Ground Rules for Fans

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in a month so now is a good time to review the baseball rules of etiquette. I offer below “Bob’s Ground Rules for Fans”. This is an abridged version from my draft book, Deep Flies.

11.01 Stand and remove your hat for “The Star Spangled Banner” and “O Canada”

Some American sports fans appear to be in a race to the bottom of the European soccer fan barrel. Every year it seems fans become more inconsiderate and obnoxious.  Poor behavior begins with the churlish refusal to remove caps during the anthem. It’s important to begin the game with a sign of respect for the country and the game so closely associated with it.

Ball players are sometimes criticized for fidgeting and scratching their privates during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner but they are impatient to play and hear it nearly every day. Not always cheerfully. Jim Leyland, then Pirates manager, recalls, 
”I knew we were in for a long season when we lined up for the national anthem on opening day and one of my players said, ‘Every time I hear that song I have a bad game’.”

If your team is playing Toronto, remember to take your hat off and stand respectfully through O Canada because disrespecting Canadian national symbols can be disastrous for your team. At the second game of the 1992 World Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, the U.S. Marine Corps color guard presented the Canadian flag upside-down. Apparently Canadians prefer that the stem of that big red maple leaf point down – who knew? The Blue Jays responded with a rare display of Canadian nationalistic fervor; down by one game, they won that night and then went on to win the Series.

11.02 Unless you are Morganna the Kissing Bandit stay off of the field

Invasions of the field by drunks and exhibitionists are much more common today than in my youth. It seems that some beer-fueled idiot tries to run across the Fenway outfield every few weeks or so. Thankfully the craze for streaking seems to have waned – much to the relief of park security staff who have to tackle the bums.

Some historians believe that today’s on-field invasions were sparked in part by Morganna, an exotic dancer whose Hall of Fame stats were 60-23-39 (you may decide to not share those figures with your children but I thought you would want to know). During her storied career Morganna was busted, so to speak, almost 20 times for sprinting on to the field to kiss ballplayers including Pete Rose, Don Mattingly, George Brett (at least twice), Nolan Ryan, and others.

11.03 Do not reach into the field to interfere with the players.

During the 1996 American League Championship Series, 12 year-old Yankee fan Jeffrey Maier reached over an Orioles outfielder and into fair territory to catch Derek Jeter’s fly ball. The ball was ruled—incorrectly—a home run, tying the game and making possible a Yankee victory.

However, if the ball is clearly both in the stands and an opposing player is reaching for the ball, it is perfectly okay, in fact it is a fan responsibility, to contest the ball. In July 2006, Ben Affleck, celebrity occupant of Fenway Park seats near the Red Sox dugout, was roundly booed for wimpily contesting Angels’ first baseman Howie Kendrick’s catch of a foul pop-up. It may have been Ben’s worst performance since Gigli.

Severe penalties are meted out for interfering with a home team fielder. Consider Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan who may have prevented Cubs’ outfielder Moises Alou from catching a ball during a 2003 playoff game. Reprieved, the Marlins’ staged a comeback victory. Bartman had to be escorted out of the park by security and later received death threats and had to leave Chicago. The now disgraced Ron Blogadovich, then Governor of Illinois, suggested that Bartman leave the state permanently and Jeb Bush, then-Governor of Florida, offered him asylum.

11.04 Heckle well or not at all

Philadelphia fans are famous for booing Santa Claus. Pitcher Bo Belinsky, an underachieving pitcher who heard his share of boos, maintained that, “Philadelphia fans would boo funerals, an Easter egg hunt, a parade of armless war vets and the Liberty Bell.”

In 1948 The Sporting News published the “Rules of Scientific Heckling” composed by Pete Adelis, Philadelphia’s  legendary 280 pound, “Iron Lung of Shibe Park.” The Yankees so admired Adelis they once brought him to Yankee Stadium, all expenses paid, to heckle the Indians. Sadly, Pete couldn’t follow his own rules and when he was hired by the Phillies as a jeer leader to taunt Jackie Robinson and other black players he disgraced himself and the Phillies.

Boston fans are especially erudite. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous 1860 comment that “New York is a sucked orange” has been abbreviated to “Yankees Suck!” My older son’s favorite heckle came during a 1990 Yankees-Red Sox game as Dennis Eckersley faced Yankee Scott Brosious. A man seated behind us had kept up a steady and creative patter all evening. But when Brosious stepped into the batter’s box, the inebriate outdid himself. “Something smells Brosious in here,” he sneered, his intonation good enough that nearby fans instinctively sniffed. But it was when Eckersley looked close to finishing off the pinstriped batter that the heckler loosed his finest: “Super-calli-fragilistic-Eck-will-get-the-Brosious.”  That’s the sort of art to aspire to.

11.05 Don’t be a Rickey – let kids catch the balls hit into the stands

Never knock over a child to get to a ball. If a youngster has a play on the ball, let him or her have it. TV cameramen have gotten pretty good at filming the morons who bowl over kids to get a souvenir ball, and – invariably – hold the ball aloft in triumph.

If the ball is coming right at your head and you don’t have to move, of course you have to catch it, but you don’t have to leave your seat to dive into a scrum for a ball landing three rows down. The only possible exception might be when you have a fiduciary responsibility to snag a particularly historic ball such as Barry Bonds’ 756th homer but, on second thought,  that might be a bad example.

