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

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