Of Course Someone Threw a Beer Bottle at Ryan Howard
I was sitting on the banks of the Schuylkill River with my boyfriend, Brad, and our friend Conor last year, outside of the Art Museum, when Conor said: “What was the best day of your life?” Conor and Brad were smoking cigars, which seemed to incline them both toward philosophical reflection. Brad said, “The day the Phillies won the World Series.” I said, “Me too!” Only we were talking about two different days.
I was referring to the 1980 victory, which I watched on a small TV with my dad and other customers at Towne Pizza at 19th and Pine. Everyone went absolutely bonkers, including my dad, who never cared at all about sports. Of course, the victory wasn’t about baseball, per se. It was about Philadelphia. It was also pure joy unfettered by knowledge (I was 12), and it suffused my entire body.
Brad, however, was referring to the 2008 victory. He started to describe the day, but got all choked up, which prompted Conor to open his cell phone, call his girlfriend and say, “I’m with two sports lunatics here. Say something intelligent.” But I understood Brad’s feelings. That was an incredibly happy day for me, too. As soon as we won, I started to run around in circles in my apartment, like a puppy who’s just gotten out of the bath. I even ran out onto the street in my pajamas, weeping, and hugged strangers.
In the days that followed both wins, the city was transformed: It smelled not of ginkgo berries or Concourse piss or overflowing trash, but of unalloyed, intoxicating joy juice. It seeped from our pores, and from between sidewalk cracks. It was a natural high. We were happy together, united, generous and friendly. It brought out the best in us. I’ll bet there are plenty of people in town who, if asked to name their best day, would recall the World Series.
For that reason, I’ve always felt that the members of those two championship teams should be treated with respect, if not reverence. But Philadelphia fans aren’t inclined to reverence. They’re not even inclined to respect. They’re inclined, rather, to booing, a habit that’s always made me uncomfortable.
I’m overly sensitive, I know, but whenever people boo at a baseball game, I feel badly for the player. Even a total and utter douchebag like former Phils closer Jonathan Papelbon didn’t get me to boo (I just gave him stony silence, which I know affected him powerfully). I think I’m bothered by it because baseball is so solitary, so individual: When the player’s up at bat, or on the mound, it’s all about him. Booing seems so personal, so laser-focused on one human being (who, admittedly, gets paid pretty well to endure it). I just can’t do it.
For several years now, Ryan Howard has been booed relentlessly by Phillies fans. He has sucked — that’s indisputable. But every time I go to a game, I make a point to clap and hoot when he comes on the field. If nothing else, I want to thank him for giving me, giving Brad, giving Philadelphia, some of our happiest days. I’m still grateful, even if all these other folks aren’t.
Now, I’ve heard all the arguments: Sure, he was good once, but he’s terrible now and the booing is about now. Yes, that’s true, but is that really his fault? It’s not like he’s Allen Iverson, refusing to go to practice. He doesn’t have a bad attitude. He surely wants to be good, but for some reason, he’s not. Is it a slump? Is he getting too old? Connie Mack once said, “I guess more players lick themselves than are ever licked by an opposing team.” Are we watching some kind of tortured self-destruction? Whatever the answer, he’s obviously not playing poorly intentionally, or because he’s an unpleasant, angry human being. How does booing him help anything? It’s not going to make him better.
The other objection I hear is that he deserves to be booed because of that obscene five-year contract he signed, which guaranteed him an annual average salary of $25 million. That is an enormous amount of money for anyone to make, but Howard isn’t to blame for our culture’s warped priorities. I don’t even hold him accountable for signing the contract. I’d like to know how many booing fans out there have, when offered a raise, said, “You know, this sounds like a great deal, but I’m going to suggest you actually pay me less. I suspect my performance is going to decline, so this may be a bad managerial decision on your part.”
Earlier this summer I went to a Phillies vs. Nationals game in which Jayson Werth was playing. He was booed, too. Once again, I clapped and hollered, preferring to remember the good times, the way you might fondly remember an ex who dumped you. On the other hand, I could sort of understand the booing against Werth, because, well, he’s Jayson Werth, but also because he chose to leave Philadelphia rather than stay, and rejection is hard. We had to turn the hurt into anger to survive.
But Ryan Howard? I know he’s not Chase Utley, going around rescuing kittens, but I don’t think he deserves what the fans are dishing out. And now the disproportionate anger at Howard has arrived at an embarrassing conclusion: A fan threw a bottle at him.
I don’t know who this guy is — no one seems to, which is weird — but I’m really, really mad at him. Philly didn’t need this! We have enough trouble with our fan reputation. The Santa Claus incident happened the year I was born, and yet I still have to hear about it — most recently from Jim Gaffigan when he did standup for the pope. I’d like to sit in this bottle-thrower’s living room and boo him while he stands in front of me, then throw a bottle at him for making my city look like crap.
So what’s the solution? Well, though I hate being mindful myself, I’d like to enjoin Philly baseball fans to do a mindfulness exercise the next time the urge to boo hits. Think to yourself, “Why am I booing? Does this person deserve my opprobrium? What feelings am I trying to squelch? Is this who I really want to be?” Then close your eyes and visualize those two good days in 1980 and 2008, and try to return to that version of your former self (unless that self was pissing in an alley off Broad Street during the parade, in which case, forget it). Wouldn’t it be amazing if Philly got a reputation for deep breathing at games rather than throwing things? I think it’s worth a try.
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