Tuesday, October 19, 1999

The shocking thing? It's not shocking

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — I have seen too much. I have listened too long. I have watched too many crowds become mobs, and I have lost my sense of outrage.

        When bottles started flying from the stands Sunday night at Fenway Park, and the American League Championship Series teetered on the brink of riot, I was neither shocked nor angered. I should be ashamed of myself, probably, but I have become resigned to rotten behavior at sporting events.

        “People were like animals, man,” New York shortstop Derek Jeter said of the Boston crowd after the Yankees' 9-2 victory. “They were throwing bottles and magazines. It was like we were ducking grenades out there. It was scary.”

        Oh? Except for the eight-minute delay when Yankee manager Joe Torre pulled his team off the field, was Sunday's episode really that much different than a normal Friday night in the Bronx? Haven't mean-spirited spectators become as much a staple of our sporting events as the $3 Coke? Didn't another egregious umpiring blunder at the expense of the Red Sox, combined with that franchise's historical frustration against the Yankees, create a situation as predictable as it was combustible?

        People care too deeply about the games others play, and they drink too much, and they sometimes mistake a ticket for a license to lawlessness. There's nothing particularly new in that — St. Louis' star Joe Medwick was pelted by so much produce and so many bottles that he had to be removed from the field for his protection during the seventh game of the 1934 World Series in Detroit — but the old standards of decorum are in decline, and society is growing numb to the numbskulls.

"No barriers'
        “What's allowed that to happen?” Torre said Monday. “Watch TV, go to movies, listen to radio. Everything's down now — there are no barriers anymore.”

        There's so much anger out there, and there's so much danger in getting involved. We aren't as quick to insist on civility anymore because the drunk screaming profanities in front of our children might turn violent, and he might be armed.

        Life's too short to take silly chances for the sake of common courtesy. Life can get shorter in a hurry.

        The Boston papers were full of reproach Monday morning. At least three different columns characterized the ninth-inning ragefest as a “disgrace” to the city. Some of this, surely, was a result of the episode being aired on national television. Yet on the heels of the rude and unruly behavior at last month's Ryder Cup, just down the road in Brookline, the Fenway fracas was viewed not as an isolated incident but as evidence of a troubling trend.

        “I have this theory,” Yankee coach Willie Randolph told the Boston Herald. “Fans can just get too, too fanatical about this sport. It's changing. It's different. I know all about the (Yankee-Red Sox) rivalry, and how it can get in both cities, but this is too much.”

It's not just Boston
        Spectator violence is a problem that reaches far beyond Boston, of course. While there has been no episode in this country as appalling as the knife plunged into tennis player Monica Seles, a looney recently came out of the stands in Milwaukee to assault Billy Spiers of the Houston Astros. Even in staid Cincinnati, several fans were arrested at the Reds' one-game playoff against the New York Mets for running onto the field during the game.

        Saturday, while the Yankees' Roger Clemens warmed up for his start against the Red Sox, police surrounded the bullpen as a precaution against excessive abuse. The level of security accorded the Yankee pitcher suggested a state visit by Fidel Castro.

        Sunday's incident was prompted by a disputed out call against the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning, following a six-run New York rally in the top of the ninth. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, the soul of tact, said Boston manager Jimy Williams incited the crowd with his hat-throwing protest.

        “When Georgie Porgie speaks, I don't listen,” Williams said Monday. “I didn't incite the fans. The situation incited the fans.”

        Anyone with eyes could have seen it coming. I wish I had been more surprised.

        E-mail Tim Sullivan: tsullivan@enquirer.com.