Boo who?

Posted by Scott Wuerz on May 8, 2013 

I was just reading an interesting post on SB Nation about booing or, more specifically, when or if it is acceptable as a fan to boo.

I was intrigued by this topic because over the many years I have written the View From the Cheap Seats blog the topic has come up several times.

There are some who say that booing is NEVER acceptable. Especially when it comes to players on the home team. And I would say that I flatly disagree, at least sort of.

I am not in favor of the folks who boo just for the sake of booing or who boo players for an individual bad performance. Those moments when the crowd turns ugly and you have to wonder if they're going to start spilling out of the stands to attack a player or umpire on the field are ugly and unacceptable.

But, employed correctly, booing is a form of expression that is just as valid as cheering. And it certainly has its place in the game. Where that place is depends on the type of boo and the force behind it.

I laugh sometimes when I hear a low grumble of boos when a call goes against the home team and people in the crowd inevitably complain "What are they booing about? That guy was obviously out."

All I can say is that when you expect people to emotionally invest themselves in a game enough to spend $200 to take their family to one event, how can you expect them not to be disappointed when bad things happen to the team for which they paid to cheer? I'm not talking about "Kill the ump!" boos here. But rather a brief grumbling while fans come to terms with the fact that they didn't get their way. It's a natural reaction in the heat of the moment, not a pre-planned or intentional act. And that's not what I'm really here to talk about.

When is it all right to lustily boo:

1) When a player disrespects the audience or the home team. 

2) When a player doesn't give a reasonable amount of effort.

3) When a player takes a cheap shot at an opponent

4) When the officials become a deciding factor in the game by over-stepping their authority or not performing their job properly.

Former St. Louis shortstop Garry Templeton was a lightning rod for criticism in St. Louis for the first two reasons. He committed a violation of number two in 1981 by failing to hustle on a ground ball. He didn't just loaf a little. He didn't try at all. And when the fans got on his case about it, he gave the Busch Stadium crowd the finger. Then he REALLY was booed. 

The moment made such an impact that Templeton was traded to the San Diego Padres and he spent the remaining 11 years of his career being booed every time he was announced in St. Louis. In 1991 when San Diego was looking to trade Templeton he said in the press that he would like a chance to redeem himself in St. Louis. The olive branch was rebuffed. And when Templeton showed up the next time, a member of the Mets, the booing was turned up a notch -- or 10.

In short, fans pay too much not to see professional athletes give their all. That's not to say that people should boo a guy like Yadier Molina who lives and dies on the field -- but sometimes he's a bit slowed by nagging injuries and he might jog on a pop up. Templeton's transgression was much more obvious. He would hit a grounder and take a step or two toward first base and then take a right to the Cardianals dugout.

It can be argued that the criticism benefitted Templeton who went from being a bratty malcontent who once famously refused to participate in the All-Star Game if he wasn't the starter to becoming a matured team leader in San Diego where he eventually became captain of his new team. Templeton went on to become a manager and currently serves in that capacity for the Newark Bears.

In 1987 Jeffrey Leonard was a shining example of when it's OK to boo a guy on the other team for his actions on or off the field. He made a big deal of mocking St. Louis pitchers by running around the bases with one arm held low, a gesture he described as mocking a bird with a broken wing. Classy. If fans aren't allowed to boo that special kind of jerk, I am not paying for a ticket. This sort of thing goes on today with guys like Ryan Braun (who fans in many cities dislike because of his failed performance enhancing drugs test from which he escaped punishment on a techinicality) to Brandon Philips who first publicly criticized St. Louis players and lated started a fight that caused Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue's career to be ended and starting pitcher Chris Carpenter to be injured.

The final example may be best embodied by umpire who not only make bad calls -- but then seem bent on ejecting players fans paid good money to see from games.

Sam Holbrook in 1998 ejected Mark McGwire from a game after his first at-bat in the contest because McGwire questioned him about a terrible third strike call. The game had to be halted for 10 minutes while fans threw things on the field -- which is totally unacceptable and not a St. Louis thing to do. But they ought to be able to verbally voice their displeasure by booing.

Like with anything else in life, people have to use their judgement to decide when to do something and how much is enough. There is never an excuse for violence or even the threat of it.

But I don't subscribe to the theory that booing is never acceptable. It's part of the language of baseball and the sound of the ballpark.

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