Rolling models give youngsters another bad habit to fight

Bill Tanton

June 08, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Nervous. That's how I'm beginning to feel about tonight's game.

No, not tonight's Orioles game. I'm talking about our Little League game. I'm the manager and I'm starting to worry.

My concern is not over whether we win or lose, even though this is a playoff game and the season is over for the loser. It's certainly not about my own kid and how he plays.

Hey, I learned a long time ago that losing is part of life.

I was there when the Colts were shocked by the Jets in the Super Bowl. I was there when the Mets embarrassed the Orioles in the World Series. There are worse things than losing a Little League game.

What concerns me is how kids are likely to behave after seeing the brawl in Sunday's Orioles game -- and by now everyone with a TV set has seen it.

Nobody really worries much about these kids fighting, as such. They fight all the time and nobody gets hurt.

What you worry about is how they are affected by the sight of all those Orioles and Mariners at Camden Yards turning a baseball game into what looked like a barroom brawl.

One kid who was at the game already has told me this was the most exciting Orioles game he has ever seen. I'm sure it was. But baseball is not meant to be that exciting.

Unless the Orioles stage a miracle comeback and win the pennant, nothing that happens the rest of this season is likely to be as exciting as what transpired after Mike Mussina hit Bill Haselman with a fastball Sunday and Haselman charged the mound, kicking off the brawl.

Kids copy their sports idols, as we all know. They copy what they wear, like their Oakley sunglasses. They copy Cal Ripken's batting stance, whatever it happens to be at a given time. They copy whatever these guys do.

And the behavior exhibited by the Orioles and the Mariners Sunday suggests to kids already living in a violent world that even a disagreement in a baseball game has to be settled with violence.

I asked my son: "If one of our players is hit by a pitch, do you think he'll charge the mound?"

He thought for a moment. "Probably," he said.

I think he's wrong. At least I hope he is. I don't expect any of our players to charge the mound, but the idea is illuminated in their heads now.

Baseball fights have been going on for a long, long time. There probably will always be baseball fights.

But they are more numerous than ever nowadays. Why, the American League office wasn't able to begin studying tapes of Sunday's brawl immediately because it was still busy analyzing the tapes of last Wednesday's Angels-Blue Jays brawl in Anaheim. It'll be several days before penalties are announced by AL president Bobby Brown.

Fights started by hit batsmen charging the pitcher are so common these days that any time you see a batter struck by a pitch you half-expect him to take off for the mound.

A lot of fans find sports fights titillating. But many are horrified, too, and many cringe at the message they send to our youth.

The Orioles management, which should be embarrassed and apologetic over what happened Sunday, clearly understands the gate appeal of a brawl.

Yesterday the club's assistant public relations director, Bob Miller, was on the Orioles' flagship radio station telling fans that, among other things, Seattle will return to Camden Yards Sept. 6-7-8.

Advised Miller: "You might want to mark down those dates." In other words, get your tickets now for the rematch.

Some observers, more pragmatic than moralistic, already are saying that the brawl is the best thing that could have happened to the Orioles, that it will bond and energize the players in somewhat the way manager Hal McRae's tantrum last month appears to have lit a fire under Kansas City.

Several major publications have run stories this spring about baseball's decline and the slippage of its image.

Sports Illustrated, in its "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?" cover story, concluded that baseball today is so devoid of heroes that advertisers look to athletes in other sports to endorse their products. The events Sunday won't help baseball.

At our breakfast table yesterday my son was studying the four-column, color photo of the brawl on page one of The Sun.

"You know, at Gettysburg," he said, "that huge painting of Pickett's Charge that shows soldiers fighting all over the place? That's what this picture of the Oriole fight reminds me of."

Pickett's Charge, huh? What a shame.

Our Little Leaguers will survive it, of course. But they are a little poorer for it.

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