Many dollars little sense

Kevin Cowherd

August 06, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

I'm still marveling at the new method baseball players are using to show appreciation to their fans, which is to throw a powerful explosive at them from a speeding car and laugh like the dickens.

As you probably heard, this is what New York Mets outfielder Vince Coleman did to a bunch of autograph-seekers in L.A. two weeks ago.

And, as so often happens when you throw an explosive into a crowd, two little kids and a woman got hurt.

Yeah, I know. Go figure, huh? Boy, it sure isn't like it was back in Babe Ruth's day, when baseball fans at least had a healthy respect for explosives.

These baseball fans today, you throw explosives at them and they just stand there! Like they're waiting for the shrapnel to hit them!

Hey, isn't anyone at a ballpark today familiar with the term "Incoming!"?

Anyway, at first Coleman -- who is no Henry David Thoreau in the best of times -- couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. After all, it wasn't like he threw a full stick of dynamite or anything.

Heck, according to police experts, Coleman threw something that was the equivalent of only a quarter stick of dynamite.

I mean, it's not like it could stop a tank or wipe out an entire platoon of Green Berets or anything. Oh, sure, it was powerful enough to take off a finger or a toe. But, hey, that's why they have plastic surgery! Besides, the way Vince looked at it, you've got nine other fingers and toes, so what're you crying about?

But then some killjoy district attorney lodged felony charges against Coleman the other day and now the outfielder suddenly seems contrite.

He's offered to pay the medical expenses of the injured fans, which is certainly big of him.

(Look, those terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center, you didn't see them reaching in their pockets and saying to their victims: "How much you need?")

Still, you could almost see Vince thinking: Ah, heck, next time I'll just sign for the fans and get it over with. This lobbing explosives at them . . . it's just too much of a hassle.

To me, the incident served to dramatize the growing rift between professional athletes and their fans.

Here we pay these ballplayers three, four, five million bucks a year, they live in big mansions, drive around in $80,000 luxury automobiles, are revered by millions of adoring fans, and then we wonder: Gee, why can't they be more like us?

Well, because . . . because they just can't, that's all.

Because they're not like us. Because they're filthy rich and pampered and spoiled.

Because you're talking about a group of young men who, for the most part, have never had to make an airline reservation for themselves, never had to book a hotel room, never had to hassle with a plumber, never had to worry about being overcharged at the deli counter -- never even had to balance a checkbook, for God's sake!

Tell me: How can you expect someone like that to relate to the average fan?

I don't know . . . maybe if I were filthy rich (Ha! That'll be the day!) and pampered and spoiled, I'd act the same way. Sure would like a chance to find out, though.

In any event, it has gotten to the point where many of these ballplayers resent even a simple chore like signing autographs and might -- if Coleman's behavior is any example -- begin firing off Claymore mines at their fans in the not-too-distant future.

Understand, this is no defense of the professional autograph seeker, especially those slimeballs who pay a kid 10 bucks to hassle players for signatures in hotel lobbies or stadium parking lots.

But when a little kid on his own politely approaches a player for his signature and is blown off -- or, worse, blown up -- well, no wonder baseball is going to the dogs.

Here's a true story for you: While slumming as a sportswriter at spring training six or seven years ago, I watched the Orioles team bus pull up to a stadium in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Waiting for them was a group of handicapped kids in wheelchairs. The kids were holding pennants and baseball caps and scraps of papers, and as the players came off the bus, the kids shouted to their favorite players for autographs.

Well, here's the part of the story that will warm your heart.

Exactly one player stopped to sign autographs, and that was the Milkman himself, Cal Ripken.

Then again, I guess you have to look on the bright side.

At least the other players didn't lob any hand grenades at the kids.

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