Everyone has heard the guy at the sports game bellowing, YOU SUCK!” at the player closest to them. A heckler is a person who shouts a disparaging comment at a performance or event with intent to disturb its performers or participants. Heckling has been around since the citizens of Rome pointed their fickle thumbs to the ground, telling their gladiators it was time for “sudden death.” The English heckled Shakespeare’s players, hurling rotten fruits and veggies when they deemed the show unworthy of their hard-earned shilling. Today baseball fans heckle their overpaid heroes, pelting them with bawdy suggestions–sum which would make even make a truck driver blush. Perhaps it seems obnoxious; However, heckling can be one of the most fun parts of a sporting event if done right. Heckling is an art form and should be treated as such. Ideally, the goal of most hecklers is to get under the skin of the opposing team’s players and have it effect their performance and/or get the player to acknowledge and joke with them.
It seems simple enough, but there are some pretty big do’s and don’ts in the world of heckling. Before you open your mouth to truant a player at a game, think your heckle through, and try to remember a few simple rules.
1) Be unique. Every player has heard “you suck,” (insert last name here)” It’s nothing new to them. Boring unoriginal and embarrassing for the entire section to have to be associated with that guy. Usually you might want to take a jab at a player but in a way that will want to make him laugh. If he laughs then you’ve broken the player concentration and gotten the visible reaction you want.
One of the best and most unique hecklers I’ve ever heard was from a season five years ago when Marlon Byrd was playing right field for the Texas Rangers. Mariners fan John Neuharth leaned over the railing and yelled “Hey Marlon, remember when you were the Phillies center fielder?” Byrd nodded his head thinking he was safe, Neuherth added, “of the future?”Byrd who was once thought to be Philadelphia’s answer to center field for years to come but he failed to live up to those expectations, turned around and busted out laughing. As far as heckling goes, this an example of an A+.
2) Don’t Get Personal. Talking to a player about a poor performance or if they deserve their spot on the team is one thing. However, if you know his wife’s name you should keep that out of your heckle. It’s tacky and classless. Family members, addiction problems, infidelity and other things of that nature are best left in the mind. Odds are things like that cut the player deeper than they like to show. Nobody likes the guy in the section that is yelling out, Hey you, I slept with your wife last night!” First of all, it’s not true, and second, it’s not funny. Stay away from personal insults.
Good ones that I have heard include “Did you just get called up? That’s Minor League reaction time?” and “Where is the hustle? You were running right at it; a real man makes that catch!” The latter in particular will get the player’s attention, especially when the ball is twelve rows deep into the seats in foul territory on the other side of the field. Some players get it, and will laugh, Sometimes more fun, however is the player who thinks you’re crazy. These players will sometimes turn around and give a quizzical look and a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say “Who do you think I am, Superman?” That sort of reaction is generally good to give the section a laugh.
3) Make fun of, and give poor on-the-field performances. You will find classics along the lines of “Hit the ball (player’s name) or “Where did you get that wet noodle for a throwing arm?”
My greatest example of this came on June 25, 2009, it was the top of the eighth inning, with the San Diego Padres batting. Padres pitcher Edward Mujica was throwing his warm tosses in the bullpen–when I just happen to be–and was getting ready to come into the game in the bottom half of the 8th. After the first toss, I looked at him and said “What a terrible pitch! I hope the ones you throw in the game are better than that!” Mujica made eye contact with me, glared and threw another.
“See what I mean?” Your place is totally off. You can’t get guys out pitching like that!” I said. Once again, he glared at me. This continued for about five more pitches until the top half of the inning ended. Mujica was called on to pitch the top half of the eighth with score tied 3-3.
“Good luck Edward! It’s only a tie game no pressure. Don’t blow it for your team!” I said cheerfully waving at him.
His first two pitches were balls, the Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez crushed a solo home run to break the tie and put the Mariners up 4-3, which ended up being the final score. Mujica took the loss. A good heckler can force the opposing team’s to play at a lower level than normal.
4) Have Fun and be respectful. Heckling is meant to be done as either banter between players and fans, or to get the player to acknowledge the heckler in some way. By all means don’t be discouraged if they don’t look until what is nearly the end of the game. Most players generally “reward” good hecklers towards the middle or end of the game for having the dedication for being on their case all day. However, if the people sitting around are telling you to shut up and give it up, there are only two things that should be happening:
1) The crowd is snobby that day and doesn’t want to have fun.
2) You are bad at heckling.
Regardless which of these reasons, it would be a good idea to tone it down, using only the best heckles that come to mind. Honestly, it is annoying when your told to be quiet and may ruin your enjoyment of the game, but you must also be considerate that the one shushing you has paid their money too and that heckling may ruin their enjoyment of the game.
Using this informative guide to heckling you too can become a successful heckler. Whether it is someone in your section getting a laugh or the real player reacting and laughing with (or at) you, someone will go home with a good story. With this heckling guide, I hope to hear many more bellowing voices bring a new level of fun to sports stadiums.