There’s a reason why the real world ought to be more like the world of sports, and here it is: Sports fans get the chance to boo their villains. Where else in America can you scream epithets at millionaires and not be hauled away as a threat to peace and prosperity? Where else are incompetents forced to suffer public humiliation at the hands-or throats-of honest and true citizens? In the sporting arena, if you drop the ball, the world knows about it instantly and reacts accordingly, and there’s no place for you to hide.
It’s a fine system, although it surely can be abused. At Box 38K in Shea Stadium, for example, we’ve been known to boo not just the opposing team’s overpaid slugger (or the home team’s), but the workaday beer purveyor who serves warm junk and then demands the $100 or so it costs these days for a couple of cold, er, warm ones. Then again, that’s not an abuse at all, is it? Some might call it rough justice.
What happened to Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, earlier this month at the All Star game was rough, all right, but it was hardly justice. Mr. Selig, you may have heard, broke with storied tradition by declaring an end to the mid-season proceedings without a winner, thus inspiring baseball’s Boswells to condemn him as a traitor to the great green pastime that knows no time and allows games to meander, like the pastures and meadows in that simpler America of a bygone era. Geez-you’d think the man had run off with the life’s savings of his employees or something.
Mr. Selig was booed unmercifully, in the very city-Milwaukee-where he once owned the local baseball franchise. Never mind that Mr. Selig simply was executing the wishes of the All Star managers, who told the commissioner that they’d run out of pitchers and wished to be put out of their misery. (Apparently it didn’t occur to either Joe Torre or Bob Brenly that a similar result could be achieved by ordering up an 80-mile-an-hour fastball down the proverbial middle, several times if necessary.) Mr. Selig found himself in the position of being the C.E.O. for a company that had run out of spare parts. What to do? Short of ordering more-an impossibility-he shut down the assembly line, and caught all heck for doing so.
The freedom to boo ought to be one of society’s most cherished liberties, but it seems as though only the sports fan has the courage (and the opportunity) to exercise this precious right. Even political events are bereft of raucous noises, although that may be a function of apathy and policing rather than general timidity. No doubt certain villains of the Wall Street collapse consider themselves ill-used in the public prints, but as far as I know, the wastrels who ran Enron, WorldCom, etc., have yet to endure the punishment served up daily at ballparks across the country. The treatment meted out to Martha Stewart is nothing compared to what George Foster endured while failing spectacularly with the 1985 Mets. Ms. Stewart may be forced to read nasty headlines, but it’s hard to imagine her trying to do, er, whatever it is she does while 55,000 people are screaming curses at the top of their lungs.
Yes, what this country needs at this time is a good, long booing session. Let’s gather the Arthur Andersen gang and the dot-com charlatans and media blowhards who shilled for corporate thieves and line them up along the foul lines at Yankee Stadium. Then bring on the fans, each of whom would be supplied with at least three beers before being signaled to express their views.
Bob Shepherd, the Yankees’ announcer, could announce the name of each miscreant and recite the number of jobs he or she might have cost the economy, or the number of retirement accounts he or she turned to scrap paper. Yankee Stadium would seem the appropriate location for this session-why, it was just last year that Yankee fans burst into a spontaneous chant of “Paul O’Neill! Paul O’Neill!” It was the first time in baseball history that a sitting cabinet member’s name was invoked at a night game in an odd-numbered year with a left-hander warming up in the bullpen. Clearly, these are people who know their scorecards from their portfolios; the difference, of course, is that a scorecard’s value increases from year to year.
On the day this column is being written, the stock market is down again, and the yappers on television are going on and on about the lack of investor confidence, etc. Maybe if we just had a chance to stand up and boo the men and women in whom we have no confidence, we could go back to business as usual.
On second thought ….