The past week or so I have had a few discussions over twitter in regards to fan behavior at baseball games. This Part I of a two part series.
During tonight’s Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays Carl Crawford swung and missed at a breaking ball in the dirt and struck out. At that point he was 0-3 with three strike outs. As he walked back to the Red Sox dugout a smattering of boos emerged. Disgusted I vented over my twitter feed.
Fans have a right to boo. If you pay money for a ticket you have a right to do anything you want as long as you are not doing anything malevolent to ruin the time of the people around you, breaking any laws, or violating the rules of the ballpark. Jim Rice, Carl Yastremski, and even Ted Willaims were all booed at Fenway Park. If these legends were not immune, then none of the current players should feel that they are above the wrath of the Fenway faithful.
That’s the way it is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the way it should be. Most fans go to a game to support their team, but some fans go expecting a certain level of performance and become hostile when they do not receive that performance when they are at the ballpark. One would think that both of these sets of fans want to see their team succeed. Often times the latter group loses sight of this when they choose to vent their own unfulfilled expectations on the player on the field whose performance they deem to be inadequate.
Money only exacerbates this phenomenon. If Carl Crawford was not the highest paid player on the Red Sox and their marquis signing of this past offseason perhaps he would not be seen as this huge disappointment. Crawford’s 2010 season was a career year (301/356/495) and only the most unrealistic or unsophisticated of fans would be outraged he has not duplicated that production. April of 2011 was a lost month for Crawford and just as he was starting to turn his season around he landed on the DL for a month. Four and a half months into the season he had one anomalous month, and another month lost to injury. Bearing that in mind his 2011 line of 255/291/388 isn’t that out of line from his career averages of 294/334/440. The loss of power can also be attributed to the huge right field at Fenway. If Crawford went to the Yankees he could easily put up some Johnny Damon-like power numbers at Yankee Stadium.
While Crawford has had a disappointing season, he is not John Lackey. If fans want to boo because they deem his performance to be that poor it is their right. Booing a player for having a bad day at the office in the middle of a season where little has gone right is not going to do anything to help him improve. Conversely it’s impossible to prove that a supportive ovation is significantly helpful either. My inclination is that crowd influence on the players is overstated. That does not mean I want to be associated with the fans who do choose to boo.
I only boo my own players in a couple of specific situations:
- Lack of effort. In baseball and in life effort is one of the only things we can control. If a player is not giving the game the effort it deserves booing is completely warranted.
- Abject performance. For me Crawford does not reach this threshold. If the performance on the field is so bad that the player would likely admit that he deserved to be booed. After losing Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS 19-8 at home and falling behind 3-0in the series if the fans booed that is warranted.
Maybe I set the bar higher than some, but as long as the effort and accountability is there I won’t boo my team.