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They have no manners. Baseball's code of conduct is breaking down. "I was taught not to show up the other guy," says Van Slyke. "If you hit a home run, you ran around the bases, head down. It's different now. When a rookie stares down a veteran or argues with an ump or takes an hour to get around the bases, he's liable to get flipped."
Baseball players love the other game. The young players see Charles Barkley woof and John Starks tweet, and they think that it should be Showtime in baseball. "They should really institute a no-taunting rule," says Ray Miller. "That's how a lot of this stuff starts."
Subtraction by expansion. This latest round of expansion, encouraged by Peter Ueberroth, has considerably thinned out the pitching corps. As more homers are hit, pitchers have more reasons to retaliate. This strikes some pitchers, such as Bill Swift of the Giants, as silly. "I gave up back-to-back homers in San Diego," says Swift, "but that was no reason to take out my frustration on somebody else." Swift, though, is probably in the minority.
The times, they are a-changin'. "Some of the problem is societal," says Pirate coach Bill Virdon. "Kids today show less respect and take less responsibility." Many coaches and managers echo Virdon's thoughts, and while none of them blamed Benjamin Spock by name, they made it clear that some of their younger charges were probably in need of a good spanking.
Other reasons were given. Rodgers thinks that because batting helmets are so good, they make hitters fearless. American League umpire Tim Tschida blames the heat of both the summer and the divisional races.
Another cause is stupidity. This reason is perhaps best personified by the White Sox television broadcast team of Tom Paciorek and Ken Harrelson. After some Chicago hitters were brushed back by Milwaukee Brewer pitchers a few weeks ago, Paciorek and Harrelson urged retaliation from the safety of their broadcast booth. Milwaukee manager Phil Garner rightfully took umbrage. He might also have pointed out to Harrelson that the Hawk became a folk hero in Boston after he was signed to replace Tony Conigliaro, who had been horribly beaned by Jack Hamilton.
So what, besides hiring Dr. Ferdie Pacheco for Baseball Tonight, can be done about the pugilization of baseball? Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland says, "I had a talk with [National League president] Bill White, and I told him if they really want to stop this, they can. Just put a security guard—a big one, like a bouncer at a bar—in each dugout. When two guys get into it, the guards go out and break it up. And then do what they do in hockey. The third guy in gets ejected. Give him live days with no pay. It may sound farfetched, but I think it will work. But they have to make sure they have two big guys who could handle someone the size of Dave Parker or Cecil Fielder."
Seriously, the baseball commissioner—oh, that's right, there isn't one. Well, then, the executive committee should first revise the rules now applied by umpires. As it stands, if an ump thinks that a pitcher is throwing at a hitter, he can warn or eject that pitcher and his manager. "That rule," says Van Slyke, "is a road to hell, paved with good intentions. It just keeps the problem festering."
To help the umpires, baseball should combine the third-man rule of the NHL with the draconian fines now being handed down for fighting in the NBA. Then again, maybe baseball owners shouldn't do anything at all if they want to increase their fan base. Here's a letter published in the Aug. 8 Dallas Morning News, written by David Tippets of Colleyville, Texas:
"I've never had much regard for baseball. Nolan Ryan has changed my opinion. His pummeling of Robin Ventura epitomizes what baseball needs, because in general, the long, tiresome games lack the excitement the average American seeks.... More slugfests would not only alter my current apathetic attitude toward baseball, but they would also increase my attendance.... More fights will help restore society's faith that baseball is indeed America's national pastime."