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Boo-nitez?

“Questions, questions.” This was the main headline in the sports section of the Times today, and in the stories below it, Joe Stiglich and Andrew Baggarly answer the five key questions that awaited the A’s and Giants, respectively, heading into spring training.

One of them is of particular interest to me. “Will Armando Benitez face a friendly face?”

So fans, will he? Now, that Benitez has ensured he’ll open the season as the Giants’ closer, does he get cheered by the AT&T Park faithful when he’s introduced on Opening Day, or will he be besiged by a chorus of “Go crawl under that rock with Johnnie LeMaster.”

Gotta admit, I’ve never really understood the dynamic of booing a player for the home team. I know it’s accepted practice in the East — I’ll never get over the sound of a full house at Yankees Stadium booing Derek Jeter of all people, because he was hitting below .200 early in May — but out here, we’ve tended to be more patient with the players who represent our teams.
As an A’s fan growing up, the one exception to that rule that stands out was the treatment closer Jay Howell received at the 1987 All-Star Game at the Coliseum. Howell was booed in introductions, then wound up the losing pitcher. Of course, less than a month later, Howell was on the disabled list and Dennis Eckersley was closing, so maybe A’s fans knew something I didn’t.

As a fan, I always used the guidelines that a home player deserved to be booed ony if 1) he blatantly didn’t hustle, 2) he didn’t listen to his manager 3) he disrespected the fans or 4) he sent a rat to a female sportswriter. Generally, though, I didn’t like the practice, because I found it incredibly hyprocritical to boo a guy in the third inning, then cheer him come the ninth. Ron Hassey, a reserve catcher who backed up Terry Steinbach for the A’s in the late 1980′s, taught be that lesson in a game early in 1988, hitting a three-run homer to tie a game in the 9th that the A’s later won. That victory, got the A’s rolling en route to a 14-game winning streak.

Anyway, the question now applies to Benitez, and given some of his antics in front of the fans last season, the answer is probably obvious. If Benitez is smart (jury’s out on that one), he’ll wear ear plugs.

rhurd