Kevin Youkilis, Ray Allen Should Both Be Cheered in Returns to Boston

Kevin Youkilis, Ray Allen Should Both Be Cheered in Returns to BostonThere has been much debate about the kind of reaction Kevin Youkilis will receive when he comes to bat for the first time as a member of the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on Monday night.

While the safe bet would be a steady chorus of "Youuuuuks," there will probably be a few fans in attendance who will boo the 33-year-old infielder. And that would be a shame.

Youkilis' departure from Boston wasn't smooth — he had gripes with Sox management, particularly manager Bobby Valentine — but the underlying reason for his exit was a baseball one: Will Middlebrooks was performing and Youkilis wasn't. But Youkilis really hasn't done anything that merits him getting booed on Monday.

No one likes it when players argue with management, but Youkilis still gave it his all when he was out there on the field. Professional athletes want to be in the lineup as much as possible, and it is only natural that Youkilis was upset with not knowing where, or if, he would be playing every day after six years as a starter.

Youkilis wrote a letter to Red Sox Nation on Sunday, and it was clear that he treasured his time in Boston. He called his final game as a member of the Red Sox on June 24 "the most emotional day of my life on the baseball field," which is saying a lot considering that Youkilis won two World Series during his time in Boston.

most emotional day of my life on the baseball field

Read more at: http://www.nesn.com/2012/07/kevin-youkilis-writes-letter-to-red-sox-fans-on-eve-of-homecoming-thanking-them-for-support.html

Youkilis never took shots at the Boston fans, and his effort and intensity on the field never wavered at any point during the whole saga. Those are the two main reasons a fanbase could justify booing a returning athlete, so it does not make sense to boo Youkilis on Monday — or, for that matter, Ray Allen when he returns as a member of the Heat this fall.

Though Allen joined a hated rival, he, like Youkilis, treated the Boston fans with class in his departure, taking out a full-page ad in the Boston Sunday Globe to thank his supporters. It's understandable that fans are unhappy that Allen joined the Heat, but his decision to sign elsewhere should not immediately nullify the five outstanding years he gave the Celtics.

Think about how you would greet Allen 20 years from now if you saw him on the street. Would you go up to him and immediately lambast him for joining the Heat for the final few years of his career? Or would you thank him for his service to the team, the memorable playoff runs and the 2008 NBA championship? If you do the former, you're probably the also kind of person who got the "does not play well with others" report cards in kindergarten.

Even someone like Johnny Damon shouldn't have been booed in his return to Boston. Yes, he joined the Yankees in 2006, but he was also an integral part of the team that ended the Red Sox' 86-year title drought just two years earlier. Does he really deserve to be booed because he's wearing a different piece of laundry?

The only case where booing a player in his return is acceptable is when the player in question does something to truly rouse the anger of a fan base. Holding a television special a month after tearing off your jersey after your team's final game — as LeBron James did in 2010 — qualifies. You'd also be excused for booing Roger Clemens when he returned to Fenway as a member of the Blue Jays in 1997. Players who immediately rededicate themselves and regain their old form after coasting by while appearing to be washed up are worthy of scorn.

But apart from these two types of cases — disrespecting the team and the fanbase and failing to give one's best effort — and short of committing any off-field crimes, most returning athletes should be cheered for what they meant to their old team when they were around.

Most people would prefer to be remembered for their redeeming qualities, not the mistakes they've made. Don't we owe athletes the same respect?