…You know. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And, only slightly less well-known, never ever speak of the fans in less than complimentary terms…because it will live forever online…or something like that. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First…
Hey there Major League Baseball, you great big sweetie. Don’t think for one second that I didn’t notice and appreciate your thoughtful Valentine, having position players start reporting on February 14th. We fans have enjoyed live video of actual baseball players on the field, in uniform, getting ready for the season all over MLBN and our favorite sports sites ever since. Hitting and pitching and live player interviews, oh my! It’s the best thing ever! …well, the best thing since October at any rate. See boys and girls, even if our teams appear to have a funny way of showing it at times, baseball really does love us back. 😉
Of course, the return of players to ball fields and the happy increase in player interviews that inevitably follows does also lead to an increase in player gaffes. For truly it seems as if no Spring Training is complete without several players contracting a case of foot in mouth disease. Among the most recently afflicted is one of our newest Angels, Josh Hamilton.
“It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. So the good with the bad is they’re (the fans) supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town — and there are true baseball fans in Texas — but it’s not a true baseball town.”
Yikes. So…um…I can’t understand how Texas fans took offense at that, can you? 😉 Seriously though, this isn’t pick on Josh Hamilton day for me. He’s not the first player and I doubt he’ll be the last to say something controversial well before Opening Day, and anyone watching the interview rather than just reading cold words on a page can see that Hamilton’s intentions with these comments were not malicious. He wasn’t trash talking, he was making his own honest observations in response to reporter questions.
In fact, I even agree with Hamilton…up to a point. Now hold on a second there Rangers fans before you get angry with me. In my opinion, Hamilton would be equally correct if he’d the same thing about Southern California fans, whether we’re calling them Los Angeles or Orange Country. Much like Texas, we also have great baseball fans in Southern California, but I wouldn’t call any of our towns baseball towns…and I do believe that by not including Anaheim or the greater OC/LA area in the list of “great baseball towns” that Hamilton gave in his attempt at a rebuttal, he was indicating as much himself.
Look, I spent the three day weekend hanging out with my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. They were taking a week’s vacation from their Boston home to warm up on the West Coast. We spent a fair bit of time talking about baseball — Hey, Seth and I are getting ready for a Spring Training trip; my nephew Henry has been enjoying Little League and is very excited about a great baseball camp his Boy Scout troop attended with PawSox players that culminated in a sleepover on the field; Henry’s annoyed with the Red Sox; I was trying with little success to pound out a blog post; the subject came up a lot. Anyway, just listening to my sister-in-law, Laura, and the kids talk, I was impressed once again with how much Boston is a real baseball town. Laura is a Los Angeles transplant and she is continually surprised at how much the average person in Boston knows about the Red Sox both past and current, by how many games they watch, by how frequently games and personnel moves are discussed. Compared to her experiences in Los Angeles, it’s night and day.
And while I’m certainly not complaining, in all honesty I can’t say the same thing about anywhere in Southern California, even if I were to somehow combine Dodgers fans and Angels fans together in my mind as if they were together rooting en masse for some sort of super Freeway Team, LOL! The Angels and the Dodgers both have great fans. Diehard fans. Fans who absolutely bleed their respective team’s colors. I interact with some of these amazing fans on a regular basis on Twitter and on the blogs…but half of the reason I started blogging and turned to the internet is because, when I’m not at a game, I don’t encounter many baseball fans in my daily life. Only once have I worked in a department where there were more baseball fans than not, and that was split evenly between Dodgers and Angels fans. Usually it’s me, myself and I. And in that one case, our department was unusual for the company.
When Seth worked a few miles from the Big A, he worked with a couple of diehard Angels fans (one of whom sweetly gave us season tickets on a regular basis) but their department was unusual for the building and whenever the company’s stadium seats were offered, it was the same handful of people asking for them every time. During the season, unlike what I hear about Boston, you can’t just walk into any bar in either county and expect the baseball game to be on. Some bars yes, and I make it a point to find and frequent those bars, but not every bar. It is common to have to “fight” basketball and football fans for the TV at points where the seasons overlap and, in my experience, it’s common for basketball and/or football to win out based on majority opinion. In fact, if anything, I would say that L.A. at least is a basketball town. Lakers. Blah.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that the same is true for the environs surrounding Arlington, expect in their case it’s football, not basketball that’s front and center. Yet, I don’t think anyone would accuse Rangers fans of lacking passion for their team – I certainly would never accuse them of such and Hamilton’s comments didn’t either. So there you have it, great baseball fans. Not a “real” baseball town. That said, of course Rangers fans are pissed. I would be too if the cleat were on the other foot, so to speak. In fact, I remember when John Lackey dissed Angels fans during his first Spring Training with the Red Sox. I can’t remember the exact language, but he said something very similar to what Hamilton has said, that Anaheim is not as great a baseball town as Boston. And at the time I was livid. How dare he?! But I’m much more mature about the whole thing now, of course. So, John, how’d that work out for you? 😉 …okay, okay. More mature, but not yet actually mature.
Now, Lackey also accused Angels fans of not supporting him, which was not true and quite offensive. And, if you move past the ‘not a true baseball town’ part of the comment, the point of Hamilton’s entire quote is that those real baseball fans in Texas won’t boo him when he returns to play in Arlington in Angels red, only ‘not true’ baseball fans will boo him. Ummm…yeah. This part would also be not true — especially after this Hamilton interview! — and probably is quite offensive to his former fan base. But I digress because that isn’t the aspect of his comments people are griping on.
Look, I know we fans seem like contradictory creatures and, well, some of us are. We’re always complaining that we want the players to say something real during interviews instead of just spouting the usual clichés and then the minute that something real turns out to be a bit controversial, some of us whine about that…a lot. But that isn’t what this is. I would far rather hear players speak their mind — even when I don’t agree with them! — than the usual, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ ‘We just have to play them one game at a time.’ Blah blah. Blah blah. Blah blah. However, while players are speaking their minds I would just caution them to remember that speaking about the fans in anything less than complementary tones really is one of the classic blunders. You can’t win. Really. You can’t. Even when you’re right. Perhaps especially when you’re right. Isn’t that right, Chris Perez? 😉 And just so long as players understand that going in and make their own decisions accordingly, we’re all good.
So, in the meantime, how does one recover from an acute case of well publicized foot in mouth disease? I only ask (rhetorically) because, maybe, in our current situation…well…it could prove to be useful information. Well, it’s very simple, one need only keep one’s mouth shut against the possibility of relapses or appearances of new symptoms and wait for the next afflicted player to open his mouth and pull all of the attention his way with a few poorly considered words. And with that, we say thank you, Octavio Dotel — or, at least, so it would appear — and move on. 😉
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? 😉