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Playing Hardball

April 28, 2003
April 28, 2003

Table of Contents
April 28, 2003

Motor Sports

Playing Hardball

Wait, wait, wait. Before we let a couple of trailer-park nut
bags without enough blood in their alcohol streams ruin the way
millions watch baseball, let's all take a cleansing breath.

This is an article from the April 28, 2003 issue Original Layout

People are talking about adding so much security at ballparks
that they'll end up assigning an usher to every fan. They're
talking about putting up nets between the players and the fans,
an awful feature of stadiums in Japan. They're talking about stun
guns and guard dogs--and that's just in case Roseanne tries to
sing the national anthem again.

But what baseball needs to do is less.

In fact the next time some genius with more beer in him than
brains decides to run onto the field and get medieval on
somebody, baseball needs to do nothing at all. For five minutes.
I want security to move with the speed of postal clerks with
bunions. Because for those five minutes players from both teams
will be piled on top of Tommy Twelvepack, reconfiguring the
joker into steak tartare.

When security finally drags him off, Diamond Vision will show the
world a guy that looks like a six-foot welt. You won't get
another bum on the field until 2050. "If a guy is going to come
out on the field, he's going to get what he deserves," says
Minnesota Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "I mean, did you see
what the [Kansas City] Royals did to this last guy?"

Oooh, yes; did you? When a drunk fan named Eric Dybas, 24,
attacked umpire Laz Diaz at a Chicago White Sox home game last
week, the Royals gave him the full-on Uday Hussein greeting. Diaz
later admitted force-feeding the man mouthfuls of dirt and grass
under the pile. On the outskirts of the pile, one Royal could be
seen stomping on Dybas's bare legs with his metal cleats. Hey,
you need role players.

"Players see a guy like that as free bait," says Arizona
Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez. "We know it might be our
one chance to get in our WWF wrestling moves."

"Plus you know it's on TV," says Colorado Rockies reliever Todd
Jones, "so you better not just try to love him down to the
ground, or you'll be taking crap about it in the clubhouse for
months."

A picture is worth 1,000 laws. Ask yourself: Has anybody run
onto an NFL field since Baltimore Colts linebacker Mike Curtis
clotheslined that cretin more than 30 years ago? How many
lint-brains jump onto the ice at NHL games, when they can see
players coming off spitting bicuspids?

"What you do," says Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, "is
you drag him back to the clubhouse, where there's no cameras.
We'd treat the guy like family--a crime family. Baseball players
aren't the most mentally stable people anyway." Sir, you're about
to digest an entire wad of chew. Enjoy!

Somebody asked massive New York Yankees first baseman Jason
Giambi how he'd like it if he were attacked by a fan. "I might be
the happiest guy on the planet," he said. "Because then I'd get
to beat the ---- out of somebody."

"As an outfielder, I get hit by things all the time," says
Gonzalez, "coins, metal stuff. You pretend you don't feel it
because there's nothing you can do about it. So when somebody
comes out on that field, he's paying for the frustrations all the
players have for the fans who've ridden them all year."

Do you hear that? There's something bigger here than a couple of
fans from the wrong side of the DNA helix. Behind all the
physical confrontations there's a mounting tension between fans
and players. But how does baseball expect its fans to act when
there's a brawl between players every third game? When a
hit-by-pitch becomes the sinking of the Lusitania, always
followed by at least a step toward the mound and a menacing cock
of the bat? When baseball tolerates both benches--and
bullpens--emptying onto the field? The NBA and NHL suspend
players for leaving the bench when a fight occurs, why can't
baseball?

But there's more to it than that. In a game in which it seems
like half the players change uniforms every year, the fans'
allegiance goes to the gorgeous new downtown ballparks, not the
players. A welder making $25,000 a year feels only bitterness
toward a shortstop making $25 million, but he can relate to a
cool place to drink a cold beer or seven.

Not only are there a lot fewer people going to games--seen the
droopy attendance figures lately?--but also a lot of the people
who do go aren't really fans of the game. They go to get a head
start on their nightly buzz, to see who else is there and to do
whatever it takes to get on SportsCenter.

Like it or not, we live in the age of Jackass, when doing
colossally stupid and painful things to your body gets you an MTV
series and a movie; when video-game characters crack their heads
open in one screen and continue skateboarding in the next; when
the average 24-year-old figures violence just tickles. Until the
tension abates, players have only one choice: Use those five
minutes to show him how wrong he was.

Son, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Barry Bonds. We
accidentally told him you were a reporter. Have fun!

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
"If a guy is going to come out on the field," says A.J.
Pierzynski, "he's going to get what he deserves."