Jeers to you
If Bonds breaks mark in L.A., expect boos to follow
Posted: Saturday July 28, 2007 2:13PM; Updated: Saturday July 28, 2007 2:14PM
"The Boos Heard 'Round the World" could come as soon as Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Barry Bonds would get booed wearing street clothes at an exhibition game by many Dodgers fans. His stroll to the on-deck circle in a garden-variety regular season contest is met with cascades of catcalls. Every on-field action draws an unequal and over-the-top reaction.
But if Bonds steps into the Dodger Stadium batter's box with the all-time home run record on the line, if Bonds hits the blast that breaks it, the explosion of emotion might transcend anything to precede it.
Whether or not you think the boos are unjustified or just desserts, if Bonds breaks the record in Los Angeles -- or somewhere else outside his San Francisco cocoon -- it's going to be a big memory for baseball and its fans to live with. We'll be stuck with it until Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols or some other plucky slugger surpasses Bonds' ultimate career total.
So as much as fans might want to send a message to Bonds, they should be careful not to go too far. They should remember that they'll be part of history, too.
Booing, when you think about it, is a peculiar thing. Your kids misbehave -- you don't boo. Car cuts you off on the highway, you don't boo. You lecture, hector or howl -- but you don't purse your lips and make a sound like a cow.
But for some, booing is as much a part of baseball as singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
"As a young child, I first went to Yankee Stadium with my five older brothers in the '70s," said Greg Gallagher, a Yankees fan now living in Southern California. "They egged me on to do it, and we had a lot of fun. I think partially it is the feeling that after watching so many games on TV, that you could now be a part of the action."
Said Brian Gunn, a screenwriter who formerly authored the St. Louis Cardinals blog Redbird Nation: "Sometimes I think baseball is all about booing. I mean, a ballpark is one of the few places left on earth where you can act like an impulsive, overheated jerk and get away with it. If you boo your boss, you probably get fired; if you boo your girlfriend, you probably get dumped. But if you boo a pitcher who just served up a three-run homer? Why, then you find yourself surrounded by 50,000 people doing the exact same thing."
What gets scary is when booing dissolves into outright anger or hostility.
"I don't like it when people curse, because kids are at the games," Gallagher said. "About as far as I went is when Chili Davis was batting. I would say, 'We love Chili, because he gives us the runs.' I think as long as you keep it clean, the sky is the limit."
"A friend of mine was at a game where a group of Yankee fans heckled Darryl Kile -- after he died," Gunn said. "I certainly don't envy that."
Many across the nation might think Dodger Stadium is the last place you'd have to worry about nastiness, but for all the accusations of apathy that they get, Dodger fans can get pretty riled up. Most noticeably over the past several years, as the distance has grown between the Dodgers' last World Series title in 1988 and the present, people attending Dodger games have become increasingly impatient with the home team. It's not unusual for boos to be heard as early as the first inning of games this year if the Dodgers fall behind -- despite the fact that the team has been in or near first place all season.
Whereas 1980s baseball and cultural icon Fernando Valenzuela was treated like royalty, even as his arm wore down, 1990s baseball and cultural icon Hideo Nomo was booed mercilessly when he stumbled to an 8.25 ERA in 2004. Others treat ex-Dodgers heroes like Shawn Green and Mike Piazza as if they were traitors, when all they did was have the temerity to get traded against their will.
And while everyone recalls Milton Bradley slamming a plastic bottle in the outfield stands near the feet of a fan, few remember that Bradley only had access to the bottle because someone in attendance at Dodger Stadium had flung it at him.
So while it's true that Bonds will get some scattered cheers even if he breaks Hank Aaron's record on a road trip -- from expatriate Giants fans as well as those who feel Bonds has been excessively persecuted -- the tension of the moment might be unlike anything baseball has witnessed before. It's the kind of test that if one person fails, everyone fails.
Beer will have been sold to fans who believe that Bonds has ripped the fabric of the game -- and in the process, ripped out their own hearts. Some of these people might spit on Bonds if they had the chance and the courage. Instead, from their sanctuary in the stands, they might be looking for things to throw. (In an incident that could only happen on an evil version of The Simpsons, if Bonds breaks the record at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, 50,000 Russell Martin bobblehead dolls could be used as projectiles.)
If it's alarmist to suggest that something truly ugly could happen, better to make a preemptive appeal to fans to keep their cool, even if they don't need reminding. Even if a boo is all anyone intends.
But what of the boos?
I'll go on record as saying I'm not a booer. I can't say I've never booed at a game, but it's not intrinsic to my baseball experience. I know sports are supposed to be an outlet for aggression, but I just feel that we've got enough aggression in our culture already.
Ultimately, my ambivalence toward Bonds -- he's a jerk, but he's still a great hitter; he used something, but so have so many other hitters and pitchers -- inclines me to greet Bonds' record-setting home run with silence if it happens when I'm at the ballpark Tuesday. It's hard for me to see Bonds singled out for derision when other illegal substance users continue their careers without any grief at all.
Gunn said that if he were a witness to No. 756, he'd react "the same way I reacted when I saw the Red Sox in person as they beat my beloved Cards in '04 -- I felt somewhat honored to be there, as a witness to history and all that, but inside I died a little."
At the same time, if people boo Bonds as he circles the Dodger Stadium basepaths, I've come to realize I'll understand. Because booing, which seems so simple and basic at first, is really much more complicated. Some will boo because of steroids, some will boo because Bonds is a Giant in enemy territory, some will boo because Bonds is just plain obnoxious.
Mostly, people will boo because they can. And so even if the Bonds boos live on in posterity -- if boos are all there are -- we probably shouldn't get too worked up over it.