Not many would deny that Jim Johnson's first month with the A's was a disappointing one. As of now, his ERA stands at 4.40, his WHIP at 1.95 — you get the picture. The only thing that's close to zero is, in all likelihood, his affection for the home crowds at the Oakland Coliseum.
Three times, now, Johnson has been booed off the field by his own fans. The first time was on Opening Night, when he gave up two runs and allowed Cleveland to break a scoreless tie in the top of the 9th inning. It certainly wasn't the start he or any of the fans had hoped for. At the same time, it was his first time pitching as an Athletic, in front of A's fans. Normally baseball-savvy, energetic, and unshakably supportive, Johnson got booed off the field after one bad outing.
A's fans have taken a turn for the impatient this season. And by impatient, I mean needlessly rude and unfair.
Johnson is in a tough spot. He's replacing a massive fan favorite in Grant Balfour, and he made quite a bad first impression. But other players have come into the organization previously to replace fan favorites, and they've been given the benefit of the doubt. Johnson hasn't been given anything close, even as a former All-Star and two-time MLB saves leader.
So last night's response to Johnson's struggles was particularly disappointing. It's as if the Coliseum crowd is looking for reasons to go after the guy. Incidentally, the guy they went after had thrown 10⅓ scoreless innings before his mini-implosion last night.
Maybe it comes with the territory. Win two straight division titles and the expectations for success will be high, the margin for error slimmer than ever. But it's an odd double standard. Eric Sogard is hitting .194, and he isn't getting booed. Daric Barton is hitting .137, and he isn't getting booed. Johnson has blown one save all year, has a mediocre ERA, and seems to have gotten back on track in the past four weeks. One bad inning, and here come the boo-birds.
So to the people who will say "I paid for my ticket, and I can boo if I want," — of course you can. Nobody is telling you that you can't, only that you shouldn't. You also pay for your tickets to plays and concerts, some of which you probably don't like. That doesn't make it societally appropriate for you to boo the performers off the stage as they exit.
Obviously, sports are different. Booing is more accepted, and certainly wouldn't lead an usher to eject you from the venue. The point is that it's still entertainment, and you're still paying to see real people with careers and emotions and families and livelihoods perform. They know when they disappoint. Letting them know how much you disapprove helps nothing.
Jim Johnson is fully aware of the fact that he screwed up last night, and on Opening Night, and any other time he's pitched poorly in a close game. Letting him know how you feel certainly won't motivate him more — "Oh, I have to try harder to please the fans who clearly hate me" doesn't have much of a ring to it.
To the people who say that "Jim Johnson is making $10 million this year, I think he can deal with the boos," — sure he can, and A's fans had better hope he does. But the fact that Johnson is a grown man making amounts of money unfathomable to the vast majority of readers on this site doesn't mean he isn't a person. Booing is a petty and immature way of venting your own frustration. It has nothing to do with Johnson and everything to do with you. If what you want most is to see an A's win and a successful A's season, you've only hurt the cause.
Players take many factors into account when deciding whether or not to sign with a team, or putting a team on a no-trade list. For many of them, the prospect of their family watching tens of thousands of people (okay, maybe only 10,000 people) boo you off the field probably enters their mind. The families definitely take notice:
To all those Booing you should be ashamed of yourselves— Tina Milone (@tinypotpie) May 7, 2014
So think about this: the A's are 6-8 at the Coliseum so far. It's almost certainly an anomaly that has nothing to do with Johnson's lack of fan support, or the boos, or anything other than baseball being weird. But next time you find yourself wanting to boo one of the very players you're at the game to support, think about what it means. Think about what it says about the fan base, think about what it means to players watching from afar, and think about what it means to you.
A's fans have, for the past several years, prided themselves on being the Bay Area's "real" baseball fans, the ones who show up to watch baseball and not buy a $13 pomegranate margarita to enjoy along with your in-park wifi. The ones who know the game, and know what helps and what hurts. The ones who love the players and who the players love back. Live up to that reputation.