Somebody asked massive New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi how he'd like it if he were attacked by a fan. "I might be the happiest guy on the planet," he said. "Because then I'd get to beat the —— out of somebody."
"As an outfielder, I get hit by things all the time," says Gonzalez, "coins., metal stuff. You pretend you don't feel it because there's nothing you can do about it. So when somebody comes out on that field, he's paying for the frustrations all the players have for the fans who've ridden them all year."
Do you hear that? There's something bigger here than a couple of fans from the wrong side of the DNA helix. Behind all the physical confrontations there's a mounting tension between fans and players. But how does baseball expect its fans to act when there's a brawl between players every third game? When a hit-by-pitch becomes the sinking of the Lusitania, always followed by at least a step toward the mound and a menacing cock of the bat? When baseball tolerates both benches—and bullpens—emptying onto the field? The NBA and NHL suspend players for leaving the bench when a fight occurs, why can't baseball?
But there's more to it than that. In a game in which it seems like half the players change uniforms every year, the fans' allegiance goes to the gorgeous new downtown ballparks, not the players. A welder making $25,000 a year feels only bitterness toward a shortstop making $25 million, but he can relate to a cool place to drink a cold beer or seven.
Not only are there a lot fewer people going to games—seen the droopy attendance figures lately?—but also a lot of the people who do go aren't really fans of the game. They go to get a head start on their nightly buzz, to see who else is there and to do whatever it takes to get on SportsCenter.
Like it or not, we live in the age of Jackass, when doing colossally stupid and painful things to your body gets you an MTV series and a movie; when video-game characters crack their heads open in one screen and continue skateboarding in the next; when the average 24-year-old figures violence just tickles. Until the tension abates, players have only one choice: Use those five minutes to show him how wrong he was.
Son, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Barry Bonds. We accidentally told him you were a reporter. Have fun!