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O ne of the oldest debates in sports is whether or not fans should boo their own players. On Sunday, several New York Mets introduced an unexpected new element into that debate. During Sunday’s win over the Washington Nationals, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor and Kevin Pillar gave the thumbs down signal to fans, many of whom have expressed their displeasure with a team that recently lost 12 out of 14 games.
“When we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed,” Baez explained. “So, they are going to get booed when we get success.”
His bosses, it turned out, didn’t think much about that particular display of logic. After Baez made his statement, team president Sandy Alderson took to – of all things – the website Medium and wrote a long post about how the team wouldn’t “tolerate any player gesture that is directed in a negative way towards our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.”
Meanwhile, Mets owner Steven Cohen added fuel to the fire by taking to Twitter to make a joking reference to a more benign news item from earlier in the year.
I miss the days when the biggest controversy was the black jerseys— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 30, 2021
Let’s start things off with something we can all agree on: being booed on a regular basis will wear thin on anybody, regardless of the size of one’s paycheck. It’s also counterintuitive: a bad team lacking confidence will only get less confident if it’s being jeered by its own fanbase. Indeed, on many occasions fans take things too far and the abuse can become personal or bigoted. There are times when athletes have every right to express displeasure at how they are being treated, either at home or on the road.
The Mets’ actions feel different though. This was not an example of players expressing an immediate, emotional reaction to fans’ jeers. Instead, it was a preplanned action designed to mock a paying audience that (usually) supports them. It was more akin to a heel turn in the theater of pro wrestling than something we’re accustomed to seeing in a legitimate sporting context.
Even if you think that players have the right to clap back at fans, there is no universe where it does anything but make an already miserable situation worse. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad if only the players involved end up facing repercussions, but that’s not how this is going to play out. Many fans are now likely to see the entire team as the enemy.
It’s an especially bad look for Baez, who only joined the the Mets from the Chicago Cubs at the end of July. Lindor, meanwhile, is contracted with the team until 2032, which is presumably around the same time Mets fans will forgive him. Pillar’s actions are perhaps the most difficult to explain: he is wildly popular with fans after returning to action just weeks after being hit in the face by a fastball. On Sunday, Pillar insisted on Twitter: “I’m not booing the fans. We are having fun” adding that he felt “nothing but love in NYC”.
Whether he was joking or not, a veteran like Pillar should have known his actions would not have gone down well in New York, one of the most vitriolic sports markets in the world. New York fans are notorious booers – comfortable with jeering teams a few games into the season or showering scorn on players the second they get drafted. And that’s before you take into account the feeding frenzy that is the New York media (a frenzy to which this article is admittedly contributing). It should be noted that New York isn’t the only place this happens – many Twitter wits were surprised Philadelphia Phillies players didn’t turn on their fans first. And away from the US, some England football fans continued a long history of antipathy towards their team when they booed their own players this summer for the crime of taking a stand against racism.
Here's an early look at Monday's back pages from the NY Post, Daily News and Newsday. pic.twitter.com/ngYuvidrLb— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) August 30, 2021
This is a situation that seems likely to only escalate, particularly considering the Mets’ lengthy history of bungling practically everything. The only bright spot is that Baez has made it clear that they will only make the thumbs down gesture when they’re winning … and it seems likely there won’t be much of that in the Mets’ near future.
Unless, just maybe, this ends up being a turning point. Maybe this will spur a long Mets winning streak and fans will adopt the thumbs down as an ironic goodluck charm. Maybe this ends with a championship parade where the fans celebrate by booing while grinning players give them the Siskel-and-Ebert back.
That, of course, is something more likely to happen in a movie than in real life. And New York is a long way from Hollywood.