Hecklers: Take it as well as give it

From April to October, fans of all ages and levels of dedication congregate to the cathedrals of America’s pastime to fill the bleacher seat pews and receive their “spiritual renewal” in the church of baseball. There’s a certain draw that a ballpark has on the fan that cannot be satisfied by the living room TV. Is it the Dodger dogs on the west coast? The Green Monster in the east? Or could it be the congregation itself? The family of five, the love birds, the kids and the spectators that all come together to marvel at their beloved rookies, legends and in-betweeners.

How many ballparks have you attended  that, aside from the clink of the bat and the call of the ump, were completely silent? If you have attended a game like that, I’d like to know how awkward it must have felt to be the only person in the stands. Fans go to the park to cheer on their favorite team. That’s the point of fans isn’t it? To cheer and get loud. To let the other team indirectly know that “hey, you’re going to lose today because I’m here to cheer on the ____.”

Nearly every fan lives off that sense of pride and responsibility. Though all we do is indulge in outrageously priced hot dogs and beer, we have a responsibility and a duty at the ballpark. Most fans take pride in their attendance and their attentiveness to the game. Others are more vocal about their feelings and announce support for their team while being a bit more creative with umpires and apposing players. Those ballpark songbirds are referred to commonly as hecklers.

Heckling has always been and will always be apart of baseball. It can be an essential aspect that effects the outcome of the game or a nuisance like pine tar (or the wave). Hecklers and their material have evolved since the days of racial slurs and obscene profanities. In 1948, Sporting News published guidelines to heckling inspired by Pete Adelis, Philadelphia A’s fan and the “Iron Lung of Shibe Park”. His “Rules of Scientific Heckling” haven’t changed since their publication. Take it as well as give it. Know your player, do not be out heckled, keep your language clean and keep pouring it on. Despite guidelines of clean language and never making it personal, people who’ve spent a lifetime in baseball still loath the heckler.

Set aside the drunk, the mediocre and those guys that are just trying too hard. What about the people in the stands who bring laughter into the ballpark? You’re probably thinking “this is baseball not a comedy show”. True, but what’s wrong with a little fun? Funny stuff happens in baseball. Don’t be a baseball scrooge. There’s hecklers that go above and beyond. They’re boisterous and witty, and they uphold everyone’s favorite quality: respect. It’s really not hard to be a decent heckler. Look at the Mets fans that heckled Giants outfielder Hunter Pence at Citi Field and ignited an internet frenzy of #hunterpencesigns:

Mets fans with Hunter Pence heckling signs (via MLB.com)

 

Even Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot, heckles players without saying a word:

Orbit goes fishing for (Mike) Trout

There’s also the student section at Auburn University (if you’re a fan of college ball):

Section 111 upholds a certain standard at the ballpark. Fans (both Auburn and opposing) love them and thank them just about every game for doing what they do. The 10 commandments listed on their shirts are an example of the etiquette that should be displayed or at least attempted by hecklers. They improve the atmosphere of Plainsman Park every game day by never cussing, digging too personally, or crossing into “lack of respect” territory. Yet, the Section 111 crew still gets referred to as disrespectful and all the synonyms that accompany it. Why? What’s wrong with some of you people?

1. It’s disruptive

Let’s be real, a plane flying over the stadium can break a baseball player’s concentration. This is baseball, not golf. Organizations encourage fan engagement (7th inning stretch, clapping leading up to the last strike in an at-bat, “let’s go___!) If you want to to go watch a quiet game, please remove yourself from the stadium and go home to a muted TV. You know what’s disruptive? Jeter’s farewell tour (one time was enough, guys). Batters stepping in and out off the box trying to break a pitcher’s concentration. Coaches sloth-like stroll onto the field to challenge a play (thanks for fixing that, Manfred). Anything that stops the game once it’s already started, or delays the start of a game is a disruption. Show me a heckler that has actually stopped a baseball game, and I’ll let you win part of this argument.

2. It’s rude/poor sportsmanship

Sportsmanship. noun. conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

HUNTER PENCE THINKS GAME OF THRONES IS JUST ‘OK’.

If this is true, Hunter and I need to have a word. If not, then how dare you, Mets fan. How dare you disrespect Hunter Pence like that. You must be an ungracious loser. Sidenote: is now a bad time to remind you that it was media of Major League Baseball that supported and found the #hunterpencesigns the most comical? No? Just checking.

If you think heckling is poor sportsmanship, then I’d assume that anything perceived as mean or disrespectful to anyone has never passed your lips. When the heckler heckles, it is to get inside of the players head. However, heckling to degrade or reduce a person (like in the days of Jackie Robinson) is becoming a rarity. It bubbles down to a level of understanding.

i.imgur.com

Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds gets it. After being heckled by a Pirates fan last season, he tossed the guy a ball and even took a photo with him. Mr. Phillips was completely cool about the whole thing.

Michael Jensen, RHP in the Chicago Cubs organization, gets it: “It’s not something to be bothered by. It’s only gotten to me once, when two guys in the front row were yelling at me because I couldn’t throw a strike. They kept repeating to the batter ‘don’t swing, he can’t throw a strike!’ I definitely encourage it. It’s entertaining.”

Dan Murray, OF at Florida Atlantic University, gets it: ” I love it. It’s a definite part of baseball and I think anyone should do it.”

The atmosphere and fan engagement found in baseball is unrivaled by any other major sport. It’s the perfect platform for heckling. Thin skin won’t get you very far in this profession and no matter where you go, there’s always going to be that one person that has no idea what’s going on. Heckling is an enjoyable part of baseball. Just like buying some peanuts and crackerjacks and just like you root, root, root for the home team (which is a synonym of heckling).

Root. To encourage a team. To lend support to someone. In it’s own version, heckling is rooting. It’s cheering. No fan should have an issue with that.

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