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When To Boo

The unwritten rules of baseball extend into the crowd. For example, there’s a decorum that governs when spectators should boo. Sometimes gentleman, sometimes bartender Jon Rauch helps us out:

Well, okay, that one was obvious. Jason Bay ran full tilt into the outfield wall trying to catch a ball and suffered a concussion for it. Maybe that wasn’t the best time to boo him.

Alfonso Soriano helped us describe the other side: the obvious boo. This weekend, he failed to run out a line drive to third. The ball fell out of Will Middlebrooks‘ glove and there’s a chance Soriano would have been safe, but that’s not even the point. The point was that you run until someone calls you out.

Booing anyone for performance seems misguided, especially in the light of these two incidents. Let’s say a ballplayer hit a nibbler to the left side of the infield, busted his butt down the line and was thrown out by a fingernail at first. Would you boo him? He didn’t get a hit. But what we know about baseball — that the tiniest of angles, the smallest bounce, and the micro-est fraction of a second can turn a play on its head — seems to tell us pretty loud and clear that a player that is giving good effort but not getting good results doesn’t deserve a boo.

What about the chasm that lies in between? You might find Hanley Ramirez in there, that time he booted the ball into foul territory and maybe or maybe didn’t run after it so hard. Then he got booed this year for failing to run out a ball — maybe it was clear that he should have been booed. On the other hand, it’s not doing anything. He’s shrugging the boo-birds off. He’ll continue being Hanley, thank you very much. Does a boo that accomplishes nothing really have a point?

Opposing players get booed. That’ll happen. Rivals are boo-able. Johnny Cueto will always get booed in St. Louis — for one, he’s a Red, and for another, he ended Jason LaRue‘s career with a kick to the face. Seems like he deserves it.

A gray area is the cocky young player from another — non-rival — team. He’s not your player, he’s not your hated rival’s player, but does he deserve boos for being Nyjer Morgan or Bryce Harper? He’s just being who he is. Then again, watching Carlos Zambrano celebrate after a strikeout can get tiring. Perhaps a boo makes sense in that case. It’s some sort of behavior correction. Put your positive steroid test players in here if you want.

A.J. Burnett might describe the grayest area. He was booed in New York for poor performance. He’s been booed in Toronto for signing with the Yankees. But good players struggle. And almost anyone would follow the money, particularly if they were a professional baseball player. So why boo him? It’s not as if he’s not trying.

And we come back to Jason Bay again. He was struggling, and that was part of the reason for the boos. Then again, the timing was off — he’d just tried hard, obviously.

So there we have it, an easy summary: Don’t boo a player for his performance — boo him for his attitude, team colors, or hustle. Default to attitude, team colors or hustle when a performance tempts you to boo a player (the Jason Bay corollary).