Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I Went To A Rangers Game And A Jerry Springer Show Broke Out!!

What happened in Oakland Monday night is just another reminder how the rules of sports often are in total disagreement with rules of society.

If you don’t know, Frankie Francisco of the Rangers was in his bullpen when fans in Oakland heckled him. Francisco picked up a plastic chair and threw it into the crowd…hitting some fans and breaking a woman’s nose. The next morning, Francisco was arrested for aggravated battery. He was released on bond.

Last year, Rangers outfielder was hit in the head by a cell phone thrown from the stands in Oakland.

But, to suddenly criticize today’s players or how society at large is going down the tubes is both premature and futile. Crap like this has gone on as long as sports have been around. Back in 1912, Ty Cobb went into the stands to smack around a heckler. Cobb, one of the best and fiercest baseball players of all time, pummeled this man. The man, really had no shot….not because he wasn’t an athlete….but because he had just ONE HAND!!! And that hand only had two fingers!!

Babe Ruth chased a fan in the stands. The fan got away…the Babe came back and stood on the roof of the dugout and challenged anyone in the crowd the come down and fight him. No one took the challenge.

Four years ago, Cubs fans threw beer all over the Dodgers pitchers in the bullpen and tried to steal their hats off of their heads. The players, and some coaches, went into the stands and a melee ensued.

In 1981, Reggie Smith, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was being heckled….and snapped! He climbed into the stands, got a few punches in, then the Giants FANS started jumping on him and pounding him. Eight fans were charged with misdemeanors and Michael Dooley, the ire of Reggie Smith, went to jail. In 1961, Jimmy Piersall had to take down a couple of fans who jumped the fence to attack him at Yankee Stadium. In 1995, Randy Myers of the Astros gave up a key HR…and a fan, who was reaching for his pockets, tried to attack Myers….who tackled and held him on the ground.

This isn’t a joke. Things can get scary. Most of us remember that almost exactly two years ago, two fans climbed out of the stands at Chicago’s Comisky Park and blindsided Royals’ coach Tom Gamboa, who was 20 years older than the oldest attacker [the other attacker was his 15-year old son]. Gamboa suffered a permanent hearing loss. It could have been worse; they found a knife in the attacker’s pocket. The very next season, after security was “beefed up” a fan at Comisky ran onto the field an attacked an umpire.

So now, the blame game begins. It is the fault of the A’s to have adequate security. It is the Rangers fault for not turning the other cheek. It is the fans fault for thinking they can start this. It is Bud Selig’s fault because, well, any problem in baseball is his fault!

And, of course, everyone scrambles to find ways to keep this from occurring. Number one on this list is usually how close the fans are to the field. One of the great things about baseball is how close the fans are to the action [unlike football]. But, of course, that also can lead to problems. Many of the semi-older ballparks have their bullpens in little areas that are pretty much right there with the fans down one of the foul lines. Some have them mixed in close with the outfield stands. The newer parks usually keep the fans much higher up than the bullpen is….so the fans can look into there, but there is limited personal contact.

One of the other all-time issues is alcohol sales. Many ballparks limit the sale of alcohol so that after a certain inning [after the 7th inning stretch] there is no more beer for sale. That would work….but a fan still can have quite a few beers in the first 6 innings…not to mention the beers he drank tailgating or at a bar before the game. One solution could be to get rid of beer vendors in areas that fans are near players. That would force fans to actually get up from their seat and go get their beers. While that doesn’t seem like a big improvement….if a fan is semi-drunk, he may not be motivated to actually get up and go anywhere……instead, just wait for the “beer guy” to come around for another round.

Also, players DO need to be held accountable. As I opened up…I said that sports and society usually have different rules. You can’t go out a beat the crap out of someone in the street, or your yard….but you can do it on the diamond, rink or gridiron. Yeah, recently, certain NHL incidents have made it to the court of law. And as far as fans vs. players…they must realize that when the cross that wall…they’ve crossed the line. And there is NO EXCUSE for throwing ANYTHING…let alone a chair…into a CROWD of people! That is reprehensible.

Look, I’m not one of those guys that thinks that fans can do or say whatever they want to players. Just because I bought a ticket doesn’t give me the right to think that I can completely degrade another human being just because he’s wearing a jersey with another city’s name on it. But, some do. And players need to remember that these people do go out of their way to come see you play a freakin’ game. Yeah, they’ll say some garbage. The “you suck” is nothing to get bent up about. But, I’m sure that some fans go a little further with their spewing. Personal information, racial slurs or even a family tragedy get some people to say some very horrible things. In an incident like this, the player needs to go to security [which is all over the place in most ballparks]….point the guy out….and get him removed from the game, or possibly banned from the stadium for life.

Either way, this is just another black eye for the sports world, and athletes in general.

The sad thing is that in a few weeks….no one will care anymore.

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