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Why we boo: Phillies fans, opposing players, and being mad at a baseball game

Booing is not an art, nor an honor. It's just a noise. Let's take a trip back to its invention.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports


Two fans sit in silent frustration as the visiting team circles the bases.

FAN 1: I tell ya, I don't like it

FAN 2: Yeah, well...

FAN 1: That should be our fellas scoring those runs!

FAN 2: What can ya do, I guess.

FAN 1: And look at that one guy on their team. He used to play for our team! I'll bet he's especially cavalier about all this! "I hate my old team and their fans so much, my glee that results from their suffering dictates my every action!" I bet he says that all the time!

FAN 2: Whoa, now. Calm down.

FAN 1: I'm just too mad! I just gotta.... I gotta do something with my mouth!

FAN 2: Don't do anything crazy!

Fan 1 rises to his feet, drawing the attention of the entire crowd - a man STANDING at a BASEBALL GAME? A nearby constable reaches for his weapon.

FAN 1: [Making a series of sputtering noises]

FAN 2: Ha ha, he's all right folks, he's just got a bunch of those lead paint fumes in his brain. [To Fan 1] Just sit down!


Fan 2 looks taken aback at the sound that has come out of Fan 1's mouth. The constable's hand drops to his side in surprise. The rest of the crowd is suddenly engrossed in this man's actions. Fan 1 looks around, observing the response. He cups his hands around his mouth.


The players on the field stop circling the bases, some colliding with others. They all stare up at Fan 1. The traitorous player in question looks especially upset.

TRAITOROUS PLAYER: Hey man, that's not a cool noise to make! I don't think I like that!

FAN 1: No one cares what you like!

TRAITOR: Oh my god. What have I done? It was here I should have stayed all along, where I could have prevented that horrible sound from being invented.

Fan 2, the constable, all of the fans in Fan 1's section, and eventually the whole park, rise to their feet.


The traitor grabs a defending player by the collar and screams desperately in his face.

TRAITOR: I did this. This is the result of my traitorous ways. LOOK WHAT A LIFE OF BETRAYING MY PUBLIC HAS GOTTEN ME! And all for what? Piles of money and frequent contention for a championship? No, no... I should have stayed here, where the people express their emotions with loud, guttural sounds. Why did I not put aside my own desires for money and success in my field and just buy a row home to live among the peasants who adore me?!

The traitor approaches the fans amid a sea of boos.

TRAITOR: People of this city! I implore you! I am just a man...

His voice is drowned out by boos.

TRAITOR: Of course. I'm too late.

He grabs a nearby constable's gun from his holster.

TRAITOR: I suppose I have no choice.

FAN 2: Uh... this is getting a little dark. Maybe we should let up.

He looks to Fan 1, who is consumed by the raw emotion of booing, spittle flying out of his mouth, pupils expanding like black holes, boos becoming more of a demonic howl.


While details vary, historians widely agree that this account of the invention of booing is "certainly something you've written, Justin."

Booing is a part of sports of as little consequence as cheering, hugging, or handing out bracelets before the game. It's a noise we make because we're not allowed to go down onto the field and yell at the players (Nor, you know, should we be). Even in this day and age of penetrating scrutiny, in which every discovered personality quirk gets a blog post, we don't know the full context of a player's situation. While many portend to know what exactly a team or player needs to succeed, nobody knows the real story, so making an "oooo" sound with our mouths is about as close to an informed criticism as we can get in heat of the moment.

I've booed before and I'll probably boo again. But it is left up to my judgement when it is appropriate to do so. I, and most rational fans, don't feel somebody like Jayson Werth deserves to be booed. I boo the things he does to the Phillies, but as Cal Ripken first explained to me in his memoirs, people aren't booing the player, they're booing the play.

Unless they're booing the player. Jonathan Papelbon, alternatively, is being booed because he's Jonathan Papelbon. You could bust open the historical ledger and point out that Paps did his job while he was here - he's the franchise leader in saves, remember, despite being here during no playoff runs - and that, compared to expectation or revisionist history, he was actually pretty tame. There was the crotch-grabbing, which I thought was funny, and he was specifically targeted with questions about the fans because people know he'll give a salty quote if he's feeling salty. But people boo Papelbon because they associate him with the failures of the era, or because they don't care for the way he portrays himself, or because he wants to be booed. He wants to be hated. It means he's doing his job (Or trying to do it, but the Philies keep beating him), and it's the only way we can inform him of our displeasure from a safe distance.

But mostly, booing is communicative. The opposing players know what we think and can reflect on that for the rest of the game, hopefully skewing their focus. When Matt Stairs came to play against the Phillies as a member of the 2007 Blue Jays outfield, fans in my section at the time started yelling "Hey Matt! I will Stair you down!" You think he wasn't rattled? You think he didn't go back to his hotel room without showering just to think about his entire life that day?

We're in a stadium, where people gather in large groups and are encouraged by a giant video board to make noise. On a frustrating day, you never know what sounds are going to come out of your body. Booing is just a baseline expression of negativity, and players who even still hear it probably feed off of it.

"But it feeds into the 'bad Philly fans' narrative!"

Yeah, listen to me, guys: That narrative is never going to die. That's not an excuse to exhibit truly boorish behavior, but just know there's nothing that you can do or not do in your lifetime that will cause that trope to fade. Besides, my complete assumption is that at this point, a guy like Werth is at best indifferent to Philadelphia fans and at worst, getting slightly more excitement out of beating their team than he would out of beating most other teams.

Boo Jayson Werth, if you feel hurt by him for some reason. Boo Jonathan Papelbon, if you feel wronged by his crotch. Boo Bryce Harper, because he's hit more home runs in Citizens Bank Park this year than any of the Phillies. Because they don't have to spend twenty minutes picking your boos up off the field afterward.

And in Harper's case, as was the case with Ryan Braun, booing is just simply ineffective anyway.