No sport appreciates a collective jeer like baseball, and no city has mastered the art quite like New York. Jonathan Papelbon once complained that his pregnant wife was threatened by Yankees fans at a game, and the response was less one of outrage and more one of hey, what was your wife doing there, anyway? Nine years ago, I was at Shea Stadium for John Rocker’s first game back since his “queers with AIDS” comments. The place shook with rage and bile, vats of vitriol all focused in on one unfortunate soul. For a kid who had just moved to New York a few months earlier, it was really something to experience. It was awesome.
But last night, New Yorkers were out-booed by Minnesotans.
Sure, this morning, all the talk is how Manny Ramirez was ejected from the Mets-Dodgers game in the fifth inning and jeered off the field. And the local rags are doing their part to bang the Mets Fans Booed Manny drum, hoping to keep up the illusion that baseball fans are desperate to punish Manny Ramirez for staining the sanctity of the game with his 50-game suspension for using a banned substance. The Daily News says “he stepped into the batter's box to a venomous chorus of boos in the first inning,” and the Post sniggers its way to a “Forgive Manny Ramirez if he's a bit emotional these days. Pregnancy does strange things to your hormones” lead. But if you were watching Manny’s first at-bat, you know (SNY commentators pointed this out as well) that the cheers outweighed the boos as he came to the plate. The boos increased as Manny returned to the plate later in the game, but mostly because he was arguing with the umpire the whole time and seemed eager to be sent away. If anyone deserved to be booed last night, it was the Mets, who lost 8–0 and are dissolving in front of our eyes. And the Citi Field crowd obliged.
Compare that to Alex Rodriguez’s trip to the Metrodome last night. Minnesota Twins fans packed their good lungs, lustily booing the Yankees third baseman with what were probably the loudest jeers he's received all season, including his introduction (and subsequent eff-you home run) at Camden Yards in May. Rodriguez looked a little surprised; it had been a while since he’d been booed with that much passion. And among polite Midwesterners, no less!
Ramirez will probably receive more boos tonight than he did last night, if only because he made a spectacle of himself with his ejection. But no matter how much sportswriters might want to convince you that fans are collectively destroying those evil steroid users, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re booing players they don’t like. Fans like Manny Ramirez. They don’t like Alex Rodriguez. It’s really that simple.