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May 26, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
We're probably long past the issue of whether or not the pennant races were corrupted by the introduction of divisional play in 1969. We're also beyond questioning whether they were harmed by the strike, lockout or industry-wide flight from having a postseason in 1994. So let's bury the past and move on to the latest threat to any semblance of integrity to the regular season and its relevance to postseason glory.
It comes in the shape of disciplinary demon Frank "Hang 'em High" Robinson and his latest collection of suspensions. While everyone expected some form of punishment to be handed down to Dodger players and coaches for their actions at Wrigley Field last week, the total of 60 games' worth of suspensions meted out to 16 players seems to have produced genuine surprise. The general response is that somebody needs to suspend Frank Robinson, and the sooner, the better.
There are several principles at stake here. On the one hand, Robinson is obviously determined to deter what is an intolerable act. Players cannot be allowed to go into the stands. But as I pointed out last week, what's the root cause of the incident? Why did the Dodgers go into the stands in the first place? The situation was created by poor stadium security and an unobserved beer purchasing policy, both intentionally designed to be inadequate in the first place.
Stadium operations chief Mark McGuire defended the need to maintain the atmosphere of the Friendly Confines, meaning he would not have to provide any solutions that might prevent another such confrontation between players and fans. The Cubs are busy peddling the story that this is all the Dodgers' fault, as if they were just itching to go barrelling into the stands at the slightest provocation, instead of finishing a ballgame they were in the process of winning.
So the Dodgers are being punished because of the choices made by the Cubs' organization to provide inadequate security, while Robinson mumbles that "We're going to take a good look at security in all ballparks, not just Wrigley Field. Maybe we were a little lax on that." Maybe? During Sunday's Cubs game, the few pimply-faced "security guards" the Cubs provide were up to their usual tricks, flirting with one another and fleeing when the crowd would ask them to get out of the way so people could watch the game.
Robinson's solution to security ills at the ballpark? "We want security to check tickets to make sure the fans down there [near the bullpen] belong there." Setting aside the elitist notion that somehow the bad fans must come from cheaper seats, I happened to be sitting near the visitors' pen on Sunday. What does this policy translate into as far as "action" in the Friendly Confines?
One member of the Greybeards' Brigade in the lower deck made a nuisance of himself by asking for ticket stubs from every African-American who entered his section, usually the same four kids shuttling back and forth between their seats and the concession stands. No matter how many times these same four kids went back and forth, this diligent upholder of authority would ask them, and basically only them, for their stubs. Meanwhile, in the same section, everyone of age was allowed to drink all they pleased while sitting in their own seats, and nowhere was extra (ineffectual) security to be found. And despite the touted Cubs rule to the contrary, individuals continued to buy more than two beers at a time from vendors.
So what is the lesson being taught by Frank Robinson? In the absence of any meaningful deterrents, fans--or drunken oafs, if you prefer--have an opportunity to do something that only twerps like Jeffrey Maier had in one brief instant, and something that almost never happens in Wrigley Field: influence the outcome of a pennant race. That's usually more than the team manages, which must give your average drunk a tremendous sense of empowerment.
As it stands now, it's open season on anyone sitting in the visitors' bullpen; no penalty of comparable magnitude has been imposed on the guilty fans, and nothing is being done to compel the Cubs to provide adequate security. If, for the sake of argument, the Cubs were ever in the race, what's to stop their charming platoon of drunks from going after the bullpens of the Reds or the Cardinals or whatever team happens to lead whatever division the Cubs are in? In the absence of any attempt to impose responsibility on stadium operators, some well-intentioned man like Frank Robinson will suspend the division-leading players if they respond at all to a situation that is not of their making.
We cannot set aside the absurdity that the Diamondbacks should somehow reap the rewards of the Cubs' inadequate security measures and lax liquor policies. Did the Dodgers' players act irresponsibly? Undoubtedly, and for that they should be fined heavily in concert with or at least with the blessing of the Players Association. In this predicament, Major League Baseball cannot afford to move unilaterally; it only risks further humiliation in the courtrooms at the hands of the union, as it did with the John Rocker situation. There are no public credits that MLB can save up for future use by trying to make the union look like the villain in this, and the fact that they're stooping to this tactic again bodes ill for anyone worrying about future work stoppages in baseball.
There is really only one villain in this situation, and it isn't the drunks. You'll find rowdy drunks are found at every sporting event on the planet; some people don't know their limits, while some do know and just don't care. Barring liquor-free ballparks, these people part of the sports scene. The Dodgers aren't the villains either: they did the indefensible because they were put in a situation where they thought they were defending themselves from attack. Frank Robinson isn't evil: he's only doing what he thinks is right without assuming the responsibility to prevent it from happening again.
That responsibility lies with the real villain: the Cubs organization. We can blame Robinson for not meting out a suitable punishment to the Cubs themselves. What might a suitable punishment be? A seven-figure fine on the organization would be a nice place to start. The Cubs' bald-faced lies about their liquor policies and their stadium security need to be dealt with in the severest possible fashion, lest those policies do any further damage to what's really important, the pennant race.
Chris Kahrl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.