Sheffield didn't charge into stands, so he at least deserves some credit

April 17, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE GARY SHEFFIELD incident took me back in time again, which seems to happen more and more as I near the big half-century mark in September. I've witnessed dozens of players confront dozens of obnoxious fans over the 26 years I've covered baseball, and each of those incidents had one thing in common.

The fan needed a butt-whipping.

I know, I know, you can't go there. The infamous Detroit basketbrawl last fall gave us the archetypal example of why every athlete who leaves the playing surface to attack the paying customers needs to face severe discipline. The potential for escalating violence and serious injury is too great to condone anything that might incite a riot in the stands - though it apparently makes for very compelling TV.

Personally, I would favor caning unruly fans on the JumboTron (especially at Lincoln Financial Field), but I doubt I'm going to get a consensus on that in our increasingly permissive society. I guess I'll have to settle for a little perspective from the new generation of sissified sports pundits who viewed the minor Sheffield incident as another sign of the coming apocalypse.

I have yet to see a baseball player run over to the railing and initiate a verbal or physical altercation with a fan. Even Albert Belle, whose legendary temper still makes me bolt upright in the middle of the night, was provoked into every one of the fan incidents that put him on the suspended list.

That's why Sheffield deserves credit for collecting himself before the incident became really ugly. He reacted viscerally to the Boston fan who took a swipe at him when he was fielding a ball at Fenway Park on Thursday night, but all he did was push the guy away and then glare at him. He may have wanted to go into the stands, but he controlled his rage and - hopefully - averted any serious disciplinary action from the commissioner's office.

In a perfect world, Sheffield would have done even less. He would have just asked for security to escort the offending fan out of the building (which is what happened anyway). But these are human beings who are playing at a high level of emotion - or so we hope.

I'm reminded of a disciplinary hearing I covered in the 1980s, when American League president Bobby Brown meted out relatively light punishment for a modestly violent on-field incident. He explained his decision with one sentence that summed up the situation perfectly.

"It's not a tea party," he said.

I get all nostalgic just thinking about it.

The padding has been installed on the new brick walls down the first and third base lines at Oriole Park, and I've got to give the project an unqualified thumbs up. If you didn't already know, you wouldn't even suspect that the Orioles and Maryland Stadium Authority spent a small fortune to spruce up the ballpark with new brickwork.

I tried to find stadium operations director Roger Hayden to congratulate him on the successful completion of the second phase of the Camden Yards hidden-brick-wall project, but he still hasn't turned up.

Actually, I'm a little worried about him. I read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and there's a lot of suspicious-looking new masonry around here.

This must be some kind of record. Terrell Owens went almost three months without doing anything obnoxious in public, but the streak ended last week when his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, contacted the Eagles and asked to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed after dissing the Ravens last year.

"This is not about me being greedy or selfish," Owens told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

That's certainly a relief, because it definitely looked like Owens was being greedy and selfish until he clarified the situation. Turns out that he doesn't believe the contract is binding because (and this rationale could break new legal ground for professional athletes everywhere) it wasn't big enough.

"Just take a moment and look at my stature in the game," Owens said.

What a coincidence. I also believe that my salary does not reflect my "stature" in the newspaper industry. But, fortunately, we have a union, so The Sun has been unsuccessful in its attempt to lower it.

The NFL's online store has been receiving orders for official Atlanta Falcons jerseys bearing the name of Michael Vick's alleged alter ego - Ron Mexico - but the league has finally found a source of revenue it is not willing to tap.

League officials have placed "Ron Mexico" on the list of banned names and obscenities that it will not place on personalized jerseys.

That's too bad. I faced the same kind of closed-mindedness in the 1980s when the California DMV denied my request for a personalized license plate bearing my last name, but I really thought society had progressed since then.

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