2/19/2013 12:59 P.M. ET
Message to players: Ripping fans rarely pays off
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
Nobody ever told Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton one of the cardinal rules of sports, or maybe he just forgot. Either that or he just didn't care.
Anyway, you don't blast fans. That's especially true if they are your fans, or if they used to be your fans. And what former Atlanta Braves slugger David Justice did 18 years ago doesn't count.
It was a fluke.
Let's go back to the day before Game 6 of the 1995 World Series between the Braves and the Cleveland Indians.
With the Braves leading the World Series, 3-2, and with Game 6 slated for old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- where the once raucous crowds eased into doing the Tomahawk Chop between yawns -- Justice had something to say. He said it bluntly enough to make headlines across the country, because it was about the apathy of Braves fans.
"You have to do something great to get them out of their seats," Justice said at the time. "If we don't win, they'll probably burn our houses down."
When Justice was introduced before Game 6, he was pounded with enough boos to burst his eardrums. It also didn't help matters that he entered the game hitting .214 for the postseason.
By late evening, Justice's eardrums were pounded even more -- this time with an avalanche of cheers. His solo home run in the sixth inning was the only run of the game, and it sparked the Braves to their first and only World Series championship in Atlanta.
A visibly thrilled (and relieved) Justice said afterward, "The fans proved me wrong. They were gems tonight."
Translated: Justice got lucky. Hamilton won't.
Let's just say Hamilton won't get the key to the city after he comes to Arlington on April 5 with the Angels. He blasted Rangers fans recently during an interview on a Dallas television station.
Those same Rangers fans spent most of the previous five years hugging Hamilton, not only through his highly productive seasons with a Rangers franchise that made two consecutive trips to the World Series under his watch, but through his many ups and downs.
We're talking about deep troubles for Hamilton, ranging from his ongoing recovery from various drug addictions to his attempt to survive watching a fan plunge to his death at a Rangers home game after Hamilton tossed the guy a baseball in center field.
Then came Hamilton's rocky 2012 season. He slumped at the plate and in the field down the stretch. And before long, with Rangers fans screaming their disproval at Hamilton, the Rangers went from easy American League West winners to barely making the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
Hamilton later bolted as a free agent to sign a five-year, $125 million deal in the same division with the Angels.
Which brings us back to that cardinal rule -- you know, the one Hamilton placed on a batting tee and slammed toward a black hole during his interview with that television station.
"Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town," Hamilton said, starting the interview with the undisputed truth. After all, the Cowboys were prosperous throughout the area for nearly a decade before the Rangers arrived in 1972. Plus, many Dallas residents have spent years living and dying with the Texas Longhorns, while others have done the same regarding the nearby Oklahoma Sooners.
It's just that Hamilton wouldn't stop talking.
"[Rangers fans are] supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time, pretty quickly," Hamilton said. "There's true baseball fans in Texas, but it's not a true baseball town. I said there's true baseball fans, and then there are others that are not.
"I said the ones that are true baseball fans won't boo when I come back, and the ones that are not, will. It's just like last year, when I got booed after going 2-for-4 in a game, driving in a couple runs, and I struck out the other two times.
"You understand the Yankees, Boston, Cubs, Phillies -- baseball towns. If they were doing that, that's one thing."
Here's what Hamilton and others need to understand: Fans, basically, are fans. I mean, whether they're in Seattle or St. Petersburg, if they don't think you are giving a total effort -- which was the perception of Rangers fans last season when it came to Hamilton -- they will let you know.
Just take the four examples that Hamilton cited as "baseball towns" during his television interview.
First, the Yankees: Remember that game at Yankee Stadium in 1995, when Yankees pitcher Jack "Black Jack" McDowell left the mound to a chorus of vicious boos? He gave the crowd a one-fingered salute, and the picture of it all was plastered on the back page of a New York tabloid with an unflattering headline.
McDowell was gone the next season.
Then there was Nick Swisher, once the beloved Yankee of the Bleacher Creatures in right field at Yankee Stadium. That changed in a hurry during last year's AL Championship Series, when Swisher ripped the Creatures for ripping him after he slumped at the plate and lost a ball in the lights while the Yankees were eliminated by the Detroit Tigers.
"A lot of people were saying a lot of things that I've never heard before," Swisher told reporters back then. "Prime example -- I missed that ball in the lights, and the next thing you know, I'm the reason that [teammate Derek] Jeter got hurt [later in the game with an ankle injury]. It's kind of frustrating. They were saying it was my fault."
Swisher is no longer with the Yankees.
Boston? Yes, Boston is a baseball town, but Ted Williams was booed so badly at times that he responded with an obscene gesture, and he even spit in the direction of Fenway Park fans.
Cubs fans? Great fans. They regularly pack Wrigley Field, no matter what their team is doing in the standings. Still, during the early 1980s, when Lee Elia managed a struggling Cubs bunch, he spent a postgame interview session using every profanity known to mankind.
Then he added a few more.
Elia said of booing Cubs fans, "The [blank] don't even work. That's why they're out at the [blank] game. They ought to go out and get a [blank] job and find out what it's like to go out and earn a [blank] living. Eighty-five percent of the [blank] world is working. The other 15 come out here. A [blank] playground for the [blank]."
Elia was fired before the end of the season.
Finally, Hamilton mentioned Philadelphia as a great baseball town, and it is, but it's also Philadelphia. Maybe you've heard. Booing is what Philadelphia fans do in all sports.
I'm just saying Hamilton -- and his peers -- need to pause, think about the ramifications of uttering less-than-flattering things about folks paying to see them play, and then keep their mouths shut.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.