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Monday, July 31, 2006
To boo or not to boo ...

By Skip Bayless
Page 2

The battle continued to rage on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. It wasn't so much on the field, where the Yankees beat the Devil Rays 4-2, or in the front office, where management quit bargain hunting and again swung for the buy-a-title fences, acquiring Bobby Abreu and the $22 million left on his contract.

No, the real competition was in the stands, pitting the booers versus the cheerers.

BOOING INDEX
Who has earned an exemption from getting booed by their hometown fans?

VOTE HERE for those who get your official pardon.
And once again the focal -- or vocal -- point was A-Rod, who had another one of those D-minus-Rod days. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, though he avoided any Knoblauchian throwing blunders.

But the flashpoint came in the third inning, after Derek Jeter's one-out, two-run double staked Mike Mussina to a 2-0 lead. Jeter went to third on the throw home. And Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon chose to do what Seattle did in a recent series -- walk Jason Giambi and pitch to Alex Rodriguez.

Incredible.

Yes, this gave Tampa Bay a righty-righty matchup to set up a double play. But the right-handed batter in question won two MVPs, including last season's, and he makes $25 million a year. Still, the move paid off.

Rookie James Shields struck out A-Rod on three pitches, the first and last swing-and-miss fastballs. And I heard boos.

Alex Rodriguez
Don't hang your head, A-Rod: A lot of greats have been booed in their time.
How many, I have no idea. That's the problem with evaluating the extent of booing. If 10 fans among the announced 54,012 boo at the top of their lungs, everyone in the stadium and the press box and listening on TV and radio will hear them.

So now the cheerers have fought back in chat rooms and letters to the editor. Many insist the A-Rod booers make up less than 10 percent of any given Yankee Stadium crowd. And when the Yankees returned on Friday night from a three-game sweep in Texas -- where A-Rod showed signs of coming out of his slump by going 4-for-11 with a solo homer -- he was rewarded with a "standing ovation" in his first at-bat.

But did half the crowd stand? A fourth? Hard to tell. Did many who have booed A-Rod stand in hope that he was about to live up to their Ruth-Mantle expectations -- only to return to letting him have it on Sunday?

Which brings us to the real question: Should any professional athlete in any sport ever be booed at home? Seriously, under any circumstance, should you boo a player or coach or GM or owner of the team you root for -- even live for?

Sure you should. You pay outrageous ticket prices. You buy the right to literally voice your opinion within earshot of the overpaid underachievers who deny you your bragging rights and disgrace the good name of your city and team.

You know your e-mails and letters to the team won't get read -- not by the people who count. But your boos will be heard.

Still, can booing help your team? And are there certain superstars who have earned the right to never, ever hear a boo from you as long as they play?

Yes and yes.

I'm no Yankees fan, but I admire the force field they help create. Yankees players are made very aware that their standards are higher than any other team's. If they play smart and hard and get the big hit or make the big pitch or catch, a baseball-savvy crowd will cheer them madly. If they don't, they will instantly suffer public humiliation.

They will be booed.

This booing is justified and beneficial, unlike, say, Philadelphia booing, which can be gratuitous and malicious. In Philly, they sometimes boo to uphold a "boo Santa Claus" tradition. But at Yankee Stadium, they boo to enforce tradition.

Which is why I disagree with this "Sound Off" letter printed in Sunday's New York Post, from Vincent D'Antonio Sr. of Manahawkin, N.J.: "There are two types of Yankee fans: Those of us who know and understand the game, and the pseudo fans who bought into the media-induced concept that it's fashionable to boo Alex Rodriguez night after night. I've been a Yankees fan since the days of Mickey Mantle and A-Rod is one of the best players ever to wear the pinstripes. The boo-birds need to give it a rest already."

Oh, A-Rod has as much natural ability as any Yankee ever -- enough easy power to eventually pass Ruth, Bonds and Aaron on the all-time home run list. But True Yankees are defined by championships, Vincent, and true Yankees fans are beginning to wonder whether this team can ever win one with A-Rod as its most gifted player.

Brett Favre fans
With loyal fans like this, don't expect to see Brett Favre booed in Green Bay.
A-Rod remains ringless.

Sure, he'll put up numbers. But will he get the hit? Not likely: His clutch numbers continue to plummet. Will he make the error, as he did in Anaheim as the Yankees were being eliminated in the first round of last year's playoffs? Quite likely: He recently fought the kind of throwing demons that haunted former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch.

Furthermore, A-Rod never acts like a New York superstar. While Yankees fans want Superman, they often get a na´ve, bumbling Clark Kent. Photographers recently snapped A-Rod sunning himself on a rock in Central Park. Not cool. Derek Jeter wouldn't be caught dead sunning himself in the park. Can't A-Rod afford a sundeck?

Speaking of Jeter, he should never, ever be booed at Yankee Stadium. It doesn't matter that, in a recent poll of anonymous players conducted by Sports Illustrated, Jeter was voted baseball's most overrated player. He has always been at his greatest in the postseason -- a monumental reason the Yankees have won four World Series and reached two more.

From here on, any Yankees fan who boos Jeter should be booed out of the stadium.

Same for Mariano Rivera. He has earned exemption.

Yet the irony here is that Jeter and Rivera are the kind of competitors who respond to boo-bird adversity. Boos would only motivate them.

Not A-Rod or his ex-Seattle teammate, Randy Johnson. Both are thin-skinned and rabbit-eared. Both respond best to the kind of unconditional love they heard from Mariners fans. Neither is a good fit for Yankee Stadium.

Which is why I agree with a letter in Sunday's N.Y. Post from Ed Krauss of Scarsdale, N.Y.: "I suspect A-Rod's problems are psychological rather than mechanical. If that's the case, booing will only reinforce a negative attitude, aggravate stress … We as fans can help by encouraging him, not discouraging him. We need A-Rod, and as hard as it is to believe, he needs us."

Probably true. But are even Yankees fans sophisticated enough as a group to practice selective booing?

Which begs the question: Should Cleveland Cavaliers fans continue to boo LeBron James when he stinks it up in fourth quarters? Yes, he'll respond to it -- even though fans risk encouraging him to leave after three more seasons. Maybe he'll win a championship before then.

Should Lakers fans boo Kobe, who has three rings? Yes, until he proves he can win one without Shaq. Kobe will respond to boos -- especially when he's pouting and knows he deserves them.

In the NBA, only Shaq and Tim Duncan have earned exemption.

In the NFL, Tom Brady's three rings should lift him beyond boos. But he's only 28 and could easily play for 10 or 12 more years. His statute of booing limitations could run out if his Patriots struggle over the next four or five years.

After all, even Brett Favre shouldn't be beyond booing this season. Yes, he led Green Bay to a Super Bowl championship -- nine seasons ago. Last season, his NFL-leading 29 interceptions were often so carelessly chucked that, yes, Packers fans now deserve to let Favre know that enough is enough, if he can't clean up his act.

Peyton Manning, still very booable.

And other than Jeter and Rivera in baseball, only two other stars should be exempt. Roger Clemens should never hear a boo in his hometown of Houston -- and Barry Bonds shouldn't hear one as long as he plays in what is basically The House That Barry Built.

Why, you sputter, shouldn't the most booed player in sports be booed at home? No, Bonds hasn't won his home area a single championship. And obviously, a steroid cloud hangs over his single-season home run record.

But Barry Bonds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer before 2001. He has been so all-time great for so long that you cannot blame Giants fans for showering him with nothing but cheers.

OK, now you can boo me.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.