Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When fans go too far

I love Paul O'Neill. Loved his game. Loved his passion. Loved his roll over the pile in 1996. Loved how the fans chanted his name as he came off the field after his last game. Loved how he would practice swinging while in right field. Loved how he bashed watercoolers (most of the time, at least).

However, the hue and cry about anyone wearing #21 in pinstripes is overblown. Morgan Ensberg was randomly assigned the number in Spring Training and people howled. Ensberg took a different number once the team moved North.

So new Yank LaTroy Hawkins took #21, as a way to honor his boyhood hero, Roberto Clemente. This was not just being assigned a number and nothing more. Clemente is a legitimate icon within baseball and hero of many for his humanitarian efforts which ultimately lead to his death.

That Hawkins was hearing "numerous vulgar comments from Yankees fans during the Grapefruit League campaign" is so lame and disappointing, I don't even know where to begin.

Hawkins eagerly accepted No. 21 as a tribute to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente but quickly learned that a pinstriped No. 21 has other meanings for Yankees fans. Unaware he was donning a number that had not been worn since O'Neill retired following the 2001 World Series, Hawkins was booed when introduced on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Fans chanted "Paul O'Neill" during one of his appearances in the Bronx.
People, fellow Yanks fans...let's get a grip on reality again. Paulie is an all-time favorite for all of us, but he's not The Mick, Joltin' Joe, Cap'n Jetes, Thurman, etc. But it's ONLY A FREAKIN' NUMBER! We need Hawkins to have a good year if we want to go far. Heckling this guy for a number choice, and with good reason behind the choice, is just DUMB. Paulie is not in the Hall of Fame. He might be in OUR Hall of Fame, but c'mon people, let's regain some perspective.

We all want to relive and remember the "good old days" (hence the Yanks being forced to overpay for our own stars) so badly that we're willing to haze the current players? How crazy is that?

So where does this end? With a great punchline, of course. What number will Hawkins don going forward? #22, last worn by.... Roger Clemens. Who, I am guessing, will also not be in the Hall of Fame, by the way.

Fans, I beg you: Cheer the hell outta LaTroy Hawkins next time he takes the hill, no matter how good or bad he performs.

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