The worst kept secret in baseball opening this week was Yankee fans liable to let the visiting Astros have it, but good, when they visited Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 2019 American League Championship Series. The second-worst thing about that worst-kept secret was Yankee Stadium censorship.
The first-worst thing was this not-so-little red flag raised in the account by Sports Illustrated writer Stephanie Apstein, about a fan costumed like Oscar the Grouch in a trash can, and who only thought he’d gotten assurance from stadium personnel that there’d be no issue with him wearing it at Tuesday’s game:
When [David Taub] arrived wearing the costume and carrying a sign reading YOU AIN’T STEALING THIS COSTUME TRASHTROS, he drew laughs and cameras. Unfortunately, he also drew attention from security. “Our policy changed,” he said the guard told him. He said the guard added that the Astros had complained to MLB about fans in other cities, and MLB had told the Yankees to tighten their rules. (Officials from the Astros and the commissioner’s office said they were unaware of any such complaints or directives.)
Censorship at Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly virgin territory. Ask any frustrated Yankee fan present in the 1980s who had an anti-Boss placard or sheet banner confiscated under George Steinbrenner’s orders. Or, such frustrated Yankee fans who had their placards and banners confiscated before they were ejected from the stadium themselves.
Ask especially the Yankee fan who won a Banner Day contest by wearing the garb of a monk and carrying a Grim Reaper’s scepter from the scythe of which hung a large placard pleading, “Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does.”
If Yankee Stadium personnel purging David Taub for a non-destructive demonstration against Astrogate and its most questionable net result (no players disciplined in return for spilling about the scheme) is bad enough, what would you suggest we call the possibility that stadium security lied through their teeth while censoring him and other fans?
“I hope the Yankees fans smell blood tonight,” Taub told a reporter. “I hope we don’t do anything irresponsible, but I hope we give our shares of boos and let them hear it. We definitely got robbed of a World Series. There’s no question about that.”
Other fans brought inflatable trash cans to the park, similar to the one that fell onto the right field warning track at Angel Stadium when the Astros played a set there last month. Two of them were confiscated by stadium security, too.
Apparently, Astros manager Dusty Baker is a little more sanguine and a lot less censorious about the reception he knows his team can expect when they’re on the road this year. “It sounded like a packed house tonight even though it wasn’t,” he told reporters after the Yankees trashed the Astros, 7-3. “We kind of expected that reception. We’ll probably get more of that tomorrow and the next day.”
“I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that,” said Yankee outfielder Giancarlo Stanton of the fans’ night-long booing, catcalling, and occasional swearing (F– Altuve! F–Altuve!) after the game. “They brought some heavy.” (And, a lot of funny, including a placard depicting Altuve the Grouch in a somewhat battered metal trash can.)
Stadium security brought heavier. This was a look no better than that ancient Banner Day ejection.
Last year’s pan-damn-ically inspired, cutout-occupied stands kept legions of fans from letting the Astros know just how they felt about the Astro Intelligence Agency’s singular take on sign stealing. Unless they bought cutouts showing imagery against it, there was little they could do other than whoop, holler, and catcall if they saw the Astro team bus pulling up to the ballpark.
But fans are back at the ballparks now to whatever limited extent continuing safety protocols allow. Unless their racket includes true violence, or throwing debris on the field (as a few reckless Angel fans did throwing a real, not inflatable trash can onto the right field warning track), or attacking Astro players or personnel physically, Yankee Stadium’s security was way out of line.
Whether they like it or not, the right to protest comes with the purchase of a ticket. Fans can boo truly bad plays, truly bad plate appearances, truly bad umpiring to their hearts’ content. They can even boo visiting teams verified for all time as barely-apologetic illegal high-tech cheaters.
Even if their own team got caught trying a little high-tech hijacking once upon a time? Not so fast. The Yankees got caught only with someone in the dugout using an AppleWatch to steal signs. They weren’t accused of or proven to have either a) altered an existing camera off its mandatory eight-second transmission delay, or b) installed another, illegal, real-time camera to steal signs.
Realistically, the Yankee fans made one mistake that everyone else continues to make. There are only five actual Astrogate team members left on this year’s edition: Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Lance McCullers. Chanting “Mother Tucker!” at hapless outfielder Kyle Tucker isn’t fair to a guy who wasn’t even there to be part of the 2017-18 can can.
Unfortunately, if it isn’t fair to hold the entire 2021 Astro roster responsible for what the 2017-18 edition did, it’s also unlikely that the Astros will be done hearing the protests until the last man standing from the Astrogate team doesn’t wear their uniform any longer.
Not every security force in every ballpark practises fan censorship at all. Never mind claiming the visiting team complained to baseball’s government and baseball’s government told the home team “to tighten their rules.” I suspect Apstein meant that to mean, “to quash the anti-Astrogate protests.”
The Astros have had enough bad looks since Astrogate’s exposure and official consequences. Would they really be stupid enough to compel baseball government to strong-arm road teams into censoring road fans bent on letting them have it over a script they and nobody else wrote in the first place?
It was one thing when the worst Yankee fans rained nasty upon Astros pitcher Zack Greinke during the 2019 ALCS—based on Greinke’s very well known battle with clinical depression. Those fans were ejected properly for assaulting a human being verbally over an illness for which he takes prescribed medication and through which he works and lives with courage his assailants probably lacked.
Ejecting fans protesting a team’s well-exposed and (in more ways than one) institutionalised cheating? That demands a formal MLB investigation. Post haste. No waiting. The Yankees themselves should have no issue with cooperating. If they do, they should be sanctioned heavily.
The House That Ruthless Built isn’t private property. The ballpark’s official ownership is listed as the New York Industrial Development Agency, a subsidiary of the city’s Economic Development Corporation whose board is appointed by the city’s mayor. Government or government-overseen agencies at any level, from the village up to the nation, have no business trucking with or allowing censorship.
If Yankee Stadium security people spoke out of line while confiscating Yankee fans’ properties and/or ejecting them from the stadium, because they took it upon themselves to neutralise or silence Astrogate protests, they need to be held accountable. Strictly.