So much for major leaguers giving back to fans this year.
Instead, Jack McDowell stuck it to them Tuesday night.
Booed by a crowd of 21,118 after a brutal outing, he walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium, thrust his middle finger high in the air and twirled it around for all to see - an obscene gesture that seemed to sum up baseball’s season of discontent.
“In this year of all years, it shouldn’t happen,” American League spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige said Wednesday. “Obviously, we’re not happy, and we’ll look into further discipline later this week.”
The New York Yankees immediately fined him $5,000, with the money going to a children’s cancer fund. The New York newspapers weren’t so charitable.
“You Jack Ass!” blared the Daily News across the top of the front page.
“Yankee Flipper,” declared the New York Post inside.
Both tabloids plastered a full-page picture of McDowell extending his finger on the back. All through the day, McDowell was the talk of the town, from the subways, to the delis to the softball fields of Central Park to the radio shows.
“It was dead wrong to do,” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said. “We’re trying to win the fans back.”
Even New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a big Yankees fan, had his say.
“There are better ways to communicate frustration… . This is a great pitcher, not just a good pitcher,” said Giuliani, who also criticized fans for booing McDowell, noting that crowds at the old Yankee Stadium used to cheer pitchers as they left the mound.
After the game, McDowell said he was sorry the incident occurred, but stopped well short of apologizing to those he offended.
“It was one of those things where, right away, you say, ‘Stupid,”’ he said. “A 2-second reaction to a lot of frustration built up.”
Before Wednesday’s game, he maintained the same stance.
“It’s not something I’m going to get used to,” he said of the booing, “but I’ve got to learn to handle it better… . Realistically, I don’t need to win anybody back. My job is to go out and win games, not necessarily to further my placement with the fans.”
But the sight of a $5 million man insulting the paying customers - McDowell even egged on the angry fans in the box seats behind first base, motioning for them to jeer louder - was not exactly what baseball wanted to see. Especially at a time when the game is near an all-time low in popularity.
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