Fan Ethics Guidance From A Red Sox Fan To Washington Nationals Fans (And Others): Booing Your Manager Is Unethical

Matt WilliamsOn September 9, following his press conference in the aftermath of a horrible and devastating loss to the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals manager (the reigning Manager of the Year from 2014!), was vigorously booed by a group of fans (the rich ones) in the next-door Presidents Club dining room, who banged on the press conference room’s glass walls. The team was pronounced a shoo-in to the World Series, you see, before the season started, and that loss made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that the Nats probably weren’t even going to make the play-offs.

No doubt about it: Matt Williams, the team’s calm, amiable, incompetent manager, is part of the problem, but he was just as bad last year, just much luckier. (See: moral luck; consequentialism) He was hired with no managerial experience at all, just the experience of being a (pretty good) major league player for quite a while, and the truth is that managing a baseball team requires judgment, tactical expertise, courage, flexibility, facility with statistics and leadership, as well as experience. Williams isn’t bereft in all of these areas, but enough of them to make consistent success as a manager unlikely. Because the boo-attack occurred in front of the press corps and came from the season ticket types rather than the bleachers and beer crowd (“You’re a BUM!!!”), it immediately became a big story in Washington. Today, one of those angry fans wrote an explanation and alleged justification of his actions in the Washington Post.

He wrote in part:

“So, after staying till the bitter end of the latest heartbreaking loss, and after watching Williams wrap up another tedious Q&A filled with a series of cliched answers, a group of mid-30s fans who have been cheering this team from Day 1 had seen enough. A defiant Williams exited the podium, and we booed … we booed hard. It felt good. It felt like Williams needed to hear it — and it felt like the Nats brass needed to, as well…We’ll always support this team, but on a night like that night, sometimes enough is enough. When it takes 54 excruciating pitches to get three outs in a season-killing seventh-inning meltdown, and when the manager has pushed all the wrong buttons since last October, there’s not much else a fan can do…but boo.”

This fatuous non-wisdom comes from Rudy Gersten, an executive director at a public policy organization, and presumably he speaks for his similarly jeering friends, “an ethics and compliance lawyer, an IT project manager, [and ]a construction senior project manager.”

Boy, that’s depressing. “There’s not much else a fan can do…but boo” is indistinguishable from the logic of Baltimore rioters tearing up their own city in the wake of the Freddie Gray shooting, and these guys are wealthy, educated and supposedly civilized….and one of them is supposed to guide a company regarding ethics.

Let’s see, they booed because (You can find the rationalizations referenced here)…

  • Williams deserved it. (Rationalization # 2.“They had it coming”)
  • They had been loyal up to that point, so they earned the right to be uncivil and abusive  (Rationalizations #11. (a) “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”; #17. Ethical Vigilantism; #21. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)
  • They were frustrated. Ah. It was a tantrum then! Are the executive director, the ethics and compliance lawyer, the IT project manager, and the senior project manager three-years old? If not, this is no excuse.
  • It felt good. (Rationalizations #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants” and #51. The Hippie’s License, or “If it feels good, do it!”)
  • “Enough was enough.” ( Rationalizations #28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”and #31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now” )
  • What else was there to do? (Rationalization #40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!” )
  • Finally, unstated but implied: “We’re fans, and we have a right to boo when we are disappointed!” (Rationalizations #24. Juror 3’s Stand (It’s My Right!”) and, of course, the Big Enchilada of Rationalizations, #1. Everybody Does It!)

None of these are excuses or justifications for conduct that is a pure Golden Rule breach and simply gratuitous nastiness. If these “professionals” were monkeys, they would have throw their own poop at those glass walls.

Or maybe Rudy just didn’t think of it.

