I hear people talking now about how there should be a “rule” that a local player should be in the Home Run Derby. That’s seems impossibly dumb to me—we need a rule for something that logical? Rule: You should invite the bride’s parents to the wedding. Rule: When hosting a charity roast, invite people who know the subject. Isn’t it kind of obvious that you might want a local player in something as aimless and trivial as the Home Run Derby? It’s a meaningless exhibition event inside a meaningless exhibition weekend—throw the local fans a bone, for crying out loud. Maybe baseball messed up by putting [Robinson] Cano in the line of fire rather than just insisting that a local player be chosen, but come on. This isn’t that hard.
Some found the booing offensive. Some thought it was classless. More than one person ripped KC to me, and later in print and comment. I have to admit, I didn’t see it that way. At all. For one thing, Cano is a Yankee, and the day it becomes uncool to boo the Yankees is the day we need to reevaluate what the national pastime is all about. For another, it’s just booing. I’m not a booer myself, and I usually dislike the “fans paid their ticket they can do what they want” argument, but in this case—you’re telling me that fans who pay 200 bucks a pop to sit in the upper deck to watch executive batting practice should cheer the guy who didn’t take the local player? Seriously? This is Wimbledon now? ...
I have no doubt that Cano’s struggles—the fouling back pitches, the way his long fly balls hit the wall—made the fans boo him more. If there’s one thing fans love more than anything it is their ability to affect the game. You’ve no doubt seen the self-congratulatory joy of people waving behind the backboard when a guy misses a free throw. I suspect the fans came in planning to boo Cano, but then they saw him foul that ball back. They thought: Hey, this is working. So they booed him a little louder. And a little louder. And a little louder. Until, at the end, the whole stadium wanted desperately for Cano to hit zero home runs, and the boos expressed that hope.
From what I can tell, Cano took the boos in stride. He tweeted out a couple of funny little bits—“I can’t believe I have so many fans in KC lol”—and he’s now part of Home Run Derby lore. I have little doubt he’ll be fine—he’s one of the great hitters in the game. I also have little doubt he will get booed whenever he comes to KC—it’s grown into legend now. The only thing I wish had happened was for [Billy] Butler himself to have come out during the Derby, put his arm around Cano, maybe waved a white flag. That would have been cool. And maybe, with three or four outs to go, Cano would have turned the bat over to Butler. They should really have a lot more fun at these things.