Keeping Score

Why Are Athletes Bothered By Booing?

According to some New York Yankees, booing hurt their chances against the Detroit Tigers. That's one excuse no one wants to hear.

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Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Alex Rodriguez during game four of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on October 18, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.

That the Detroit Tigers swept the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series isn’t all that surprising. After all, the Tigers have the Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, hitting third in their lineup. And their pitching staff, led by ace Justin Verlander, who is practically unhittable, is built for post-season success.

That Alex Rodriguez rode the pine during the series wasn’t shocking either. Here are his 2012 postseason statistics: 3 for 25, no extra base hits, no RBI, 12 strikeouts. That he would allegedly toss a baseball to female fans after his Game 1 benching, asking for a phone numbers — come on, not surprising. That the New York Post would use that incident to create this brilliant front-page cover after the Tigers eliminated the Yanks: a sure thing.

For Yankees fans, the most surprising — and disturbing — aspect of this playoff calamity is the impact of the boobirds. According to one Yankee player, the team just couldn’t handle the Bronx cheers. “I really think the booing spooked a lot of guys,” a Yankees player told John Harper of the New York Daily News. “A lot of guys hadn’t been booed before, and they couldn’t believe how nasty it got in the stands .. A lot of guys were talking about it in the clubhouse. I was surprised by how much it bothered them. I really don’t think they ever recovered.”

After New York’s Game 1 loss to Detroit at Yankee Stadium, New York right fielder Nick Swisher, who also hit terribly in the post-season, said:

“That’s the last thing I ever thought would be in this ballpark, that people would get on you that bad. Especially home, where your heart is, where you’ve been battling and grinding all year long. It’s just frustrating, man. You never want to be in that spot. It’s not like you’re trying to go out there and do bad on purpose. It’s just tough, man.

“It hurts. Sometimes I’m a sensitive guy, and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit.”

Yikes. We realize that athletes are already under enormous psychological pressure. Negative energy can hurt their mental edge. But when you’re playing for a team like the Yankees, tougher skin is a job requirement. The Yankees charge fans a ridiculous amount of money to support the team’s $196 million payroll. Parking at one Yankee Stadium garage, for example, costs $45, maybe the most shameful rip-off in all sports. So can you blame fans for expressing dissatisfaction at a team’s underperformance? For being upset that they aren’t getting their money’s worth?

Athletes are paid millions to tune out catcalls. For most, ignoring fan anger is just in their nature. This Yankee team, apparently, took things way too personally. That says a lot about a team’s character. In the American League, it sure sounds like the right team is going to the World Series.

(MORE: A Beautiful Season For Baseball: The Great Times and Bad Breaks of 2012)