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A Moral Vacuum
Baseball is out of control.
It was bad enough that New York Met leftfielder Vince Coleman Hung a lighted firecracker from a car in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on July 24, injuring three people, including a two-year-old girl (SCORECARD, Aug. 2); that Coleman cursed reporters who questioned him about the incident; that Los Angeles Dodger leftfielder Eric Davis, who was driving the car, said that he, Coleman and Met rightfielder Bobby Bonilla, who was also in the car, had laughed about the firecracker when they drove off. What's worse is that so far all this has been met with toothless rhetoric from baseball.
Last week, as the Los Angeles District Attorney's office contemplated criminal charges against Coleman—a decision was expected this week—Met manager Dallas Green pulled Coleman from the lineup but blamed reporters, telling them, "I made the decision based on your activities. It's difficult for any athlete to go through something like this and perform up to his capabilities." It took 72 hours for the Mets to issue a statement about the incident, in which it characterized such "off-field activities" as "regrettable and reprehensible." Not quite getting the message, an unidentified Met spattered reporters with liquid bleach in the clubhouse that night.
Only after public outrage mounted about the Mets' horrific conduct did the team take any semblance of action. The day after the bleach incident, Met officials met with the team and asked that the player responsible identify himself. No one came forward. General manager Joe McIlvaine later said that the players were warned that "the next guy involved in anything like this is in deep, deep trouble." The next guy? In April, Bonilla menaced a beat reporter, telling him, "I'll hurt you"—and wasn't disciplined. Last week pitcher Bret Saberhagen admitted to The New York Times that he was the mystery Met who had thrown a lighted firecracker near reporters in the Shea Stadium clubhouse on July 7. "What are they going to do? Fine me?" said Saberhagen. Of course not; Saberhagen wasn't disciplined, either.
Nor was Coleman. Trying to portray himself as a caring family man, Coleman put his wife, Lynette, and two young sons on display at a press conference in which he more or less apologized for having thrown the firecracker. He did so after photos were published of the injured two-year-old, Amanda Santos, who sustained second-degree burns under the right eye and lacerations of the cornea. Lawyers hired by Amanda's parents and the family of 11-year-old Marshall Savoy, who suffered a bruised leg in the explosion, said they will sue.
Still leaderless 11 months after Fay Vincent's ouster as commissioner, baseball appears paralyzed. Not until five days after Coleman threw the firecracker did de facto commissioner Bud Selig issue a statement, in which he spoke of "reported incidents involving New York Mets players." The statement lacked even an ounce of the appropriate alarm. To their credit, a few people in baseball did express shame, including Seattle Mariner pitching coach Sammy Ellis, who called the Mets' transgressions "a disgrace to the game" and said, "Whoever threw the firecracker and sprayed the media with Clorox should be punished, and punished severely."
In the moral vacuum in which the national pastime finds itself, such punishment is distressingly slow incoming.