Three Cheers for Fans' Booing Rights

Fans boo not only for the obvious reasons, but because they can. In life, we can't - or at least it's often not advised.

By , Senior sports columnist of The Christian Science Monitor

Never in recorded history have sports fans been wrong when they boo. A boo once declared is always a boo properly rendered.

There are those among us who regret their marriage, their job, their ugly vices, their laziness, their lack of education, their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor. But do they regret when they boo an athlete? Never. Nor should they. A boo, unlike everything else in our lives, is always correct, the perfect thing to have done at that precise moment.

This is because when a fan reaches down into his or her inner self to summon a boo, the athlete - or sometimes the entire team - richly deserves it. Fans boo because performance is rotten, usually over a prolonged stretch. It's painfully obvious when a boo is called for.

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Fans seldom boo a single foul-up. They may groan and be disappointed in the players, coaches, and managers they have paid to see. But they understand there can't be 100 percent success; indeed, they understand that in Major League Baseball a top hitter fails 7 out of every 10 attempts. But put a series of habitual screw-ups on public display in any sports venue and fans will boo. It comes naturally, like hiccups. Example: When Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire, he naturally deserved to be booed. He was.

Nowhere in sports is booing more rampant these days than in Denver. Gentle, laid-back, let's hit the slopes, in the shadow of the Rockies, Denver, for boo's sake. The basketball Nuggets are one of the worst teams in the history of the sport and are getting booed; the hockey Avalanche have found out how slick it can be out there, probably will be excused from the playoffs early, and are getting booed.

And the baseball Rockies have the boo birds apoplectic. Properly so. During one stretch that finally ended earlier this week, the team had lost all seven of its home games, by horrific margins. During this nightmare, the Rocks gave up 81 runs, an average of almost 12 per miserable game. The ballyhooed pitching staff is the worst in baseball. The other day, pitcher John Thompson gave up 11 hits and nine runs in the first two innings before he was dismissed so he could go put a bag over his head. Later he mumbled that everything he threw "wound up going over the middle of the plate." Well, he's a highly trained professional, right? So stop doing that, John.

First baseman Todd Helton twice made pathetic outs when he came to bat with the bases loaded. Left fielder Dante Bichette, who loves to hit but has no stomach for defense, was involved in a variety of misadventures. He and shortstop Neifi Perez botched an easy pop-up; Bichette lackadaisically played a routine single into a double with a combination of lack of effort and a poor throw to second. Fans booed like crazy. Good. One screamed to manager Don Baylor, "Come on, Baylor, we're suffering." Pitchers hang their heads in acknowledgement of their ineptitude.

Several wins the last few days quieted things a bit but Coors Field won't be boo free for long. The Pet Rocks look suspiciously like a team that will often be in need of fan correction this season.

That's because we expect effort and performance, as everybody does for everything they pay for. That's fair. But a combination of not trying and not being good - the Rockies might prove to fit these criteria - is more than any reasonable boo-oriented sports fan should be required to accept.

Of course, fans boo not only for the obvious reasons, but also because they can. In life, we can't - or at least it's not advised - give our bosses a piece of our minds, however much they deserve it. We can't boo cops or teachers or spouses or friends or even clerks behind the store counters and anticipate good results.

So we boo athletes. It's our birthright.

Now, understand we don't boo unless provoked. We'd far rather cheer. But these darned underachieving, overpaid prima donnas management puts in front of us occasionally force us into well, OK, somewhat bad behavior. Notice, however, how quickly boos change to cheers. It doesn't take much. We're an honorable group. One hit, one slam-dunk, one leaping grab in the end zone, and all is forgiven.

To boo is wonderful. Viva la booing. Never forget that if the players don't like it, all they have to do is play better. They can, because they have. Life is so simple it's scary.

* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is looneyd@csps.com

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