When I heard Jason Bay get booed it was the last straw.
The last straw as far as keeping my feelings about the booing of home team players as simply a rant among my friends. It was bad enough when David Wright was booed during last season and earlier this year. But when I heard Jason Bay pilloried at Citi Field during the recent series against the Braves, I had to write something–somewhere–to get my total disgust with these idiot fans off my chest.
There is no doubt that we are all disappointed by Bay’s production in the first half of the season, although I for one cannot say I’m that surprised. From the moment that Omar Minaya began wooing Bay this winter, it was clearly an overreach. Jason Bay is a very good baseball player. He was not and has never been a star. Anybody who really knows the game and has watched him play over the years would clearly make that assessment. All the planets aligned this winter to put Jason Bay in a position to be overpaid by a team like the Mets. In a pressure-packed situation after being traded to the Red Sox, he did a highly commendable job in Boston taking over for Manny Ramirez. He hit extremely well in a ballpark perfectly suited for a right-handed power swing and in a lineup that could offer him a lot of RBI opportunities and a lot of protection. And, oh yeah, it was his free-agent walk year and it’s been well documented how much incentive that provides many players to produce career years.
In spite of doing a stellar job at Fenway, the Red Sox front office made him a rudimentary offer that I’m sure they knew Bay would reject. Why? Because they scout their own players and they didn’t think that Jason Bay was worth a multi-year deal at that kind of money. They didn’t want to overpay a guy during an off-season when the free-agent pool for outfielders was relatively weak. Why commit yourself long-term to a player who may not be as good as some coming out the following season?
But that didn’t bother Omar Minaya, who felt–and rightly so–that his team was desperate for some power and stability in the outfield, especially given the shaky health status of Carlos Beltran, the uncertainty of Angel Pagan and the streaky Jeff Francoeur. So with a purse that could only afford one major free-agent signing, Omar settled on Bay and immediately started selling the notion that Bay’s right handed pull swing was perfect for Citi Field because he would be able to regularly deposit fly balls in the stands down the left field line (and Omar totally downplayed the other part of the scouting report on Bay–that he was a very streaky hitter with the kind of swing that has a lot of holes). Of course what Omar did by providing that public scouting report was basically tell every pitching staff in baseball to serve Bay a heavy diet of curves, sliders and high fastballs on the outside part of the plate. So far this season, on the rare occasions that Bay has been pitched inside, it’s basically been to knock him off the plate and set up the junk away. Bay has actually done a pretty good job going the other way this season, but many of his best shots to right at Citi have died in that right center field desert.
So a player who was not nearly as good as the salary and the years he was given was brought to New York to play in park not suited to home run hitters, hit in a Beltran-less lineup that would not afford a lot of protection, and expected to be a 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI guy. It was not going to happen.
But during the first half of the season, we have found out some other things about Jason Bay; that he is a much better outfielder than his reputation, that he hustles on every play, that he is a really good guy and teammate (an attribute that had been sorely lacking in the Mets’ clubhouse), and that HE IS NOT A BASEBALL PLAYER WHO DESERVES TO BE BOOED!
Which finally brings me to the point of this post. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how any fan–whether die-hard or casual–can ever boo a player on their own team except in one instance: when it is clear that the player is dogging it or not hustling. In recent weeks we’ve seen both Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Yunel Escobar of the Braves exhibit boo-justifying traits. But not one player on the New York Mets deserves to be booed–not one. Oliver Perez you say? If Ollie is booed, it should be because he refused to be a team player and accept that trip to the minor leagues to work on his stuff, not because of the results on the field, unless it was clear he didn’t give a crap. Now some might make a case that stupid mental mistakes are boo-worthy, and goodness knows Ollie and even Jose Reyes have made a ton of those. But you know what? I’ve been playing baseball for 45 years and consider myself a pretty heady player and even I’ve had vapor-lock on the field a few times. That didn’t mean I wasn’t trying to do my best.
And that is the whole point. Does Jason Bay, or David Wright, or even Luis Castillo look like they aren’t trying to get a hit every time at bat or make every play in the field they can make? Was Castillo TRYING to drop that pop up in the Yankees’ game last season? Major league baseball players are not playing golf; they are not playing against themselves. There are other professionals out there competing with them; pitchers trying to strike them out, hitters trying to take the pitchers deep, etc. Sure, there may be players on your team who don’t belong in the majors or in the starting lineup, and you may want to see better players in their stead. But as long as a player is wearing the home team uniform and is playing as hard and as smart as he can, he should not be torn down by idiotic fans who release their frustration about players being overpaid or tickets and beer being overpriced by booing the player out loud in the ballpark.
As a die-hard Mets fan since 1963, goodness knows I’ve been incredibly frustrated with this team and many of its players over the years. I have screamed curse words at the television and at the ballpark angrily whispered profanities under my breath directed at players who didn’t get a clutch hit, made a key error, or made a bad pitch to cost a game (hey, our history of relief pitchers alone have merited an encyclopedia of expletives). But I have never, ever, felt it appropriate to BOO a New York Mets player at a home game unless it was clear he didn’t care almost as much as I did.
You want Jason Bay to have a great second half of the season and help us win a division title? Do you think it’s going to help that cause if boos are ringing in Jason’s ear every time he strikes out or hits a lazy fly ball to the gap?
Let’s make a pact, fellow Mets fans: when you attend a game at Citi Field, the word BOO is no longer in your vocabulary . . . except for the other team’s players.