The No. 1 menace in sports isn't steroids, Kenny Rogers, $7 ballpark beers, Ian Poulter's pants, the BCS, "Bring Your Handgun Night," George Steinbrenner's mood swings, a Super Bowl in Detroit, Hootie Johnson or negotiating seminars by the NHLPA.
It's the cellphone.
Been to a ball game lately? Watched one on the plasma? It's as if stadium personnel are distributing Nokias to the first 30,000 fans who pass through the turnstiles. Everyone has a cellphone and everyone is determined to call somebody, anybody – even if they have nothing to say.
Caller No. 1: "Dude, I'm here at the game!"
Caller No. 2: "Dude, I know – I'm sitting next to you."
You can't swing a bag of peanuts without hitting someone who absolutely must use their cell from the first pitch to the last. They talk about nothing. Or they talk about everything. And is it a good thing when their "Beverly Hills Cop" ring tone drowns out the stadium organist?
I'm funny this way, but I like to go to a ball game to actually watch the ball game. I don't need a cell, a Crackberry, or a Palm to get me through it. I don't need to text message. All I really need is a beer vendor with a good memory.
If it were up to me, people using cellphones at a ballpark would be instantly eligible to have molten Sterno wax poured on their crotches. I guarantee there would be some lost signals then. At the very least, I'd restrict cell use to between innings. Or better yet, create a Cellphone-Friendly Section – in the parking lot.
Unless you're a thoracic surgeon on call, an expectant father or the team GM, you need a cellphone at a game like Mike Tice needs a Ticket Broker of the Year award. You want to chat on your Nextel about Tom and Katie? Go do it in the concourse. Otherwise, it's the verbal equivalent of second-hand smoke.
Watching these knuckleheads on TV is even worse. You've seen them: cellphones pressed against their ears, the person on the other line telling them they're in the picture, followed by a sudden hand-waving seizure. These people have become the John 3:16 sign of this sports generation, but worse.
"It's just hideous," said Dawn D'Agostino, producer of Los Angeles Angels TV broadcasts.
Because I'm pathetic and have little or no life, I TiVo every Chicago Cubs game. During the May series against Houston at Wrigley, an overweight goober wearing a retro Astros jersey (the guy looked like a giant scoop of orange swirl) sat in the first row behind home plate and waved at the center-field camera – for nine innings. Not long ago someone in an actual clown suit sat in similar seats and waved to the camera while yakking away on his cell. And just the other day four Gerbers-for-brains sat directly behind the plate – the best seats in the house – and each of them was on a cell, mugging for the camera.
"The whole cellphone thing makes me crazy," said Pete Toma, who produces Cubs broadcasts. "To me, it's going to get worse before it gets better."
That's because savvy ballpark cell users know exactly where the cameras are located. They know the framing, the shots of choice, the angles. At Wrigley, that means yahoos galore when the director chooses the center-field camera, or one of the cameras positioned next to the dugouts. The same thing happens at Turner Field in Atlanta.
"I think when you have a superstation, people know they have relatives around the country who can see them," said TBS producer Glenn Diamond, who oversees the Braves' broadcasts. "Everybody brings a cellphone. Everybody has an agenda, a gimmick. It's 'Hey, look at me on television.'"
At Dodger Stadium, cellphone users directly behind home plate are asked to complete their calls off camera. Failure to do so results in having to spend innings Nos. 4 through 8 listening to Tommy Lasorda tell you about his nasal hair.
At Angel Stadium, D'Agostino hasn't had many problems with those center-field camera angles ever since super agent Scott Boras bought a pricey suite behind home plate. But it gets a little dicier on the road. D'Agostino has even asked team PR personnel to politely intervene on the TV viewers' behalf.
"The simplicity of the game gets lost," she said. "I just want to see the game."
And we want to hear it, too. At Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, where the crowds are so small you can hear crickets chirp, cellphone users disrupt the audio feed. The oversized TV microphones – called "bat-crack mikes," because that's the sound they're supposed to pick up – are so sensitive they can detect incoming cell calls.
"I can hear it on the air, a tick, tick, tick, tick, tick – then it goes to a ring," said Brett Opdyke, who produces Florida Marlins games. "And we always pick up people having [cell] conversations behind home plate."
Enough is enough. "I'd prefer they were banned from the ballpark," Opdyke said.
Fat chance. As long as people are willing to pay almost a Hondo for a first-row seat, teams are going to allow cellphones. And now a scarier thought:
WiFi at The Jake?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.