The Washington Nationals and their manager have failed, that’s all, as do we all. Nobody has argued that they haven’t been working hard, or trying hard, or giving everything they have. The one exception to the absolute that booing one’s team is when it is obviously cheating the fans and disrespecting the sport by giving a half-hearted effort or not making a good faith effort to play well and win. The Washington Nationals and their manager do not fall into this category. If your son receives a letter of rejection from the college he desperately wanted to attend, would you boo him? If your wife comes home after being fired for a mistake at her job, should you jeer? When Robert E. Lee’s beaten troops returned from the carnage of Pickett’s charge, did General Lee berate them?  Did they boo him for his disastrous miscalculation that got their comrades slaughtered?

Would anyone want to be mocked and denigrated after a professional or personal defeat?

There’s not much else a fan can do but boo? False. Spectacularly false, in fact. There’s little that is more inappropriate and wrong than booing.

Fans can always be supportive, show they are loyal and know that the team did its best, and reassure their beaten warriors that the fans will be back and cheering next season.

That is what they can do, and should do….and the real fans do it, over and over again, no matter what happens.

Go Red Sox.


15 thoughts on “Fan Ethics Guidance From A Red Sox Fan To Washington Nationals Fans (And Others): Booing Your Manager Is Unethical

  1. There is something to be said for the concept that following a losing team builds character, something these people clearly wouldn’t recognize. I say this as a Cubs fan and the elder brother of a Sox fan. It teaches loyalty (or else we’d go watch the Yankees (blech) ), patience, persistence, and the ability to find common ground with others (such as our mutual hatred of the Yankees).

  2. I don’t disagree with your conclusions, Jack, but boy, there is something maddening about Matt Williams. Maybe he just seems [is?] so humorless. Watched him play and third base coach the Diamondbacks (as well as watched him when he played for the Giants. But again, yes, these thrity something guys sound pretty insufferable and entitled.

    By the same token, I’ve always thought Chicago fans have done everything they can to insure their teams aren’t any good. Why should the Bears or the Cubs ever bother to be any good when they sell out with terrible teams? You can be a fan, but you can also vote with your feet. Why be taken advantage of by avaricious ownership? These teams are closely held, for profit businesses.

  3. Last week the SF Giants gave some loud and boisterous boos to Manager Bruce Bochy. Unheard of. Giants fans are pretty sophisticated and they love their Manager. Towards the end of the game, Bochy had two pitchers in the bullpen and it turns out the crowd thought he picked the wrong one. Bochy admitted that the crowd did indeed change his mind and he took the other one instead. The other one was his son, Brett Bochy, and these were boo’s of affection for both of them.

  4. When Robert E. Lee’s beaten troops returned from the carnage of Pickett’s charge [at Gettysburg], did General Lee berate them? Did they boo him for his disastrous miscalculation that got their comrades slaughtered?

    There is some reason to believe that Lee didn’t miscalculate but was a victim of poor moral luck. According to this theory, Lee quickly recognised that he was faced with an “encounter battle” at Gettysburg, in which each side has to keep committing yet more forces to an initially limited and unintended engagement to avoid a limited defeat turning into a much worse retreat while being pursued. This normally ends badly for both sides, although much more so for the numerically weaker, but there was one trick for snatching a massive victory from the jaws of defeat that sometimes worked, which Marlborough had used successfully at Oudenarde: early in the developing situation, detach a unit to march around one flank of the enemy’s developing deployment and fall on the rear of that wing later while the main force attacks and pins it from the front. In this scenario, Pickett’s charge was timed and launched as that main force and intended to take place just when increased activity indicated that the rear threat was materialising.

    The evidence for this theory is that Lee did in fact detach just such an independent force, J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, with just such an itinerary to follow, only Custer – pretty much disregarding orders but riding to the sound of the gunfire – lucked out by ending up blunting and turning back that independent unit; the increased activity in that quarter did not indicate a threat to the Union rear after all but rather it indicated more Union reinforcements.

    The evidence against this theory is that Lee is not known to have claimed to have been attempting this, despite being a student of military history who knew of it.

    It is also worth remembering that Lee did so conduct the battle that the Union forces were unable to carry out that dreadful Napoleonic pursuit, so mauled were they. It is entirely possible that Pickett’s charge did in fact reduce overall Confederate casualties despite its own heavy casualties, by contributing to preventing that pursuit.

