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Hey, Fan, Put A Cork in It

Oct. 11, 2004
Oct. 11, 2004

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Oct. 11, 2004

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Hey, Fan, Put A Cork in It

PLEASE READ carefully the terms and conditions on the back of this ticket, which does not entitle its holder to throw: bottles, batteries or up.

This is an article from the Oct. 11, 2004 issue

This ticket is not a license to hock loogies at Julio Lugo, the Devil Rays' shortstop, even if Tigers bullpen catcher Todd Maulding has been spit on while warming up pitchers at Safeco Field in Seattle. "There's times I've wanted to go into the stands," says Tigers reliever Jamie Walker, "but you just can't do that."

The holder of this ticket agrees that incessant heckling is not safeguarded in the Constitution, even if A's fan Craig Bueno insists that "it's an American tradition." It isn't. Many fans will be surprised to learn that U.S.A. does not stand for "U Suck, A!"

"On my teams, from 1998 to 2003, the stuff we heard being yelled from the stands got more and more over the edge," says Tom Gamboa, the former Cubs and Royals coach who was beaten by a father-and-son tandem of White Sox fans at Comiskey Park in September 2002. "We would often ask each other on the bench, 'What makes people so angry that they have so much to vent at the ballpark?'"

Craig Bueno and his wife, Jennifer, specifically selected their A's season seats near the visitors' bullpen, in easy earshot of opposing relievers, precisely "so we can get on them a little bit." When one of the pitchers on their To-Boo list--Frank Francisco of the Rangers--reacted appallingly, by throwing a chair that broke the nose of Mrs. Bueno, the couple resorted to a true American tradition: the threat of a lawsuit.

Too many fans put the pro in profanity. "Coaches and players would say to me, 'Because a guy bought a ticket, he has the right to call me an a?'" says Gamboa. "Cheering and booing and taunting are part of the action. But a line has to be drawn."

"Just because you buy a ticket doesn't give you the right to be an idiot," says Giants first baseman J.T. Snow. "If I go to a restaurant and the food's not right, I don't yell, 'The chef sucks!'"

The ticket holder hereby acknowledges this: "[Heckling] has a lot to do with fans looking at pro baseball players and thinking at one time they were good enough to be out there," says Brewers manager Ned Yost. "They think they can do just as good as you."

And so the heckler hereby concedes that the target of his invective is, in every sense of the phrase, the bigger man. He was promoted through AAA, AA and A ball. You throw AAA batteries, skip AA meetings and once passed out at the Big A in Anaheim.

Incidentally, outfielders are paid to shag flies, not Maxflis. And yet the final Expos home game was delayed 10 minutes after some troll threw a golf ball onto the field. If you're throwing balls in a stadium and you're not in uniform, you don't need a cutoff man, you need to be cut off by the beer man.

But when a partly filled plastic beer bottle was thrown at volatile Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley last week, and he emptied the bottle and spiked it into the front row, Bradley was suspended, and apologized, and volunteered to attend anger-management classes. If Milton Bradley were a board game, he went from Aggravation to Trouble to Sorry! in a single night. But bottle-throwing fans don't endure such international public humiliation.

"As a player you're always expected to deal with issues in the appropriate way," says Pistons president Joe Dumars, a former Bad Boy. "At some point I think we're going to have to start demanding the same thing from some of these fans that cross the line."

If you do heckle, remember these rules: Be clean, be clever, be seated. Example: When a bald soccer player missed a header at Dalymount Park in Dublin, a fan shouted, "Hey, Charlie, chalk your cue!"

When outfielder Rob Ducey let a ball get past him for a two-base error, a fan in Baltimore yelled, Ricky Ricardo--style, "Du-u-ucey, you got some 'splainin' to do!"

Alas, these two examples--which are posted at the Heckle Depot (www.heckledepot.com), a website devoted to the art of needling athletes--are far outnumbered by postings like this: "We were a few beers in, so we kept heckling. We ended up getting escorted out by security."

The ticket holder hereby agrees: This has to stop. "I've been in baseball for 30 years," says Gamboa. "And I hate that I'll always be known as the guy who got attacked in Chicago."

Gamboa's mugging left him with permanent hearing damage in his right ear. He now does work for a group called S.A.V.E. (Survive a Violent Encounter), which aims to reduce violence in sports at all levels. "I come from the '60s," Gamboa says, "when a husband and wife could take their kids to a game without hearing profanity or racial epithets."

And so the ticket holder will be vigilant. "Fans have to point their fingers at people who are causing problems," says Cardinals reliever Steve Kline, "and get those people escorted out of there."

Hear that, America? It's time to take back our seats.

"Just because you buy a ticket doesn't give you the right to be an idiot," says Giants first baseman J.T. Snow.
COLOR PHOTOSIMON BRUTY