Imagine the worst kind of New York Yankee fan, on his way out of his cave to watch his team play a postseason game at Yankee Stadium, conducting a last-minute check of necessities. Game ticket, lucky cap, Mattingly T-shirt, subway token and Titleist for beaning other team's second baseman. All set. He is armed and dangerous.
Here is a partial list of the ordnance that Yankee fans launched at the Seattle Mariners in the first two games of an American League Division Series last week: a softball; a shot glass; a Walkman; a golf ball; plastic bottles; batteries; a small fortune in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters; and torrents of beer. And George Steinbrenner, the wanderlust-struck New York owner, thinks the area outside Yankee Stadium is dangerous?
When the series relocated to Seattle for the weekend, Mariner fans hung a sign proclaiming WELCOME BACK TO CIVILIZATION. Not quite. In one lapse of decent conduct at the Kingdome, in Game 3, Seattle fans heaved a tomato, a baseball cap and a quarter, the last of which smacked New York rightfielder Gerald Williams in the mouth.
Elsewhere in the Division Series round, a fan in Boston dashed onto the field and made a headfirst slide into second base. In Los Angeles one trespassing fan turned cartwheels in the outfield and another raced toward Dodger rightfielder Raul Mondesi and handed him a baseball card and a pen.
The new expanded postseason has turned into garbage time, after a regular season in which Dodger fans caused the first major league forfeit in 16 years by lobbing baseballs, like grenades, onto the field, and a Chicago Cub fan hopped a wall to attack Chicago reliever Randy Myers on the mound. Take me out to the ball game? Buy me some peanuts and a flak jacket.
"It's not just baseball," Philadelphia Phillie outfielder Andy Van Slyke said earlier this season. "It's a problem throughout society, a lack of respect for authority and other people. I always thought that people who are the very best at what they do should be admired for that. That's not true anymore."
Baseball crowds have been ugly before. As long ago as 1934, fans in Detroit so tormented St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Joe Medwick during the World Series that commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered him removed from a game in the interest of safety. And there have been occasional ugly incidents ever since. But what happened last week looms more as a pattern than a broken line of incidents.
Why is it not enough anymore for a ticket buyer to be simply a spectator? He must now be part of the action, do more than cheer or wave a handkerchief as Minnesota fans did in the simpler times of the 1987 World Series. Yankee fans do not use handkerchiefs. For that matter, as evidenced by the lines at the men's-room sinks at Yankee Stadium, they do not always use urinals, either.
From a seat in the field-level auxiliary press box for Games 1 and 2, I watched Yankee fans throw garbage at each other, attempt to tear down a press-box TV that obstructed their view and repeatedly shout obscenities at Seattle leftfielder Vince Coleman. It was one of the better-behaved areas of the stadium. This, I thought, even before the first pitch, is no place for women and children. Mercifully, few could be found. Yankee pitcher David Cone, who toiled across town in the days when the Mets filled Shea Stadium, had never seen anything like it. "This crowd had a dangerous edge," he said.
They are the new Bronx Bombers, and one of their carpet bombings in Game 1 covered the outfield with so much trash (above) that a maintenance crew had to haul out a large garbage can to collect the mess. Three fans ran onto the field in New York, including one who slapped hands with Yankee catcher Jim Leyritz as he circled the bases after his Game 2-winning homer.