    Unfortunately, there is no way to disentangle the truth of any of this from mere supposition.

    • “There is some reason to believe that Lee didn’t miscalculate but was a victim of poor moral luck.”

      Very true.

      I’d say Lee was used to having good moral luck, and came to rely on it. I’ve written about the Custer episode here—I love the episode; and it was not certain that Lee’s massed frontal assault would fail. If the artillery barrage hadn’t aimed too far and thus failed to loosen up the Union artillery as Lee planned…still, there were all those damn fences. Lee had taken equally large risks and prevailed, but luck does run out eventually.

      • I was expecting to have to persuade readers of something that they would have refused to believe on the all too plausible grounds that they would have heard of it if it had happened – absence of evidence implying evidence of absence – but it seems you have more of the details to hand than I had myself, details that reinforce that theory further. Do you know if Lee ever stated that that actually was what he was attempting, i.e. that the detached force was in fact aimed at a rear or flank role in the battle itself rather than just another opportunistic raid into enemy territory? The latter is a widely held view.

        I may at any rate have informed you that that scenario had precedents, e.g. Oudenarde, so it was “by the book”. If the book version had worked out, though, it still wouldn’t have been a case of the frontal assault succeeding after all but of the frontal assault working out as the anvil to the detached force’s hammer; it would have made the hammer succeed, which it probably couldn’t have done if that portion of the Union forces hadn’t been pinned by the frontal assault. On that view, the frontal assault would still have worked properly as part of Lee’s wider battle plan even if it had got held up – a hold up that would probably have melted away if the hammer had succeeded.

        • Although the question was obviously directed at Jack, I hope you’ll not mind my two-cents worth. In so far as I know, Lee never did explain his strategy. Stuart, again, as far as I know, was operating independently in the Union rear. By the time the messenger reached him calling for an attack, it was already too late for it to work.
          One of the things that has always amazed me about MOST battles fought in this war is how many subordinate commanders decided that THEIR commanders had no idea what they were doing and hared off on their own…usually disastrously.

      • “Lee had taken equally large risks and prevailed, but luck does run out eventually.”

        So do men. And in just about EVERY battle, even those listed as Southern Victories, Lee was taking GREATER losses than the North did proportionate to their own armies.

        Lee could be victorious 100 times, but when each victory cost him 10% of his Army while only costing the North about 5% of it’s army…

        As a quote from the HBO series “Rome” puts it:

        Atia: Well this last news from Greece cannot have improved your appetite.

        Mark Antony: Hardly.

        Atia: And is it really so bad? Caesar always finds a way to win.

        Mark Antony: Pompey’s gathered ten men for every one of Caesar’s. Arithmetic has no mercy.

        • That’s not quite true, as that outcome only applies to a certain kind of warfare. Lee was trying to make it or keep it another kind, the kind in which positioning and manoeuvre matter more than relative attrition rates; Grant had the insight to force the shape of the war into the kind where that numerical aspect was what mattered most.

          • Grant’s insight also encompassed the idea that as long as he kept his army continuously engaged with Lee’s, Lee would not have any opportunity to make the sort of strategic strike that could possibly change the direction of the war once again.

            Grant’s strategy entailed appalling casualties in 1864 for both sides. However, while the armies were engaged in what was essentially trench warfare, Grant’s losses could be made good as long as Lincoln and the country’s resolve held firm. Lee’s losses could not be made up.

          • No doubt, bold maneuver generals would seek to outmatch a numerically superior enemy at key points in space and at key points in time to win a war. Of course, bold maneuver generals are also influenced by what their opposition seeks as well.

            Even Lee’s constant bold maneuvering, however, costs lives and his bold maneuvers WERE NOT PAYING OFF quickly enough to balance the attrition rates (a partial reason for the move into the Northern States). Grant merely locked Lee into a situation where he could “attrit” Lee even faster than Lee was “attritting” himself.

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