Love it or hate it, baseball and heckling have always gone hand in hand. In fact, if I may wax William Goldman-ish for a moment, when the very first pitcher climbed up onto the first pitcher’s mound and gave up the very first bases clearing double to the first clutch hitter, the first baseball fans were all present, and they heckled him.
But just because heckling is part of the baseball tradition doesn’t mean you can head on down to the ballpark and just start shouting any old thing you’d like. I mean, there are rules against that sort of thing! Okay, so they’re more like guidelines really. But remember, ‘tis a fine, fine line between entertaining and obnoxious. So, as we head down the final stretch of the season and into the playoffs and fan passions run hotter every day, I think a review of these guidelines is in order. Surely none of the fine folks at MLBlogs need the review themselves, but we all know someone who does…so if you are reading this because someone anonymously sent you a link…or printed it out and left it on your chair, well, you might want to take notes. 😉
1) Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses. Personally, I don’t often participate in heckling. Not because I have anything against heckling when it’s done well, mind you, but because I know that my wit, such as it is, is only quick around friends. Family. Coworkers. Basically in relaxed situations. If, like me, you are the kind of person who will usually come up with the perfect snappy comeback to any confrontation…fifteen to twenty minutes after the fact…then please join me in appreciating the fanly art of heckling as strictly a spectator sport. Your section mates and your baseball buddies will thank you.
2) Brevity. Show of hands. How many of you have suffered through a game painfully within earshot of some fool delivering an oral dissertation to the opposing team? Lame and annoying, right? Even if he or she is on your side. And it’s not like the players they’re attempting to heckle are even going to follow the whole essay when they’re trying to play the game. So what it lacks in entertainment value, it completely makes up for by being pointless. Save the lengthy commentary for blog posts.
3) KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid). Brief taunts can be equally obnoxious and pointless if they are overly complicated or just plain stupid. For example, at the double header in Oakland we sat near an Angels fan who had special things he would shout for each As player. “CoCo likes to start fights in Boston!!” “Jackson? More like all jacked up!” “Suck it Powell, you aren’t catching perfection anymore!” And after each new “gem” he would turn to the all of the fans nearby and explain his taunt to us. “See, this one’s funny because Landon Powell caught Dallas Braden’s perfect game and he’s not catching Dallas Braden today.” Ummm. No dude. It’s still not funny. Nothing will make it funny. It got to the point where the rest of the Angels fans in the section were telling him to shut up. So, a few good rules of thumb here: if your fellow fans are moved to mock you and especially if your brand of heckling requires footnotes? Don’t. Just don’t.
4) Simple does not have to mean uncreative. Ubiquitous “(Player Name of Choice), you suuuuuuuuuck!” guy or gal, I’m looking at you. Yes, you have met the basic requirements of brevity and simplicity but, trust me, if this is all you’re shouting all game long, you’ve sailed right over that fine, fine line and deep into obnoxious on sheer monotony alone. Mix it up a little from time to time, or at least give it rest for a few batters and your section mates, even those rooting for your team, will thank you.
At the double header in Oakland, we had the You Suuuuuuuck guy sitting right across the aisle from us. “Torii Hunter, you suuuuuuuuck!” “Santana, you suuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” And he never shut up for longer than the space of a breath. For. Five. Innings. Mind you, he didn’t do this during the first game, when the Angels won. Or during the first few innings of the second game when the Angels were ahead. And I was getting so sick of him that I was on the verge of pointing this out, when he made me laugh. You’ve no doubt heard about the huge seagull problem at the Coliseum and AT&T Park? Huge flocks of them descend in the last few innings of games, take over sections of seats and menace fans. Well, the You Suuuuuuuuuck guy suddenly shouted “Would you hurry up and beat these guys already?! The seagulls are hooongry!!” and pretty much the entire section, Angels and As fans alike, burst out laughing and he seemed a lot less obnoxious after that…I also think he toned it down a little after that, but there’s still a good lesson there.
5) Keep it clean, baseball is a family game. Just because it’s 2011 and the large number of kids in the stands might be able to give you a decent four letter word vocabulary lesson, doesn’t mean you need to contribute to their long list of bad examples. A lot of adults don’t want to hear it either. The F-bomb may in fact be the hardest working little multi-tasker in the English language, but even the little black dress is not appropriate for every occasion.
I’m not suggesting that you need to keep it as clean as they apparently do down south. A friend of mine who went to a few college ball games in N’awlins actually witnessed fans heckling the umpire thusly. “Excuse me, Mr. Umpire? Does your wife know you’re screwing us, sir?” But still, you have to admit there is a certain level of awesome there.
And, last but certainly not least:
6) Kindly remember that no one, not even members of your own party paid to come to the ballpark to listen to you heckle. Hecklers can be a very entertaining part of the game, but a little goes a long way. True masters of the art of heckling should consider themselves to be salt…or perhaps I should use a spicier analogy? Vulcan fire salt perhaps? The point is your purpose is to accent the game, not to take it over. Do not block other fans’ view of the game. Do not keep up such a constant stream of dialog that you keep other fans from enjoying the game…especially if their team is already doing that for you. Otherwise, seriously, you are no better than the jackass in the obviously brand spanking new team shirt…and hat…and jacket jumping up and down and screaming at everyone to do the wave. And no one wants to be that guy, right? 😉