We’re all guilty of it. We have all been at a game and booed the opposing team, or booed a player who left our team and has just returned for the first time in an opponent’s jersey. We boo the enemy and applaud our guys, because they are our team, they go to battle for us, they entertain us. But what happens when one of our guys has been suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs? We boo an opposing player who has been caught taking PEDs because it’s wrong, they cheated. So that means we have to boo our guy who cheated too, right?
Ryan Braun returned to Milwaukee for the first time after being suspended for 65 games for taking performance enhancing drugs. He took them, lied about it and mortified an entire fan base and city. He nervously waited in the batters box for his first at bat of the 2014 season. He casually walked to the plate, took a look back at the stands and couldn’t believe what was happening. It started as a low rumble, maybe one section, then on to the next section until the entire stadium erupted. No, it wasn’t boos, it was cheers. The man who cheated and lied to his fans was being cheered and welcomed back as if nothing had happened.
Braun said of the standing ovation, “It was special. It was an emotional moment for me. I kind of allowed the adrenaline and the emotion of the moment to take over.” Yes there were a few scattered boos among the sellout crowd of 45,691, but he was welcomed back as if he were Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers to the Super Bowl.
Brewer’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy said, “It was good for him, he needed that. It was important for him to know that he’s still loved here, and wanted. This isn’t New York. The fans here are pretty forgiving. He screwed up, acknowledged it, and that’s all you can do.” Just nine months earlier he had lied to and betrayed his teammates, city and fans. But here he was welcomed back with open arms. (Remember that part about “this isn’t New York” for later.)
Fast forward to his first road game in Boston, a team and fan base familiar with PED use, even if they don’t acknowledge it. Braun went 0-5 at the plate that day but was a perfect 5-5 in boos. The Fenway crowd gave roaring boos every time he was at bat. They started before the game even did. He was booed with no remorse as the Brewer’s lineup was announced and he stood along the third-base line. It’s understandable to not like an opposing player, let alone an opposing player who cheated and was suspended, but what about your own cheater?
All Boston fans had to do was look across to the first-base line and standing there was their hero, their idol, a god in their city, David Ortiz. On July 30, 2009, The New York Times, citing anonymous sources, reported that Ortiz was among a group of over 100 MLB players on a list compiled by the federal government, (as part of their investigation of BALCO), that allegedly tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during MLB survey testing conducted in spring training of 2003 (2003 was Ortiz’s first year in Boston.) Five months before the Times allegations surfaced, Ortiz stated in an interview that players who tested positive for steroids should be suspended for an entire season. Before the Red Sox’s game that afternoon, Ortiz declined to comment on the report, saying, “I’m not talking about that anymore.” Afterwards, he confirmed that he’d been told that he was on the list and promised to speak with the media once he “got to the bottom of the matter.” Former Sox player Manny Ramirez was also on that list, another PED user Boston fans loved.
Come back to 2014 at Fenway Park. The Fenway crowd is booing Braun mercilessly while giving Ortiz a standing ovation. But he took PEDs too? What’s the difference? Is it because Ortiz was never suspended for PED use? Does that make him better than Braun? Is that how Boston fans justify their actions? It doesn’t make sense. Red Sox fans will deny that Ortiz ever took PEDs, it didn’t happen in their brain, it’s impossible! How can fans boo one individual for doing something wrong and praise another in the same breath who committed the same offense?
Back to the “this isn’t New York” quote from the Brewer’s Catcher. Perhaps the most booed athlete in North American sports, Alex Rodriguez was the poster child of the investigation that Braun was caught up in. While Arod was fighting his suspension in 2013, he returned from the DL and made his first start in Chicago. He was booed, loudly! That was expected, he had been booed before the PED investigation. But his return to the Bronx would be different, it had to be. This was the player who won the Babe Ruth Award for his performance in the 2009 playoffs, he was New York’s third baseman. I was in the stands for Arod’s first at bat back in the Bronx since the PED story broke, he was booed. There were a few cheers, but the boos drowned them out. Why do New York fans boo the guy who was a major factor in winning the 2009 World Series while Milwaukee fans give their PED user a standing ovation? You would think it would be the other way around since he won a title for us. Braun hasn’t won anything for the Brewers. Arod is smashing homerun records, he’s entertaining us, he’s our guy! Why are we booing him?
Let’s go back to Fenway, 2013. Arod’s first at bat there since the PED story. This is going to be a volatile situation. The rivalry is intense enough without the added drama. I have never heard booing so loud and thunderous, and that was on my tv I can only imagine what it was like in the stadium. Arod was being pitched inside, way inside and blatantly, by Ryan Dempster until he finally hit his target, Arod. Yankee’s manager Joe Girardi came flying from the dugout along with players. Girardi would eventually be ejected from the game for almost hitting the Ump. The benches cleared and players were in each others faces sticking up for their teammate. All the while Arod is simply standing at home watching what is happening. The second that pitch made contact with Arod, Fenway erupted in applause and cheers louder then the boos that preceded. Twitter exploded right after, from both New York and Boston fans alike. Boston fans were praising the actions of their pitcher, cussing out Arod. New York fans were disgusted that the Red Sox would do something so heinous, how dare he! How dare he hit our player! But wait, that’s the same guy we were just booing a few days ago in the Bronx?
Why is it ok for Arod to get drilled in the spine for taking PEDs while Ortiz is hugging the Commissioner of Baseball and taking selfies with the President after winning the World Series? The official MLB twitter account followed Ortiz from his house all the way to Fenway during their Opening Day ceremonies and receiving their World Series rings. It was about 2 hours dedicated to just Ortiz, while other games were going on. Why is Ortiz plastered all over social media and depicted as a hero for the people while Arod is painted as the most evil person to step foot in baseball?
Why do Boston fans boo Braun and Arod but cheer Ortiz. Why do Milwaukee fans cheer a guy who lied to them while New York fans boo their own player? Are New York fans more cynical and less forgiving than most? Are Boston fans really in such denial?
To boo or not to boo, that is the question.