But when a partly filled plastic beer bottle was thrown at volatile Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley last week, and he emptied the bottle and spiked it into the front row, Bradley was suspended, and apologized, and volunteered to attend anger-management classes. If Milton Bradley were a board game, he went from Aggravation to Trouble to Sorry! in a single night. But bottle-throwing fans don't endure such international public humiliation.
"As a player you're always expected to deal with issues in the appropriate way," says Pistons president Joe Dumars, a former Bad Boy. "At some point I think we're going to have to start demanding the same thing from some of these fans that cross the line."
If you do heckle, remember these rules: Be clean, be clever, be seated. Example: When a bald soccer player missed a header at Dalymount Park in Dublin, a fan shouted, "Hey, Charlie, chalk your cue!"
When outfielder Rob Ducey let a ball get past him for a two-base error, a fan in Baltimore yelled, Ricky Ricardo--style, "Du-u-ucey, you got some 'splainin' to do!"
Alas, these two examples--which are posted at the Heckle Depot (www.heckledepot.com), a website devoted to the art of needling athletes--are far outnumbered by postings like this: "We were a few beers in, so we kept heckling. We ended up getting escorted out by security."
The ticket holder hereby agrees: This has to stop. "I've been in baseball for 30 years," says Gamboa. "And I hate that I'll always be known as the guy who got attacked in Chicago."
Gamboa's mugging left him with permanent hearing damage in his right ear. He now does work for a group called S.A.V.E. (Survive a Violent Encounter), which aims to reduce violence in sports at all levels. "I come from the '60s," Gamboa says, "when a husband and wife could take their kids to a game without hearing profanity or racial epithets."
And so the ticket holder will be vigilant. "Fans have to point their fingers at people who are causing problems," says Cardinals reliever Steve Kline, "and get those people escorted out of there."
Hear that, America? It's time to take back our seats.