It was audible after the first two strikeouts, bouncing around the Citi Field rafters. But in the top of the sixth inning on Sunday, after David Wright whiffed for the third time in the Mets' 8-1 loss to the Nationals, it was thunderous: Boos rained down on the 26-year-old superstar third baseman.
The Mets have been caught up in a tempest of hostility early this season. In fact, the most rousing applause I heard at Citi Field on Sunday went to a scrawny teenager in a Red Sox T-shirt who got himself kicked out of the park for climbing into the batter's eye to collect Austin Kearns' fifth-inning home-run ball (which was promptly thrown back onto the field).
It makes sense; these are tumultuous times.
Everyone's bitter and anxious about the economy and the government and all sorts of awful things, and now baseball -- a pastime that's always provided an escape from all those realities -- is inextricably linked to them. The Mets have a brand new home, this throwback ballpark that's become a throw-back-the-ball park, and it has a bank's name attached to it, and all those open concourses and fine-dining options and massive team shops make the temptation to spend money even greater. And there's just not a whole lot of cash to throw around. Plus the team's off to a slow start after three straight disappointing finishes, and it was 90 degrees on a late April afternoon on Sunday, so maybe the specter of global warming had people hot and bothered, too.
Just so many people and concepts and environmental phenomena to jeer. What a moment for emotivism. What a time to breathe deep, rear back and boo heartily.
But David Wright? Really?
Listen: I will go to my grave defending fans' right to boo. In the right situation, it's one of my favorite activities. At the Citi Field opener, when I was roaming the press area of the field and the ESPN folks were setting up their broadcast, I noticed Steve Phillips chatting with Jim Duquette. It took every inkling of my professionalism (of which there is not much) to refrain from booing the pair point-blank, and it was pretty much only the knowledge that doing so would cost me my press credential -- my ticket to Mets games -- that stopped me.
Wright never signed Mo Vaughn or traded Scott Kazmir, though. On the contrary, he has spent the bulk of his 4 1/2-year tenure with the club dominating opposing pitchers, playing solid defense, remaining a positive force in the clubhouse and staying out of trouble. He appears well on his way to becoming the best position player the Mets have ever had -- and certainly the best homegrown one -- and yet that distinction has apparently not earned him 18 games worth of leeway.
We hear stories of Red Sox fans booing Ted Williams and Phillies fans booing Mike Schmidt and we cringe. But then here we are, booing the guy who could very well become the defining hitter of this franchise like those players were for theirs, and we're doing it less than three weeks into a six-month season.
Booers will defend themselves by saying they've seen Wright struggle before, as though that's justification. After all, they'll point out, Wright slumped until mid-May in 2007, for a long stretch of June in 2008 and in various clutch situations. But pointing to Wright's prior misfortunes only weakens the case for heckling him now, because every time the third baseman has struggled with any aspect of his game he's adjusted and rebounded.
And 4 1/2 years of that seems like grounds for patience, even in tough times.
Others will point to less tangible bugaboos, like Wright's purported lack of fire or heart. Much of this talk focuses on Wright's habit of saying precisely the right thing to the media in every situation, but of course, if Wright ever said the wrong thing while he wasn't hitting, he'd probably be vilified for that, too. Heck, he even catches flak for his penchant for pink shirts, as though if he were driving in runs everyday anyone would really care if he took batting practice in a pink tutu.
What it really boils down to is that Wright is not hitting the way Mets fans have grown accustomed to, even if he's not hitting that poorly. His power numbers are off and his strikeouts are up, but he's still getting on base at a 37-percent clip. And both Wright and Jerry Manuel seem confident that he'll turn things around sooner than later.
It would stand to reason: He's David Wright.
Mets fans, like just about everybody, are in the mood to lash out, and Wright is in the wrong place at the wrong time. But while there are plenty of people and players who have earned their Bronx cheers, I just can't see the logic in directing them at someone as talented and dedicated as Wright. Could there be a benefit from negative reinforcement? C'mon. As if anything could motivate Wright to want to improve his hitting more than simply being David Wright does.
So while I can appreciate the inclination to boo, I can't understand the target. As far as I can tell, all deriding Wright can do is make his challenge a more difficult one, though I'm not sure if it really matters. The good news is that Wright will recover, and when he does, fickle Mets fans will embrace him again and everyone will forget all about this early-season nonsense and go back to the way things should be, and the way things will be for the bulk of Wright's career in Flushing.
Until that happens, though, booing him helps nothing. He's not playing well, for sure. But he's an innocent bystander in a complicated and messy scenario, and there's simply no gain in misdirecting hostility toward a perennial young All-Star enduring a prolonged hiccup.