The boy caught the pop-up, anyway. The coach of my brother's team yelled at his counterpart - the out-of-line, "juvenile" coach, - saying, in essence: - "What's the matter with you? - a grown man yelling at a kid like that!"
That anecdote sort of sums up my feelings about fans booing pro athletes. I realize my example is overdramatic and that there are many kinds of booing - some boos more intensely negative and others of a lighter nature. Yet, in both my old anecdote and general point, the behavior on the sidelines is, more than anything, just a release of negative energy that brings nothing good to the event -- particularly when directed at one player repeatedly.
So, my objections do not apply to the sort of playful booing fans engage in when they hear the introduction of the opposing team or a star player on that team - which, I know, some view as "part of the game." But, what about the other kinds of booing -- when fans vent non-stop not only at opposing players, but members of their home teams who are not performing well?
To me, booing players on the team you're rooting for is the variety that bugs me the most -- especially when those players happen to be good, decent people off the field.
OK, that brings me to my latest example. About ten days ago, I was watching the Red Sox game, and I heard TV analyst Jerry Remy observe that, after David Ortiz had made an out, a small minority of fans could be heard booing Ortiz. That really disappointed me.
How can any Red Sox fan ever - ever - boo David Ortiz ?
Yeah, Ortiz has been struggling at the plate so far this season, but.....if there has ever been any Boston athlete who does not deserve one solitary boo, it is Ortiz. In 2004, Big Papi carried the Red Sox on his back to their first World Series victory in 86 years - with his heroics most displayed against the New York Yankees during the ACLS playoffs. With the Sox down 3-0 in games, Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in extra innnings to win their first game. Then, 24 hours later, Ortiz hit another game-winning hit in extra innings to get the Sox their second win.
From the second half of 2003 until he was affected by injuries in 2007 and 2008, Ortiz has been the greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Red Sox. He's hit so many dramatic home runs and BIG, clutch hits that he's brought countless thrills and joy to fans. Ortiz - with Manny Ramirez hitting behind him - was part of one of the greatest hitting duos in baseball history -- a modern-day version of Gehrig and Ruth. Beyond this, Ortiz has been one of the most likeable, respected athletes - off the field - to come through this city.
Nevertheless, in this young 2009 season, coming off a wrist injury that hobbled him last year, Ortiz has hit very poorly, often striking out. His timing has been way off. It has been one of his worst stretches. Some have speculated his skills are in decline. Others think it's in his head.
In recent games, Ortiz has improved a bit, and I've heard of no more booing, but, I cited his brief experience with booing to make a larger point.
First, Ortiz could be in a slump until he retires and I would never boo him. I would never boo any player. What good does booing do?
For those doing the booing, it's really just a momentary "release" of energy that has little to do with the game. People booing get a second of self-absorbed amusement by venting negative impulses - a little "escape" from their lives - but, if they're booing their own players, the noise only reminds their "targets" in the case of Ortiz or other Sox players - of their struggles. It does not add to their confidence or help them focus. It's not likely to help them!
To the contrary, sometimes, booing can hurt players' performance. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude it's a bit easier to concentrate without the negative noise. It can add to a player's self-doubt, anxiety or ill feelings.
Further, does it really add to the game to boo opposing players? I'd say "No" every time and in every circumstance. What is the booing about, really? The fans do not really care about many of the players they're jeering. It's just a cathartic release.
I'd love to see the minority of fans who still yell "Yankees Suck" to knock it off. That chant doesn't exactly help promote the image of Boston fans. Indeed, there have been some embarrassing moments at Fenway when a moronic minority of fans have displayed obnoxious behavior. I recall a few years ago, in the middle of a Red Sox-Yankee game, fans were throwing stuff on the field - and I winced when classy Yankee manager Joe Torre was asked about it after the game.
I've witnessed too many negative moments at Fenway Park when booing detracted from the game. I recall once in the late 1970s when some fan or fans did far worse by throwing metal slugs in the direction of centerfielder Mickey Rivers, and, then-Yankee manager Billy Martin yanked his team off the field until order could be restored. I didn't blame Martin.
Booing can be accompanied by an ugly, venom at times. Unfortunately, in the past, I've witnessed moments at Fenway when I believed a small, but noticeable segment of fans appeared to be motivated partly by racism -- in addition to the baseball-related happenings -- when they booed certain players. Booing allows these cowards to hide in the masses.
I recall, when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants played in an interleague game at Fenway two summers ago, the booing was awfully loud for an out-of-town player -- even one alleged to have used steroids.
I know some have already anticipated that when A-Rod plays his first game at Fenway Park this year, he'll be boo-ed very loudly due to the off-season revelations of his past steroid use. I would never join that chorus of boos. Is it going to help Bonds or A-Rod to boo them? Are they going to somehow want to "change" after hearing the boos?
In 2006, a few Red Sox relief pitchers - Keith Foulke, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez - were all booed at different times. Foulke, who, like Ortiz, made a huge contribution to the Sox winning the championship in 2004, must have felt fans had short memories. Tavarez, in September of 2006, commented on the booing to the Fall River Herald-News, when, after a good appearance, fans had cheered him.
"I can't say I don't care about our fans. I love our fans," Tavarez said after the game. "but I've never played for a city that boos the players even though you're five, six games ahead, in first place. "If we go out and don't get the job done, we get boos from the fans. That doesn't make me happy, and I'm sure a lot of players are very concerned about that."
Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, was asked his opinion of fans booing and said he didn't like their treatment of Tavarez.
"I'd rather have no one at the field than people booing me all day," Youkilis told the Herald-News. When asked if he felt, however, that booing might mean that fans care, Youkilis replied, (rhetorically):
"Do they really care? "They care about the team, but when they boo a specific individual, do they really care about that person? No, If you boo somebody, it's like you despise them."
Youkilis also told the Herald-News, "....nothing positive can come out of booing. Zero. Zero percent."
I agree with Youkilis. Cheering - or not cheering - allows fans to express their sentiments fully and spontaneously at games. Booing individual players adds nothing, and, is usually a stupid exercise.