A surprising number of adult males are willing to embarrass themselves to snag a souvenir that retails for $12.99. This urge isn’t just felt by ordinary fans. Watching a May 7, 2007 Mets-Giants game, Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson caught a foul ball and kept it instead of handing it to a young fan. Henderson said “Everybody was asking me for the ball, I said, ‘You’re not getting this ball.’ I always wanted to get a foul ball. This one’s going on a shelf at home.”

Posted by Bob


No Smoking Gun

With these words, Mr. John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism official, sought to deflect criticism of the Administration’s performance surrounding the attempted bombing of Delta flight 253 on Christmas Day. This defense of their performance wasn’t in the same league as Janet Napolitano’s, “The System Worked” comment but, then again, it would be nigh on impossible to utter something as inane.

The fact is, except on TV or in the movies, it is rare to find a smoking gun before the event occurs. In a previous lifetime I was a credit officer in a large bank. We created reports that were formally produced quarterly but could be produced more often if so desired. These reports evaluated the credit portfolio in a variety of ways: loan size, type of loan, credit rating, industry, change in rating, etc. None of these measures, by themselves, would definitively predict that a loan was going to default. However, if a borrower showed up as an outlier in a number of these categories it was a safe bet that corrective action needed to be taken. By looking at a number of indicators we were able to be proactive in addressing potential problems.

Banks are able to process millions of transactions simultaneously to verify credit card transactions. Why can’t the U.S. government with all of the resources it can marshal do the same thing? One would think that, in this day and age of high-powered computers and sophisticated relational databases, it would be possible to aggregate information on these 500,000+ individuals and update it real-time, or close to it. By swiping a passport one should be able bring up enough information about an individual to determine if a more thorough inspection is required. If an individual shows up as one of the 500,000+ on the terrorist watch list that should result in special attention be given. This is when a full body scan would be called for, for instance.

Some ‘flags’, though, are so profoundly red that cross-checking a data base should be unnecessary. If he has had a visa revoked by another country that should increase the scrutiny he receives. If he wants to pay in cash, with no passport, comes from a failed state, has no luggage, and only wants a one-way ticket enough alarms should go off to refuse to board him without even checking a database. He should be interrogated by the police immediately.
Just as banks have all the information they need within their own four walls of to minimize losses, the U.S. government has the information to prevent potential catastrophes like almost occurred over Detroit. It requires doing the basic blocking and tackling to organize it, disseminate it, and act on it. This doesn’t require rocket scientists. It requires good old-fashioned common sense. If something looks amiss, it probably is and deserves a second look.

Americans assume that the government is taking the obvious precautions to protect us. The events on Christmas Day showed us that the system didn’t work; there were multiple failures. The Obama administration should give Jasper Schuringa, the man who prevented the explosion, the highest award he can. If it wasn’t for his heroism the Obama presidency would have been over. More importantly, our lives would have become less safe as the enemy was further emboldened.

Posted by Jim

Banking on the Jolly Roger

My older son, a naval officer aboard the destroyer USS Mahan, returned recently from the Horn of Africa where his ship monitored pirates and assisted in the capture of a group of Somali freebooters. This event may account for my picking up and reading Michael Crichton’s posthumously published novel, Pirate Latitudes. Unlike Crichton’s science-based novels, Pirate is a rollicking, bawdy tale about Captain Charles Hunter, an English “privateer” who preys on Spanish galleons in the Caribbean. Hunter operates during the early 17th century out of the English outpost of Port Royal, Jamaica a town peopled by frisky convict women exiles, lecherous and usually inebriated seamen who provide livelihoods for many of the women, and a number of treacherous opportunists eager to profit from Hunter’s activities.

A privateer is of course a government-sanctioned pirate who pledges, in exchange for his license, to share the bounty from his predations. The privateer’s warrant is an example of the maritime sector’s many financial innovations such as casualty insurance and market risk bearing arrangements. Even unsanctioned pirates had a sophisticated risk sharing system that sometimes involved so-called law-abiding officials who accepted shares of plunder in exchange for safe passage and anchorage. In return for providing legal cover to Hunter and other privateers, England’s King Charles I received ten percent of the gross value of the prize. The remainder, after paying off the investors, was distributed among the officers and crew.  The Spanish of course regarded the privateers as common pirates and executed those that they captured.

We usually tell our students that equity-financed business arose in the 17th century with the founding of the joint stock Dutch East India Company in 1602 and the English East India Company by royal charter from Elizabeth in 1660 but there were equity-like instruments used to finance and share maritime risk long before then. Meir Kohn, a Dartmouth economics professor, reminds us that the sea loan was mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi in 2250BC. The sea loan was usually payable only when the goods arrived or were sold and thus served to share the risk, one of which of course was piracy, between the lender and the trader.

I was alerted to the continuing financial sophistication of pirates when my son sent me a link to a Military Times article that describes the new stock exchange set up in Haradheere, Somalia to finance 72 (up from 15 four months ago) listed  “maritime companies” ten of which have already successfully hijacked vessels and will pay dividends upon receipt of the ransoms. Reuters quotes Mohammed, an official of the exchange:

The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.

Jim and I don’t condone or romanticize piracy but it is fascinating to see an example of entrepreneurial activity financed both by the well-to-do and the ordinary citizen looking for an above-average return. Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old Somali divorcee and one of the investors interviewed by Reuters noted,

I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,” she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony. “I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the ‘company’.”

I am not sure which part of Sahra’s story I find more intriguing, her enviable investment record or the fact that Somalia somehow maintains a functioning divorce court able to set and enforce an alimony judgment which of course is just another form of equity instrument for risk and reward sharing.

Posted by Bob