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Madden: Young's criticism hurts the Pirates

Saturday, May 24, 2003

First baseman Kevin Young criticized the support level of fans at PNC Park, saying the Pirates have no home-field advantage. Given the chance, Young refused to back down from his remarks.

When Young batted for the first time since issuing his critique, he was lustily booed. Afterward, he stood behind his feelings once more. "I wish they could make that much noise for the opposing team," Young said. "I felt like I was on the road again."

Would someone please tell Young to shut up?

Not because he's wrong. He's not. But Young's anti-fan tirade is counterproductive to what the Pirates are trying to do on the field and at the box office. Aside from venting frustration and making a talk-show host's life easier, Young's remarks -- and similar remarks made by pitcher Scott Sauerbeck -- serve no tangible purpose.

Witness Wednesday's game against Chicago, the first at PNC Park since Young laid into the spectators. More than 35,000 fans showed up for a memorabilia giveaway. There was a baseball game, too. Young batted in the eighth and got booed. A lot.

"It might have been the loudest I've ever been booed," Young said.

That's OK. You insult me, I insult you back. It's the law of the playground.

But then, with the Pirates leading, 5-2, the Cubs used two errors and a walk to load the bases in the ninth. Reliever Mike Williams got behind the next batter. The fans booed. In doing so, they proved Young's comments absolutely right.

That was a moment when the fans could provide adrenaline to the home side. Instead, the PNC faithless gave the impression they expected dismal failure once again. Not an unreasonable way to feel, but sometimes prophecies can be self-fulfilling. The fans reacted to the moment exactly as they shouldn't and exactly as Young says they do.

By the way, the fact that Young has stiffed statistically for quite some time doesn't mean he has no right to speak out on the subject of fan support. The qualifications of the messenger don't negate the veracity of the message.

Young wasn't the only Pirates player to get a hard time from the fans Wednesday. When he appeared on my radio show Thursday, Sauerbeck said that a fan had heckled him in the bullpen.

"This guy told me he'd stop heckling me when I stopped giving up home runs," Sauerbeck said. "I said, 'I haven't even given up a run in two weeks.' Are these people still mad because Barry Bonds couldn't throw out Sid Bream?"

The answer to that, of course, is yes. Therein lies the biggest problem with Pirates fans: Their memories are too long.

To enjoy watching a franchise as dismal as the Pirates, you've got to make each game a distinct occasion. A new beginning. I have a hunch that's how Cubs fans manage to hypnotize themselves into packing Wrigley Field on a regular basis.

If you want to watch a championship baseball team, you're living in the wrong city. Today, tomorrow and probably forever. No point shouting out against the madness. Or against Young and Sauerbeck. Sauerbeck is a Cincinnati Bengals fan. So he has suffered enough.

Then there's Bob Walk's approach to fan support, which is probably the right one.

"The fans never affected me," the Pirates broadcaster and former big-league pitcher said on my show. "Not at home. Not on the road. I didn't even think about them."

I do. When the Cubs loaded the bases with none out in the ninth Wednesday, I didn't care who won. I was considering what scenarios might rile up the fans most. They were, in order of preference:

1. Unassisted triple play by Young.

2. Error by Young.

3. Second baseman Abraham Nunez makes his third error of the inning.

4. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez fields grounder, throws ball into right field.

5. Grand slam hits fan who heckled Sauerbeck in the head.

In my mind, I was rapidly parlaying those events with other potential events that would give me the most bang for my entertainment buck, forgetting for a second that I always get in free.

The best possible sequence would have been: Young makes error to allow Cubs to tie score, hits walk-off homer to win game in extra innings, makes obscene gestures to fans on his way around the bases.

Hey, it's Pirates baseball. You've got to make your own fun. The sooner you learn that, the better.

P.S.: Sauerbeck gave up a home run Thursday. So it's OK for that fan to start heckling him again.


Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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