Heckling is More Than a Fine Art - It’s a Way of Life

No matter what its detractors claim, heckling is a fine art with a place in sports. There aren’t any other fields of work where it’s expected that you will be yelled at by legions of onlookers attempting to interrupt your concentration. It’s great that baseball fans can attend a Texas game and throw paper money at Alex Rodriguez, a symbolic gesture for Rodriguez’s perceived greed in signing a $152 million contract.

Before I launch into the secrets of how to get under your least favorite players’ skin, know that when I was a wee Oberlin sophomore I nearly had a Case Western hockey player jump over the boards (in skates!) and onto me after he’d had enough verbal abuse. In a high school soccer game I was tackled by a member of the opposing team who complained to the referee, “But this guy just won’t shut up!” I also got an Unsatisfactory on my second grade report card in the Self-Control department.

The first thing to remember when heckling professional athletes is that they’re big boys and girls. Sports psychologists and veteran teammates have coached them in how to deal with and ignore hecklers — you need to come up with some sharp catcalls if you hope to be effective. Also, choose your targets wisely. Controversial guys like John Rocker get heckled all the time and the average jeer won’t have much effect. If you’re heckling for the cause of your team, focus on a more obscure target — one who doesn’t hear the wrath of the crowd very often — and really stick it to him or her. They’ll wonder what the hell is going on and be all out of whack.

It helps to be close enough so that the players can hear you. Even if you’re not, heckling can still influence the crowd around you — and everyone knows how contagious some good jeering gets. Still, when you’re in earshot, you need to be as sharp as possible. Thus, know your alcohol limits. One, maybe two brews can loosen the tongue and enhance creativity, but too many leads to sloppiness and the loss of legitimacy, a curse for a serious heckler.

The best way to score heckling points is to get personal. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. An instance from my youth immediately comes to mind. I was nine and my father was grooming me to be a devoted Red Sox fan. He was demanding — I had to work hard in school, memorize batting averages and ERAs and watch every game with him. 
During a mid-summer game featuring the Red Sox and Indians at Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium, Wade Boggs strolled to the plate boasting an average somewhere in the .350’s. You could count on one hand the number of times he had struck out that year. He had also been mired in a very public breakup with his girlfriend Margo Adams. The crowd was dead — typical 1988 Cleveland — so there wasn’t much noise to offset a clever fan who yelled, “Hey Wade, Margo’s here…and she doesn’t have any panties on.” While the announcers awkwardly scrambled to talk about anything at all, I watched as a visibly distracted Boggs whiffed.

You don’t need to be a smarty to be a good heckler, but you need to do your homework. It’s not very glamorous, but a stat geek makes the best heckler of all. At a Red Sox-Yankees game two summers ago, I lurked over the Yankees dugout tormenting Yankees starter Ramiro Mendoza while he warmed up. Armed with the latest stats I had downloaded from totalbaseball.com, I camped out by the fence, reciting the head-to-head numbers of every Red Sox batter who had historically hit Mendoza hard. And I didn’t hesitate to repeatedly remind Mendoza of the game-winning triple he had relinquished to Red Sox third baseman John Valentin the day before. An irritated Mel Stottlemeyer, the Yankees’ pitching coach, told me Mendoza didn’t understand English, but I knew better — I had seen the interviews on TV from the day before.

It’s easy to jump on struggling basketball players also, because shooting is so dependant on confidence. Waving those big floppy things behind the backboard seems to have lost any effect it may have had, but telling Reggie Miller, “Hey Reggie, you’re 2-16 from the field right now — 13 percent — but hey, keep shooting, I’m sure that’s what’ll give your team the best opportunity to win!” might get in his head. If you’re serious about heckling, it’s essential that you keep track of stats during the game.
A few recent incidents, most notably a fan jumping into the penalty box during an NHL hockey game and a fight between hecklers and several Los Angeles Dodgers players at Wrigley Field, have made the question of whether jeering can be taken too far a salient one. And it’s clear that it can go too far. For a massive melee to break out in Wrigley’s box seats is embarrassing for baseball. Heckling should be performed in good fun by the crowd, and accepted as part of the challenge of modern sports by athletes. Remember, all it takes to sway the course of a game is to break the opponents’ concentration for just a second.

