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In my day, they just called you a bum.
It's hard to imagine a nicer place on earth this Monday evening in May than Fenway Park. The weather is warm, the air is faintly fragrant with the perfume of lilacs, the Boston Red Sox are in first place, and 29,000 fans have come to watch the home team play the Milwaukee Brewers. Many of them are savoring a close, well-pitched game. Then, in the fourth inning, the Red Sox's struggling designated hitter, Jack Clark, whiffs for the third out.
"You lousy, overpaid piece of——!" yells one young lout in the bleachers. "Sit down and——." Here, gentle reader, the man suggests that the batter should perform an acrobatic sexual act.
In the next inning Mike Marshall steps to the plate. He is hitting a mere .333, but as many fans know from reading the newspapers, he would like to play more often. Marshall pops up. "So what are you——complaining about, you——?" shouts another boorish fan. What would Miss Manners—not to mention Mrs. Mike Marshall—have to say about such a remark?
While most people who attend sporting events conduct themselves in a decorous manner, there has been, in recent years, an undeniable slippage in the behavioral standards of many fans. The sort of epithets shouted at Clark and Marshall are commonplace nowadays, and they can frequently be heard in ballparks and arenas across the land. People feel free to say anything to a player, and they often do. Says Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Dale Murphy, "It has become a little more personal, a little more profane, a little more vulgar, and sometimes it's just plain sick. Players always say, 'Just ignore it. If you say anything, it'll get worse.' But it has gotten worse; worse than it ever was."
Consider these recent scenes at America's ballparks:
•Cleveland Stadium, May 10. Indians outfielder Albert Belle, a recovering alcoholic who was once known as Joey Belle, had just returned home from a West Coast swing during which he was harassed by fans who shouted racial insults and made references to his drinking problem. In the seventh inning of a game against the Angels, a Cleveland fan named Jeff Pillar yelled from a seat near Belle's position in leftfield, "Hey Joey, keg party at my house after the game. C'mon over." Belle heard the taunt and reacted viciously, picking up a baseball and hurling it into Pillar's chest from a distance of 15-20 feet. (Three days later, fans wearing T-shirts with bull's-eyes on the fronts and ALBERT BELLE FAN CLUB on the backs began showing up in the leftfield stands. American League president Bobby Brown, less amused, suspended Belle for seven games without pay.)
•Yankee Stadium, May 13. Early on the morning of May 10, Oakland Athletics rightfielder Jose Canseco, always a magnet for controversy, had been spotted by a New York Post photographer emerging from pop singer Madonna's Manhattan apartment building. Consequently, Canseco found himself on the tabloid's front page. While Canseco stood in the on-deck circle in the first inning, a fan named Kenny Shabs reportedly unleashed a stream of bigoted and salacious insults from a box seat. After lining out, Canseco made a beeline for Shabs and began yelling and pointing at him before being restrained by A's manager Tony La Russa and some of his teammates. For the rest of the game, hundreds of fans in the rightfield seats shouted insults and made obscene gestures at Canseco. Some of them threw bottles and pieces of fruit at him. Said Canseco after the game, "I don't mind basic heckling. But when it gets into your private life, it's uncalled for."
•Candlestick Park, May 13. The Phillies—without centerfielder Lenny Dykstra and catcher Darren Daulton—had just arrived for a three-game series against the Giants. A week earlier Daulton and Dykstra had been seriously injured when Dykstra, who was charged with drunk driving, lost control of his car while driving home from teammate John Kruk's bachelor party. As Kruk took his position in leftfield, Giants fans waved car keys at him, and someone yelled, "Where's Lenny? He out drinking?" Said Kruk, "It was all I could do not to go into the stands and hit somebody. They were making fun of two friends of mine who were almost killed. If one of those fans' friends got hurt, would I yell at them? Don't tell me they haven't had a few drinks when they say that stuff. How do they get home? And if they wrecked, should I bad-mouth them? It gets out of hand, the things they say; things about my wife. It gets to you after a while."
•Yankee Stadium, May 15. California Angel outfielder Luis Polonia, convicted by a Milwaukee court in 1989 of a misdemeanor charge for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, was taunted by fans who made graphic reference to the Milwaukee incident. A few even threw chicken bones at him. Last July, at a game in Oakland, Polonia reacted to a similar situation by hitting a young fan. This time, wisely, Polonia didn't react.