A Time For The Boo Birds


Yesterday Craig Calcaterra over at HardballTalk wrote a piece titled “Why All of You Horrible Savages are Wrong for Booing Ballplayers.” Obviously the title of Craig’s post is tongue-in-cheek, but it got me thinking about the Yankees, myself and my fellow fans, and our penchant for booing ballplayers (often our own).

By booing-fan standards, I’m pretty amateur. I’ve been at Yankee Stadium when marriage proposals on the Jumbo-tron have elicited boos. And during the 2008 Home Run Derby I’m 99.9% sure that one of those kids shagging balls in the outfield got a smattering of boos when he set himself squarely under a high fly ball and then dropped it when it hit off the heel of his glove. Heck, even Wally, the weird Red Sox mascot, heard an earful of boos when all the MLB mascots were introduced before the All-Star Game at Old Yankee Stadium. To Wally’s credit, he knew he was in hostile territory, and in true mascot form he egged on the boos as soon as they started.

Did I boo Wally and his giant, smiling mascot face? Yes I did. It was all at once fun, hilarious, and at the time seemed completely necessary. As I’ve said before, I’m pretty sentimental when it comes to baseball, so my boos are usually elicited based on emotion rather than merit. As a result they crop up in the postseason and Yankees/Red Sox series more often than any other time. And what is Wally if not the (goofy) face of the Red Sox organization? For me, and I believe many Yankees fans, booing the Sawx players adds to the dynamic of The Rivalry. Fifty thousand screaming fans can really impact the atmosphere of a close game in the late innings, and Yankees fans have never been shy about letting the opposing team know whose house they are in.

As for fans booing our own players, I’m a bit more torn on that aspect. When I’m comfortably at home on my couch and a guy mired in a 3-week slump comes to the plate, I have no problem voicing my displeasure. But when I’m actually at the games, watching a Yankee walk to the plate with his head down amidst a chorus of boos, it hits me hard and I genuinely feel bad for that player. I was at the Stadium for a game a few weeks after the Yankees acquired Lance Berkman in 2010. At the time his batting average since being traded was sitting right around the .105 mark and Yankees fans (including myself) were wondering when the real Big Puma would show up and be a significant bat in the lineup. As Berkman came to the plate for his first at-bat of the game, many of the fans made their displeasure known. On one hand, I knew that Berkman was a grown man and a seasoned veteran, and that he probably took that reception with a grain of salt. On the other hand, I was sorry that Berkman wasn’t getting a warmer welcome to his new team simply because he slumping big time.

At the end of the day, I suppose I split the difference between the enthusiastic boo birds and Calcaterra’s anti-booing stance. There is definitely a time and place in the game for it, and in the heat of big games booing those who stand in the way of your team’s victory seems almost inevitable. But when it comes to my own players, even when they are falling far short of earning their multi-million dollar contracts, I believe encouragement probably goes a lot farther toward turning their performance around than yet another reminder that they are letting down the fans.

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