The Rules of Booing

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Jim Johnson has sucked hard this year.  Really hard.  I’m talking Phil Coke level sucking.  (I simply don’t have the words or the energy to rant anymore about the disaster that is the Tigers bullpen.  Coke, for example, may have some utility remaining as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) who faces lefties exclusively.  But he should not be facing ANY right handers at any point of any game, not even switch hitters who hit worse right handed and are being “turned around” against Coke.  I don’t understand.  This has been true for years, and this year it’s even worse: righties have an OPS over 1.000 against Coke in 2014.  And yet, somehow, he’s faced more righties than lefties.  Why does Tigers management insist on continually running him out there against right handed hitters?  Are they hoping he’s going to figure it out or something?  My deepest fear is that Coke starts to get lucky later on this season and somehow gain more trust from Brad Ausmus, increasing the chances that Coke is in the game in a big situation during the stretch run or in the playoffs.  I’m actively rooting for Coke to suck more right now, even if it means the Tigers lose, because the sooner that the Tigers get it through their thick skulls that this guy is a walking turd and release him, the better.)

Wait.  What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Jim Johnson.  So, Johnson has been terrible ever since the moment he arrived in Oakland, and A’s fans have been booing him mercilessly since April.  Johnson’s new teammates have scurried to his defense, making public statements beseeching the fans to stop booing him.  The tone of these statements have ranged from reasoned (“It doesn’t make him pitch better when you boo”) to clichéd (“We don’t come boo you at your place of work”) to condemning (“You are terrible people if you boo”).  A’s fans have continued to boo anyways, because Johnson has continued to suck.  This culminated in an incident last week where Johnson’s wife was booed at a team charity event.  I think booing Mrs. Johnson was, while slightly hilarious, over the line.  But where, exactly, is that line?

Look, I believe firmly that we as fans should generally be free to boo who we want to boo.  We the fans are the reason that players get paid millions of dollars, so players shouldn’t whine about being booed; better to be booed than to have no one watching at all.  So yeah, the general rule should be that you can boo anyone you want, whether he’s on the opposing team or on your team.  But as with most general rules, there needs to be a few exceptions to preserve the rightness of the universe:

The Human Decency Exception:  Don’t boo or cheer if a player is lying on the field injured.  Don’t be a bigoted booer.  Don’t heckle opposing players with a stream of non-stop expletives when you’re sitting next to a bunch of kids (maybe a few scattered f-bombs are okay).  These are all, like, duh.

The Derek Jeter Exemption:  A few years ago, Jeter started the season in a horrific slump, and he started to get booed a little bit at home.  This is after he’d already won four championships and pretty much established himself as the greatest shortstop in Yankee history.  This was messed up.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you do NOT boo Derek Jeter because he’s in a freaking slump.  To make this a more general rule, you don’t boo a guy on your own team solely based on performance if that guy still has a significant net credit with your franchise.  So let’s take the A’s, for example, who’ve made two consecutive postseason appearances.  Should any of the guys who were fundamental pieces on the 2012 and 2013 teams (e.g. Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson) be booed if they were having a rough start to 2014?  No way; there’s no way that a few horrendous months can offset what they’ve done previously.  Obviously, the length of the exemption depends on the magnitude of the positive contribution.  Maybe you can start to boo Coco next year, but franchise-changing guys like Derek Jeter have lifetime exemptions.   This is why it’s completely okay to boo Jim Johnson; he has zero track record with the A’s.  The exemption only applies if the booing is based solely on performance; if the booing is based on off-the-field stuff (like if Miguel Cabrera started drinking again), the exemption would no longer apply and booing would be permitted.

The Jacoby Ellsbury Corollary:  This is an offshoot of the Derek Jeter Exemption.  What happens when a guy who has given a ton to your franchise, including a couple of World Series titles, leaves as a free agent to go to your arch rival?  This was the sticky situation with Jacoby Ellsbury this year.  When he returned to Boston for the first time, the response was very mixed.  Some people cheered and some people booed.  Both were right.  This is a gray area.  Go with your heart.  You are free to boo or cheer as you please, regardless of what that player has done for your team in the past, because that player no longer plays for your team.  The only exception to this is that booing is not permitted when (1) a player had previously earned a lifetime Derek Jeter Exemption and (2) did not completely burn his bridges with his old team.  So Albert Pujols, who earned a lifetime exemption in St. Louis and left as a free agent largely because the Cardinals wouldn’t pay him his market value, should never be booed in St. Louis.  But LeBron James, who came close to earning a lifetime exemption in Cleveland, left so acrimoniously that he deservedly was booed every time he returned.

The Women and Children Caveat:  When I went to the Detroit Lions’ only playoff game victory in their history in 1991, there was a presentation at halftime to the national winners of the Pass, Punt & Kick competition.  These were kids between the ages of 7 and 14.   The Lions were well on their way to winning the game and going on to face Washington in the NFC Championship.  Washington had obliterated Detroit earlier that season, but it was a game that Barry Sanders didn’t play and Lions fans were itching for a chance at a rematch.  So when it was announced that one of the Pass, Punt & Kick winners was from Washington, the entire stadium booed the poor kid.  I mean, it wasn’t a malicious or threatening kind of booing; it was more like a collective reaction by 70,000 people to the announcement of the word “Washington.”  It was kind of awesome.  Anyways, the point is this: the rules of conduct in a stadium aren’t quite the same as in real life.  It’s perfectly acceptable to boo a player from the stands, but if you met him in person on the street and started booing him, you’d look like a crazy person.  A sporting event is entertainment and the spectators are the audience; it’s okay to respond to the presentation, even if it’s not directly related to the game.  So if they showed Mrs. Jim Johnson’s face on the Oakland Jumbotron, I think it would be okay to boo her (not saying that I would personally do that, but I’m not condemning it either).  But it wouldn’t be okay to harass a player’s family at a game since that’s not a part of the presentation, and booing Mrs. Johnson at a charity event is probably not okay as well.  But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure.   It’s all about context.  I mean, if it was really funny, maybe it was okay.

The Douchebag Catch-all:  None of these exceptions apply to Alex Rodriguez.  Boo him on the street.  Boo his family.  Boo him while he’s sleeping.  Boo him forever.  BOOOOOO.

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