be a part of the community.
That’s something I wish today’s Blues and the franchise would do more of. There is no doubt that this franchise connects with the city more than many, but they also forget how wide-reaching their fan base is.
99% of team events are either in the city, St. Louis County or one of the wealthier areas around town. From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense because this is where most of your money comes from. However, Plager’s visit to Union showed that he understood all fans mattered.
The Blues don’t have events in Jefferson County or Washington, St. Francois or Franklin Counties. These fans are no less passionate and just as willing to show up to games and cheer until their throats are sore when the funds are available.
Plager was a man that knew that. While I’m sure land availability and cost played a huge factor, it still would surprise many that Plager would have his restaurant/bar Bobby’s Place in Valley Park instead of somewhere in the central west end or Chesterfield Valley. He knew Blues fans were everywhere.
Even after his playing days, Plager managed to be exactly what fans want from their favorite athletes. He became a fan.
While I’ve always known it exists, I was disappointed a few years back to hear Mike Golic Sr. talk about how he doesn’t follow any teams much, even ones he played for. It makes sense because it’s become such a business, but fans still want to believe their team or their city held a special place in the heart of an athlete they spent so many hours cheering for. More often, these ex-athletes still share a passion for the game they dedicated their life to, but no deep seeded connection to the fans, city or team.
Plager did not go that way. He bled as much for the Blues emotionally after he was done playing as he had physically when he played.
While other team alumni were partying in the team’s luxury suite at the TD Garden, Plager was nervously pacing the hallways as the team went up against the Boston Bruins in Game 7. He wanted the team to win just as much as any fan.
He didn’t want that championship parade for selfish reasons, so he would get to ride in that car and receive accolades. He wanted it because he knew how big the party would be and how much it meant to so many, including himself.
Plager had been through the heartache just as much as any fan. If anything, his might have been more heartbreaking because he never left the organization that he’d given so much to.
Even after Plager was not officially linked with the team in a coaching, scouting or front office role, he kept going on as an ambassador. He was just more than that.
So many times, you hear about men or women who give you every reason to look up to them in terms of their production or effort in the arena. Yet, when they step away from their “office”, they don’t live up to what people want them to be.
It’s understandable. Nobody wants to be swarmed by mobs of fans every moment of the day or be questioned why a play happened over and over or asked to tell the same story a million times. It’s inevitable that they could have a bad day.
Even knowing that, those negative moments leave an impression. Even knowing he was a jerk, I was still taken aback at being told to “f*** off” by Barry Bonds when I was an intern with the radio station covering the Kansas City Royals.
What made Plager even more interesting was he never gave the impression he was being magnanimous. You didn’t get the sense he realized the time given to these people was their moment in the sun. He came off as legitimately caring about each soul he met. Only those close to him seem to know of any bad days he had but they seem to be fewer than many because you never heard anything but glowing words.
Nobody should be expected to become what “we” want them to be. If a former player feels no affection once they’re done playing, there is no need for it to be forced.
However, it just highlights those that do stick around and those that do go through the same things as your average Joe. We want our favorite athletes to care just as much as we do.
Deep down, we know they’re doing it for money because that’s why anyone works. Plager was one of those guys you could believe would have done anything he did for free, because he often did. He gave time to fans with nothing in return other than their smiles.
He spent hours telling stories just because it made him happy and put a sense of awe in those that listened. No human being is perfect and Plager was not either. He was still exactly what fans wanted from him though.