Manny Who? Ramirez Long Forgotten In Cleveland

With a month gone in the Major League Baseball season, Cleveland fans should be asking one question: Manny who?
Sure, Manny Rameriez is piling up his usual league leading numbers, but Indians fans have a new hitter in town, Juan ‘Gone’ Gonzalez. Gonzalez and the Indians just completed a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, in which Gonzalez boosted his batting average to .388 and upped his RBI total to 32 in 26 games, only one behind league-leading Ramirez, who has 33. Gonzalez leads the Tribe in batting avgerage, RBIs, home runs and runs scored so far this year.
Gonzalez isn’t the only new face to be watching in this Indians lineup that outscored the Royals 30-10 in three games. Marty Cordova, the 1995 American League rookie of the year, is hitting .429 in 16 games and drove in eight runs in three games against Kansas City. Cordova also has six home runs in 56 at-bats this year.

You might be saying to yourself that bringing in two solid hitters is good, but the rest of the Cleveland lineup has added to the balance essential for a winning team.

Cleveland has a total of six hitters batting at a .300 clip or higher, including Kenny Lofton, Robbie Alomar and Will Cordero. That list leaves out big hitters like Jim Thome, Russell Branyon and Ellis Burks, who all can easily hit 35-40 home runs and drive in 100 runs. And you can’t forget about Travis Fryman, who will be off the disabled list at some point this season. So is losing one man, who is going to cost you $180 million, worth it? I would say so.

But the critics say Cleveland can’t win without pitching. With this lineup I would have to say that the somewhat shaky starting pitching staff for Cleveland is going to look very good this year. And they are already proving that point. With the defense Cleveland has, Gold Glove winners all over the infield and outfield, all the pitchers have to do is put the ball in play and let the defense do the work. Sure, their earned run averages will be high, but with Cleveland’s offense, ERAs under 5.00 will get them a lot of wins. 

To prove this, just look at the first month of the season. Dave Burba is 4-1 with a 4.98 ERA, C.C. Sabathia is 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA and Bartolo Colon and Chuck Finely are 2-2 with ERA’s between 3.50 and 4.50. Those are high, sure, but who cares how many runs you give up if you’re winning? A more surprising phenomenon is the Indians bullpen. The Tribe has four relief pitchers or closing pitchers with ERAs under 3.00, including two with ERAs below 2.00 and one below 1.50. With the bats that Cleveland has and the bullpen working the way it is, all they need from their starters is for them to go five or six innings and to keep the ball in the park.

So, in the long run, was Manny worth the money? Probably, but was he worth it to Cleveland? No. Sure, he is an excellent hitter, one of the best in the game, but let’s not forget who we are talking about. This is Manny Ramirez, perhaps one of the dumbest players in the game.
Here are just a few examples of his stupidity. How many other ballplayers do you know who have stolen second base, and then gone back to first because the shortstop on the opposing team told him it was a foul ball? Yeah, Manny did that. Have you ever heard that outfielders like to watch the dandelions grow? Manny spends more time looking around at the scenery then he does watching the game. Only when he hears the ball hit the bat does he ever pay attention. At first, people thought that he might have ADD but that was ruled out, so maybe his mind just likes to wander. 

I wonder how patient the Boston fans will be when he misses a routine fly ball because he was imagining what it would be like to climb the Green Monster or guessing how many hot dogs that guy in the third row was going to order. One might say he will make up for all the errors in the field with his bat, but it’s hard to do that when he’s on the disabled list, which is where Ramirez spent a large portion of last year with a hamstring injury that has nagged him this year (remember when he pulled himself out of the middle of a spring training game, in the middle of a pitch)?
Let me make this clear: Ramirez is a great player who will be one of the best hitters to ever play the game, but someone better teach this kid to pay attention real fast or he is going to wind up being the first baseball player to ever be mobbed by the home team fans during a baseball game. So, should Cleveland be upset that they lost the game’s best hitter? My guess is they have already forgotten his name.



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