There’s been a minor hubbub about Yankees’ fans treatment of Javier Vazquez in his first start at Yankee Stadium this year. Vazquez didn’t pitch very well, but he wasn’t awful either (5.1 IP, four runs, six hits). But depending on the which account you read, he either received a smattering of boos as he exited in the sixth or he was given the full Red Sox treatment by the home fans.
I seriously doubt Vazquez was bothered by it very much since this is his second stint with the Yankees and all. The incident did, however, bring up the same issue that has been known around baseball since Babe Ruth wore pinstripes: Yankees fans are total a-holes to their favorite team’s players.
Joe DiMaggio was booed by a Depression-weary fan base after he fought (unsuccessfully, of course) to get a better deal than the $25,000 his employer, Col. Jacob Ruppert, wanted to pay him.
Mickey Mantle was booed for struggling at the plate, and Roger Maris was booed for not being Mickey Mantle while he chased down the Babe. On July 15, 1990, Don Mattingly was booed after fouling out to a White Sox catcher with two men on base in the fourth.
“It’s their right,” Mattingly said that day. “If they don’t like what they see, I won’t be the first guy they booed, and I won’t be the last.”
Tino Martinez was booed for not being Don Mattingly. Jason Giambi was booed for failing to live up to his contract, A-Rod was booed for being A-Rod, and Derek Jeter was booed for going 0-32 in 2004.
My first thought after reading Ian O’Connor’s piece for ESPN New York was: “What the hell kind of fan would boo Tino Martinez?”
The debate is never about whether Yankees fans are the best in baseball, because there’s no way to seriously argue that they are. The wealthiest? Maybe, given what it costs just to enter the team’s new stadium – hell, Eliot Spitzer was paying his hookers less. But the best? Absolutely not. Twins fans aren”t going to boo Joe Mauer when he pops out. If Albert Pujols starts to chase the single-season home run record, Cardinals fan won’t boo him just because he’s not Mark McGwire.
The debate is also not about whether the fans are allowed to boo anyone. Of course they are. No matter how retarded it makes them seem, Yankee fans can boo their home team all they want five months after a World Series title. New York fans pay a hell of a lot of money and the Yankees roster is chock full of douches anyway, so boo away, Yankees fans. Hell, the Yankees dealt for Javier Vazquez twice in the last ten years. Maybe the third time he’ll be great for them.
The debate is why Yankees fans boo their best players for something as routine as getting out once in a while, or for having a mediocre start, or for making too much money. Well, the last one kind of makes sense.
My primary theory is that New York hasn’t been a baseball town since the 1970’s. Oh sure, people attend Yankees games and love both the city teams, and everyone loves a ticker-tape parade. But the thread running through the latter part of the 20th century has been that New York is a basketball town even when the Knicks are terrible.
Basketball is about scoring, defense, and instant gratification. There are loads of points scored every night, and it’s a rare game indeed when the stars don’t do something that convinces everyone of their amazingness.
Basketball, unlike baseball, isn’t about the long-term grind of the season. It’s about producing every single game, hitting your per-game averages, and giving the fans a little show. Chances are, if LeBron James is playing in the Garden you’ll see something noteworthy if you have a ticket.
If you go to a Yankees game, you very well could see A-Rod go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts while failing to hit the ball out of the infield. That’s just baseball. It’s a game of failure and sporadic success.
But New York City is much too impatient for the long-term production, great on-base percentages or OPS+. Production over an entire season isn’t nearly as cool as witnessing a home run on the day you and your family paid $500 to see the Yankees play. In other cities, people understand the situation and spend their money anyway. But in New York, where there’s too much to do and it’s expensive as hell to live there anyway, that entertainment dollar is as good as wasted if Vazquez doesn’t do something amazing and Mark Teixeira strikes out a ton.
So I mean, I get it. But this is just one more reason it sucks to live in New York. It’s hard to even enjoy success there.