NIGHT OF HORROR
After a Monday-night NFL game at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. in 1976, a 41-7 victory by the Patriots over the Jets, Foxboro Police Chief Daniel McCarthy urged the town's residents to "hope and pray" that no more night games would be played there. McCarthy was upset about a frightening evening during which a fan was stabbed, a police officer assaulted and his gun stolen, and drunkenness and brawling resulted in the arrest of more than 60 people. Thirty-five others were treated at hospitals.
It's a poorly kept NFL secret that hooliganism increases during Monday-night games, which, when played in the East, start at the relatively late hour of 9 p.m. to accommodate West Coast TV viewers. This keeps many families at home and brings out a tougher, younger crowd that spends the hours before the kickoff drinking. Conditions are particularly volatile at Schaefer. Built hurriedly in 1971 to keep the Patriots from being moved out of New England, the stadium is accessible only via U.S. Route 1, which is consequently clogged before and after games with monstrous traffic jams. That keeps people on the scene drinking and carousing all the longer. After the '76 debacle, police began the practice of frisking fans entering Patriot games in an effort to keep out liquor. But beer is still sold inside the stadium, which, after all, is named after a brewery, and little has been done about traffic congestion. And Chief McCarthy's pleas notwithstanding, another Monday-night game was held at Schaefer last week, a 23-14 New England victory over Denver.
It was another night of horror. Because the game hadn't been sold out, a last-minute rush of ticket buyers added to the usual traffic problems, prompting many fans to leave their cars a mile or more away and walk along Route 1 to the stadium. The roadway is poorly lighted, as are the stadium's parking lots, and pedestrians had to dodge cars at every turn. A 69-year-old man crossing Route 1 was fatally injured when he was hit and thrown 100 feet by a car driven by a teen-ager who, police said, had been drinking. Less tragically, many other fans didn't reach their seats until halftime, and when they did, they found youths flinging cups of beer at one another, Frisbees being thrown to and fro at near-decapitation velocity, and fistfights breaking out everywhere. There were at least 50 arrests and more than 100 people were evicted.
As cops swept into the stands to haul away limp bodies, they were booed and doused with beer and mustard. One policeman was kicked in the back during a scuffle and required hospitalization. Some alarmed fans left even before the start of the fourth quarter. Outside, youths rampaged through the parking lots, snapping off auto antennas, kicking in car doors and urinating on tires. (At the '76 Monday-night game a medic administering to a heart attack victim under the stands was urinated on by a passing fan.) Exiting traffic was so backed up that some fans didn't get out of the parking lot for more than two hours. Bonfires were built, and drinking and fighting continued till the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Though scarcely to blame for fan rowdyism, which is a growing problem in the U.S. and other countries, the NFL and the Patriots could do more to alleviate some of the conditions that encourage it. When questioned by SI's Bob Sullivan, league and club officials at first tried to downplay the Monday-night disturbances at Foxboro. But after Sullivan revealed that he had been at the game and had sat in the stands, New England's assistant general manager, Patrick Sullivan, admitted, "There was a load of people here drunk out of their minds. We got a number of calls from people who said they're not coming back. We'll bring in the National Guard if we have to make things safe." But nobody seems eager to ban the sale of beer, a big revenue producer. Meanwhile, suggestions to illuminate and/or widen Route 1 get nowhere because of bickering over who should foot the bill. As for Daniel McCarthy, he was succeeded as Foxboro's police chief in 1976 by John Gaudet, but Gaudet's words have a familiar ring: "I'd rather not have night football here."
A PASS AT LAST
It was cause for celebration Thursday night when, in the 160th of his team's 162 games, Oakland Shortstop Rob Picciolo drew his first base on balls of the 1980 season. Picciolo is the undisputed champion of non-walkers, that breed of free-swinging, unselective and—sometimes—unfeared batters who seldom draw a pass. Granted, he didn't break the major league record (13) for fewest walks in a season, which is shared by the Giants' Jesus Alou (1965) and the Yankees' Mickey Rivers (1976), but that's only because a player must be credited with at least 500 at bats to be eligible for the record. Because Picciolo shared the A's shortstop job with Mario Guerrero and frequently batted ninth when he was in the lineup, he fell far short of 500 in 1980.
But Picciolo has Alou and Rivers beat in a walk. In his three previous big league seasons, he had a total of 860 at bats, yet walked only 14 times. In '80 he had 271 at bats but didn't draw a base on balls until a 9-4 loss Thursday to the White Sox when, after Chicago Pitcher Rich Dotson had worked the count on Picciolo to 3-1, Umpire Marty Springstead called a ball, prompting cries of jubilation from the Oakland bench. In the season finale on Sunday, a 5-4, 15-inning loss to Milwaukee, Picciolo walked for the second and last time of 1980.
The fact that Picciolo has hit only .228 during his career (.240 this season) helps explain his failure to draw many walks; pitchers don't want to walk a weak hitter, especially with the top of the order looming. That Picciolo bats from a stand-up stance, providing the pitcher with a large strike zone, is also a factor. So is his failure to be more selective about pitches. "I'm too anxious to hit," he says. "I've tried crouching but it doesn't feel natural. The crouch gives the pitcher a smaller strike zone. I plan to work at it this winter and on picking up the flight of the ball and being more patient."