I pitched this column to my editor (literally, the exact verbiage has been copy-and-pasted here because all communication is typed out in the modern newsroom) by saying, “Is ‘don't boo your own players’ too obvious?”
It’s not, apparently. As evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this, you’re reading it, and Giancarlo Stanton was met with a smattering of boos at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Stanton, who missed all but 18 games in the regular season due to injuries ranging from his biceps to his knee, strained his right quad in the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. He stayed in the game, homered, and then was out of the starting lineup for Game 2. New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that Stanton would stay on the roster for the ALCS and that they hoped he’d be back imminently.
After a day off, the team came home on Tuesday and the 2017 NL MVP was out of the lineup again. The initial prognosis had been overly optimistic. The Yankees, who had won 103 games despite months at a time with key players like Stanton on the IL, would try to win one more without him. I have to assume he was at least as disappointed about this fact as the people who booed him during the pregame introductions.
A few of the most ardent expressers booed again when a between-innings video on the Jumbotron featured a number of different Yankees weighing in on their favorite John Sterling-isms — including Stanton. (This, while patently absurd, at least shows commitment to ensuring your bleacher neighbors get a second look at whom to avoid after everyone has had a couple beers.)
Giancarlo Stanton booed more than most of the Astros.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 15, 2019
Lots of Yankees fans didn’t boo. I don’t think there is anything uniquely New York about the ones who did. Or at least, I’m not trying to claim as much by choosing this instance to issue a blanket entreaty: Don’t boo your own team’s players.
The reason to not do this is because it is both ineffective and an ethical negative, however slight. You don’t have to be polite or even PC in the bleachers — this isn’t a lecture about declining societal mores or the overly sensitive constitution of millennial players, although it is sure to be interpreted that way — but booing a player you would otherwise root for because of an unintentional physical failing is so unnecessary, illogical, and so obviously wrong that it hardly bears further consideration.
And yet, in case it does:
First of all, why is this fun for you? Isn’t the appeal of sports fandom the opportunity to engage in a socially acceptable form of vicarious jingoism? It’s a chance to take pride in the feats of superhuman people you’ve never met in exchange for color-coded loyalty. The biggest fans — and I have a feeling the boo-ers would say that their vocal disappointment confers a die-hard status more casual observers can’t understand — use “we” when talking about the team. But I can assure you, they most certainly aren’t booing each other out there.
Maybe it’s idealism or at least an overstatement to assume sports fandom involves a level of empathy for the actual athletes on the field. But at the very least it’s empathy-adjacent, and the empathy — imagining your enthusiasm and commitment had something to do with their success — seems like the good stuff. It’s self-defeating to give all that up to take an adversarial view of the hometown team.
Beyond that, in this particular instance, what are you even booing? The fibers in his quadriceps that overstretched themselves?
I’m being facetious. They’re protesting his (his) perceived softness, and I guess I just don’t buy that. I don’t buy that Giancarlo Stanton got where he is by looking for excuses to avoid playing baseball. I don’t buy that he rehabbed all year in an effort to be October-ready only to decide that, actually, he’d rather ride the bench this postseason. I don’t buy that he’s refusing to play in the ALCS without reasonable cause or that physical pain isn’t a reasonable cause.
And just because you’re convinced the ghost of Derek Jeter would amputate his own arm “127 Hours”-style and stay on the field without even taking a timeout (or issuing an interesting quote about it) is no reason for the Yankees to start someone who is less than 100 percent when the backups have been so competent this season. That’s true regardless of an outcome no one could have known when the decision was made.
Maybe, if it was a contract year.
If Stanton was in the final few weeks before free agency, it would be reasonable for Yankee fans to feel suspicious that he was saving himself and his health for a bigger payday elsewhere. But Stanton got his payday; he signed a then-record-setting $325 million deal, which the Yankees took on as part of a trade with the Marlins and which keeps him on the team and getting paid through at least 2027. He’s set, even if he shreds his thigh muscle into brisket this season going out in a blaze of glory before being skewered by the tabloids for not providing sufficient long-term return on investment over the next eight seasons.
Of course, it’s that salary, all those guaranteed millions, that makes Stanton fit the pattern of rising-star-turned-disappointing-splurge in the eyes of fans — whether they have his jersey hanging in their closet at home or not. It can feel like fame and fortune makes someone a fair target for abuse and a fair proxy for venting your frustration about a lack of one or the other in your own life. But, as is so often the case in professional sports, fans forget that the players are analogous to the average employee, who should be encouraged to keep as big a piece of the profit pie as they can wrest away from the (billionaire) owners.
Booing players because their struggles seem especially stark in contrast to a big contract is anti-labor. It perpetuates the oppressive prevailing mindset that the best thing a player can be is both good and cheap, and that if you can have only one, it’s safer to be cheap. An athlete’s production naturally fluctuates — often due to injury — and to penalize them for accepting a contract that they earned with their prior performance implies that workers should sympathize with their company’s bottom line above their own financial health. (And also that money is an up-to-the-minute meter of how meritorious you are as a person as opposed to an unfortunately powerful social construct that everyone is always trying to exploit.) Whether or not Giancarlo Stanton is “worth” what the Yankees are paying him this week is not his problem — nor should it be the fans’.
None of this, for the record, deals with whether or not you can boo.
You’re constitutionally allowed to make any sounds you want with your mouth hole. The law, however, does not protect you from other people’s judgement. (This is a universal truth that extends beyond baseball.) So boo all you want, I’m just telling you that the consequences of emanating this particular noise is that people will think you’re a boorish, smug bully.
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