April 24 - With Baseballs...Still in Play
My name is Jerry. And I'm a baseball purist.
There, that wasn't so hard.
Okay, I can admit it. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” performed on the Hammond Organ during the
seventh inning stretch? Can't do without it. But “YMCA” featuring the grounds crew after the fifth? Don't
get me started... The bombardment of the senses from all angles is another column for another day.
Some people have pet peeves. Mine are more like pit bulls. Though fairly innocuous in and of
themselves, some have led me to -- how should I say it? -- somewhat irrational responses.
When it comes to baseball, I hold the field as sacred ground. Nothing gets me more riled than the
presence of interlopers ruining the game by their misplaced presence on the field.
And I don't just mean the obvious fan-player confrontations such as the dysfunctional Chicago father-
son combination who cowardly attached Royals base coach Tom Gamboa at Comiskey Park in 2002, or
the liquored-up Wrigley Field rooters who thought the Dodgers bullpen was a souvenir shop in 2000. Or
even Steve Bartman, who has illogically been blamed for all the errors, physical and mental, that led to
the Cubs' playoff collapse in 2003.
The ceremonial First Pitch is a time-honored baseball tradition that dates back over a century with
Presidents and other dignitaries as principles. To me, President Bush is supposed to throw out the first
pitch. Or Yogi Berra. Or the U.S. Army captain on leave from duty in Iraq. Somehow, the Vice President
of Marketing of W.B. Mason doesn't quite fit.
Now, I work in public relations. I understand the benefit to the company of having its representative
throw out the first pitch, and the source of income for the team that the sponsorship represents. But I
still feel this dude doesn't belong on the field any more than I do, or any other fan for that matter. Okay,
maybe booing the guy isn't the appropriate response -- it draws more than its share of strange looks
from surrounding fans and embarrassed groans from the unfortunate soul who accompanies me to the
game. It's probably the highlight of the guy's life (it would be one of mine), and here I am giving him the
Bronx cheer. Recently I've restrained myself from booing, but I can't bring myself to cheer, even idly, for
Mr. VP. Get off the field and let the players play. So there.
That transgression pales, in my mind, to fans sitting along the baselines who just can't help themselves
and have to reach down for balls still in play. Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard warns
against the practice before every game with appropriate pauses and a voice that makes the disclaimer
sound like poetry. Players and ballboys throw literally dozens of balls into the stands, from batting
practice to third outs to fouls. Get one of those. Leave the action to the players.
Not that this is a new phenomenon. I happen to be reading Autumn Glory, a book about the first true
World Series, the 1903 affair between the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates. It's an excellent
account not only of the series itself but of the uneasy relationship between the established National
League and the upstart American League at the turn of the 20th century (quick aside: my favorite
anecdote so far involves Pirates club secretary Harry Pulliam hiding portly A.L. boss Ban Johnson's
shoes as the two were on the same train to Worcester in pursuit of signing the same player, ensuring
the player's return to Pittsburgh).
Author Louis Masur's description of the scene at game 3 at the Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds in
Boston makes me think this was the game most affected by the crowd in the history of baseball.
Thousands of fans who had stormed the diamond before the game were finally displaced to the edges
of the field, just inches from the foul lines, and 10-deep from the outfield wall, just 180 feet from the
baselines. Several lazy flies turned into ground-rule doubles and at least one hit that by all accounts
would have gone for three or four bases was curtailed to two. The result of the contest was completely
changed, to the detriment of the homestanding Americans, and fan involvement was the reason.
Baseball clearly has bigger problems than fans interfering with play. But if the baby step is reaching
down to touch a ball hit down the line, and the next step is interfering with a player -- witness the Boston
fan swiping at Gary Sheffield as he retrieved a ball near the fence last week -- how far is that from
escalating into something more serious? We can never have a Tom Gamboa situation again.
True, that Boston fan was removed from the stadium (though not arrested, as originally reported) and
his season tickets were revoked. And the Fenway Park security guard did a bang-up job of preventing a
bad situation from escalating to something worse. But in such an obvious violation, that action was
easily taken and well-publicized.
I don't think teams should separate fans from the field with the “Jeffrey Maier” grating the Yankees have
installed at the Stadium's short right field porch. But I would like to see better and more obvious
enforcement of the more common transgression of fan interference.
Now, about that W.B. Mason sales manager...