Home Field Disadvantage: Fans Become the Focus as Yankees Limp to Detroit

(The following was originally published at The Captain’s Blog; follow me on Twitter at@williamnyy23).

What's become of the Yankees' Home Field Advantage?

The Yankees reward for having the best record in the American League was home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, what was once a blessing, seems to have turned into a curse. With the team mired in an epic postseason slump, the (less than capacity) crowds at Yankee Stadium have alternated between passionless and merciless, creating the same hostile environment for the home team that visitors to the Bronx once had to endure.

Since the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, the crowds have not had the same energy. Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in both venues can attest to that. With approximately 8,000 fewer seats positioned much further away from the field, the new Stadium simply can’t match the structural and acoustic qualities that made the old place feel like a cauldron of sound. However, that’s not the only reason the new place lacks the same vibe as the old one.

The Yankees’ pricing strategy with the new Yankee Stadium makes perfect economic sense. By gouging corporate clients, the team can maximize revenue from a more inelastic customer base. Put more simply, selling one ticket for $500 is the same as selling five for $100, so, from an economic standpoint, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Yankee Stadium is filled to capacity. Of course, empty seats don’t make noise.

Unfortunately, what works financially hasn’t been as aesthetically pleasing. Not only has Yankee Stadium regularly featured empty seats scattered all over the premium lower level sections, but the clientele seems more interested in where they are than whom they are watching. In addition to pricing out a more passionate cross-section of their fan base (or, at least, moving them further away from the field), the added amenities of the new ballpark have become the drawing card. So, instead of rooting for the home team, some fans have opted to cheer from the comfort of a sit down restaurant while snacking on filet mignon and sipping chardonnay.

This is a very easy place to play now. Coming from Oakland, the fans there were so rowdy. It was easier to come here.” – Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry, quoted by Yahoo! Sports, October 14, 2012

Among opposing players, Yankee Stadium was once considered to be the jungle, as David Justice once stated when his Cleveland Indians were heading to the Bronx for a playoff game. In fact, Justice even suggested that the Stadium fans were so rough, they couldn’t do more harm with Uzis in tow. Now, however, most of the hostility seems to be reserved for those in pinstripes.

It would be naïve to think that crowds at the old place didn’t reprimand their heroes with negativity. Almost no one, from Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter, has been immune to boos at Yankee Stadium. They don’t call it a Bronx cheer for nothing. However, in the past, Yankee fans made up for their tongue lashings with an overabundance of encouragement. More recently, that hasn’t been the case. Whereas the Yankee Stadium crowd used to be one of anticipation, it is now one of reaction…and overreaction. Instead of cheering on their team to victory, fans seem to be waiting for the outcome.  And, when it’s negative, they are all too eager to finally express themselves.

You can debate why Yankee Stadium crowds have become more jaded, and whether they are justified for letting their feelings be known, but the more important issue is whether the increasingly tepid and negative environment is having a detrimental impact on the team. Ultimately, the only people who can really answer that question are the players themselves, and, based on some recent quotes, it seems as if the incessant booing isn’t helping.

That’s the last thing that I ever thought would be in this ballpark, that people would get on you that bad. Especially your home, where your heart is, where you’ve been battling and grinding all year long. It’s just frustrating, man. You never want to be in that spot. It’s not like you’re trying to go out there and do bad on purpose. It’s just tough, man.” – Nick Swisher, quoted by the New York Daily News, October 14, 2012

Have Yankee fans turned their back on players like Nick Swisher?

It’s easy to say that players are well trained athletes making millions of dollars who shouldn’t need to be encouraged by the fans. However, no amount of talent or money can erase their humanity. Although Yankee fans have been spoiled by the steely confidence of players like Jeter and Mariano Rivera, most players, like most people, can not rise to that level. Some are more sensitive than others, so maybe sparing the rod, can, in fact, save the postseason.

In his postgame comments, Nick Swisher, who was genuinely hurt by the fans negative reaction, further stated, “I’m one of those guys that if you give me a hug, I’ll run through a brick wall for you.” The Yankees don’t need Swisher to run through a brick wall; they need him to hit balls over the wall. Getting too amped up usually isn’t a recipe for success in baseball, but, by his own admission, that’s not how Swisher is wired. If he needs a hug, then it makes sense to give it him. You can argue whether such a player is cut out for postseason baseball in New York, but as long as he is on the team, there is nothing gained from withholding positive reinforcement.

You just hope you take a day off and come back with a lot of energy and turn it around. … It may start with a change of scenery. I think getting a day of rest tomorrow, take a deep breath, everybody come out and not try to do too much, let the river flow a little bit.” – Alex Rodriguez, quoted by the LoHud Yankees Blog, October 14, 2012

Neither the Yankee players nor their fans have distinguished themselves so far this postseason. Who knows, after five consecutive postseason games at home, perhaps familiarity under such stressful conditions wound up breeding a little contempt. In that sense, as Alex Rodriguez suggested, a change of scenery just might do both parties a world of good.

There’s no guarantee that the Yankees will be returning to the Bronx, but should they manage to win at least two games in Detroit, it will be up to the fans to give them a heroes’ welcome. For all its faults, the 2012 team has not been a “$200 million joke” and does not deserve to be treated like jesters. Sure, the team’s offensive malaise has been a disappointment, but there is a difference between failure and lack of effort. It’s time for Yankee fans to make that distinction. Otherwise, the circus atmosphere will remain, but the clowns will be the ones paying for admission.

8 thoughts on “Home Field Disadvantage: Fans Become the Focus as Yankees Limp to Detroit

  1. I think the cost-related criticism of the new YS is fair, but I would spin it a little. If the Yankees want to soak the rich to build the best team money can buy, I am all for it. I’ll happily watch at home or from my seat in the upper deck and let the blue bloods sip champagne next to the field.

    However, if the $189 million plan becomes a reality, all bets are off. If Hal Steinbrenner decides to use the cash flow from the new Stadium to line his pockets, the trade-off is no longer acceptable. If the Yankees stop spending on par with what they earn, I won’t be contributing my money to the pot anymore.

  2. The corporate fan has other things on his mind other than screaming at a baseball game. Enthusiasm or fanaticism, are for a different socio-economic base. You simply are not going to find die hard Yankee fans filling every nook and cranny of the new Yankee stadium any more. Not to say that die hard fans will no longer attend games….but they will be fewer and fewer. Eventually you will see Bill gates attend a game with his wife and a dozen friends, having bought every other ticket so that his party could have a little privacy. He does that when he vacations in Hawaii….buys out the whole resort hotel and only uses 3-4 rooms….after all, who wants to watch a baseball game w a bunch of strangers. Here’s to us and those like us.

  3. I think New Yankee Stadium is the cause of all of this. It represents everything that is wrong with America. Taxpayers like myself had to pay for this stockbroker and CEO palace so their excessive greediness can continue to give me the middle finger from every seat outside of the grandstand level and bleachers. Real fans can only reasonably see the games from our TVs, where we see uninterested high class jerks text instead of watch the game. If they don’t redo this stadium the fanbase and brand will collapse entirely.

    Plus, if I ever paid $300-1200 to go to a baseball game (more than a top brodway show could ever get away with charging), I would boo the crap out of anything that was short of a historic performance by my team.