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Trea Turner, Philly and the case for not booing a struggling sport star | Philadelphia Phillies

The Philly Shrug is a term that was invented by Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas to describe the average Philadelphian’s “whaddya-gonna-do” attitude toward so many of the city’s endemic problems – the notion that this is just how it is. Although it was coined to describe and explain the public’s desensitization to things like crime, litter and political corruption, this blase attitude has largely extended to the city’s famously intense support of its sports teams, which has at times boiled over into the boorish, outrageous and ugly.

Yes, some of the incidents have been overblown in the American sporting lore. Most locals bristle at a national broadcaster’s umpteenth mention of Eagles fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus during the half-time Christmas parade at a 1968 game. But, uh, we did throw batteries at JD Drew on his first trip to Philadelphia after his refusal to sign with the Phillies. We did cheer Michael Irvin’s temporary paralysis as he was carted off with a career-ending spinal cord injury. Yes, there was a courtroom built into the bowels of Veterans Stadium to more efficiently process rowdy fans at Eagles games. One of us did, in fact, stick his finger down his own throat to intentionally vomit on an opposing fan and his 11-year-old daughter.

Of course all US cities have blotches on their permanent records, especially in the north-east, where fans of professional sports are generally more passionate and emotional. But Philadelphia’s mistreatment of their own players when they fail to deliver in clutch situations or appear to not give an all-out effort is what really sets it apart, even from New York and Boston. The boo is the birthright of most Philadelphia fans, who have taken a demented pride in the bile they have poured on their athletes. (One local fan, Charles Welch, created a website in 2003 devoted to the practice.) They want athletes to take responsibility when you struggle. They want accountability. It’s OK if you don’t win a championship here as long as you give the impression you’d run through a brick wall, or an unprotected outfield fence, to get one. Mike Schmidt, the greatest of all Phillies who led the team to its first championship in its 97th season back in 1980, captured this fractious relationship best: “Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”

Trea Turner celebrates as he hits a two-run walk off single to defeat San Francisco in the ninth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on 22 August.Trea Turner celebrates as he hits a two-run walk off single to defeat San Francisco in the ninth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on 22 August. Photograph: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

All of this – the Philadelphian’s predilection for booing couched in a broader resignation to status quo behaviors and attitudes – have made what’s happened with Trea Turner over the past five weeks all the more extraordinary.

After roaring to an unlikely National League pennant in 2022 before falling to the Houston Astros in the World Series, the Phillies signed the 30-year-old shortstop to an 11-year, $300m contract in the offseason that was intended get them over the top. Instead he quickly became a millstone on an otherwise spirited National League title defense. Through his first 107 games as a Phillie, he was batting an anemic .238 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs while getting dropped to an unthinkable eighth in the batting order. The nadir came on 3 August, when he went 0-for-5 in a 12-inning defeat that saw the Marlins rally from the death on a Turner fielding error in the 11th.

With the Phillies returning to Citizens Bank Park in the thick of the playoff hunt for the start of a 10-game homestand the following day, things could have gotten nasty. But rather than boo the underperforming slugger as they normally would, Philadelphia fans responded to a social media campaign to greet Turner with a standing ovation before each at-bat.

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It didn’t go unappreciated. After Turner went 4 for 12 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs in that first weekend series against the Kansas City Royals, he expressed his thanks for the fans’ support on a dozen billboards throughout the city. “That was pretty fucking cool,” Turner said. “Mentally it just gives you reassurance that they have your back, like I’ve been talking about. I feel like things are going in the right direction.”

Since then, the positive reinforcement has ignited a massive hot streak. Going into Thursday’s series finale with Atlanta, Turner was slashing .388/.430/.820 with 34 runs, 10 doubles, a triple, 16 home runs, 41 RBI, nine walks and six stolen bases in 151 plate appearances since the ovation. He ranks first among all major league players in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits and runs batted in over that time frame, while he’s also raised his batting average 36 points to a respectable .272.

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Research by sports psychologists has suggested that booing the home team can negatively impact its performance, but Turner’s dramatic turnaround has offered an flesh-and-blood proof of concept that won’t soon be forgotten. For the time being, the second baseman has teased out a brighter side of the notoriously hard Philly crowds. Whether it will last no one can say.

A colder analysis might conclude Turner is simply regressing (or rising) to the mean and that there’s no correlation between the increased crowd support to improve his morale and his greater production on the field. But considering the Phillies have won only two championships in 140 seasons of baseball, was there really much harm in trying something different?

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