OK, before you get smart-alecky, it isn't that they are all baseball players or that they have all been All-Stars or that they are all multi-millionaires. They play in different leagues, play different positions and come from different countries, so that's not it.
Still not sure?
The answer is that they have all been booed this year by their hometown fans.
Somewhere along the way booing became a way for fans to communicate their displeasure with baseball players. Pitchers like Vazquez get booed because they get knocked out of a game early and don't live up to fans' expectations. Hitters like Ortiz get booed when they remind us that they aren't the same players we once revered. When a team signs a big free agent there are expectations that come with it. The player is expected to live up to the new contract. Fukudome and Soriano are both struggling with this in Chicago. And then there are players like A-Rod, who, for whatever reason, are just easy targets.
New York fans believe they are the best at booing. They believe they intimidate the opponents with boos and that they can motivate their own players by "riding them." They defend themselves by saying it is their right. They bought their tickets and they have freedom speech. They are proud of their booing.
But booing isn't exclusive to New York. So don't get all upset about East Coast bias. This is for all of you booers out there, wherever you may be.
I'm not going to scold and chastise you for your booing. I just want to try and explain what it does to players when they hear boos from the home fans.
You see, I am somewhat of an expert on being booed. I played seven seasons in the minor leagues and was a career .250 hitter. I got booed -- a lot. Yes, even in the minor leagues. I was the general manager of the New York Mets from 1997-2003, and despite taking the Mets to the playoffs in back-to-back years in 1999-2000 (the only time in the club's history) and to the World Series in 2000, I received my share of boos and heckling then. And believe it or not some of the players I traded for or signed got booed as well. I guess that's why I got fired.
Anyway, here is what you need to understand about booing: it has absolutely no motivational value whatsoever. In fact, it has the opposite effect on baseball players ... it discourages them.
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Maybe it was a teacher instead of a boss. What if you did all your homework, studied all night for a test, but still failed? Now consider how you would feel if the teacher held up your test and ridiculed your answers in front of everyone in the lecture hall. What if the teacher booed you every time you came into the classroom? How would you perform on your next test if the teacher stood next to you and heckled every wrong answer as you wrote them?
For many these scenarios would generate anger. I got angry picturing them as I wrote it. For others it might make them to try harder. Some would probably lash out at the boss or teacher. At the very least, it would clearly be a distraction from your ultimate goal.
In a way, fans are the bosses of major league players. You pay the players' salaries with the money you spend at the games. Your communication with the players has a major impact on how they feel about themselves just as your boss' communication has an impact on you.
Here is the problem: Players that are angry or trying too hard don't perform better. They actually perform worse. Any player that is distracted from his job is unlikely to do it well.
Although players don't consider the fans their direct bosses, they do yearn for adoration and acceptance from them. Players want to perform well because of how good the cheers make them feel. Cheers makes ballplayers feel confident and supported.
Yogi Berra said that baseball is 90 percent mental -- the other half is physical. He is absolutely right ... or at least 80 percent half right.
The way a player feels and thinks has a major impact on how he performs in the game. Baseball is different than every other sport in this way. Increased effort doesn't lead to better results. Swinging a bat or throwing a pitch harder doesn't lead to more success and more often than not leads to less.
When baseball players are slumping, it rarely has to do with effort. Hitters always try in the batter's box. Pitchers always try on the mound. When they struggle, it is far more likely that they are trying too hard. Baseball is a game of concentration and relaxation far more than effort. Players need intensity not tension.
When a player gets booed it changes the thoughts in his head. It changes his relaxation and concentration to effort and distraction.
The thought process is something like this when he hears jeers:
"Why are they booing me? I'm not really that bad am I? I have had a lot of success for these people. Why don't they remember that? I will get it going. I am not that far away. I just swung at a bad pitch. I'll get him next time."
As he steps into the batter's box and hears boos before his next at bat, he thinks: "Seriously?! Seriously?! You've got to be kidding me. ... They are already booing me? ... Stop listening to them. Block it out. This is a new at-bat ... a fresh start ... why are these people so angry? They must be miserable ..."
"STRIKE ONE!," says the umpire.
The hitter's inner voice chastises himself. "Crap, that was right down the middle. I need to pull the trigger. What was I looking at? I may not get a better pitch than that during this at-bat. Focus! Be ready! Be aggressive!" The batter chases a pitch down and out of the strike zone.
"STRIKE TWO!," says the umpire. The crowd starts to boo again in anticipation of a bad ending to the at-bat.
The hitter thinks: "What the hell am I doing? That was way out of the zone. I need to focus. They are booing me now? Even before I make an out? OK what is he going to throw me here? I have to be more selective. ... See the ball, hit the ball."
"BALL ONE!," says the umpire.
"OK that shut them up ... now I will show them. I am going to rip this pitch. Come on baby throw it in there ... they won't boo me anymore ...I have to get a hit here."
The hitter swings at an eye-level pitch.
"STRIKE THREE!," says the umpire. The crowd rains boos down upon the hitter as he takes that long lonely walk back to the dugout.
"I know. I know. I suck. That pitch was in my eyes. I had no chance to hit it. Why am I not seeing the ball very well? I better talk to the hitting coach and get some early batting practice tomorrow. Don't let them see how much it bothers you ... don't make eye contact with that guy above the dugout screaming at you. What a jerk! Get a life!"
A player's inner voice can haunt him when fans boo. The negative thoughts and feelings lead to changes in mental approach and may lead to changes in mechanics.
A player is in trouble when he says to himself, "I have to get a hit" or "I have to make this pitch." When a player feels like he has to make something happen, effort takes over. A hitter overswings and a pitcher overthrows. Hitters will swing at more pitches out of the zone. Pitchers will rush their deliveries and leave their fastball up in the zone or hang breaking balls.
The longer he struggles and the boos continue, the more the player tries to bring them to a halt. The problem is that, in the desire to turn things around, sometimes players change things that don't need changing -- reinforcing the struggles and extending the slump.
Ballplayers want and need encouragement. Doesn't everyone?
Imagine yourself back with the harsh boss. What if the boss was supportive and encouraging? How much different would you feel if the boss said, "Hang in there. You are working hard and fully capable of doing this. Keep your head up. I have your back." Then, in a staff meeting, the boss points out that even though you haven't gotten the job done yet, he believes in you and appreciates your hard work and preparation. How much better would you feel about yourself?
It's the same with baseball players. So when they slump or strike out in a big situation, don't boo! Support. Offer encouragement. The reality is that you want the same thing that the player does -- for him to have success the next time around. The best chance for him to achieve what you both want is to cheer for the struggling player.
Simply having a right to boo doesn't make it the right thing to do.
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