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Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Updated: September 15, 11:22 AM ET
Jerry Springer's Rule No. 1

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Every once in a while you just have one of those Jerry Springer moments, when someone you don't know has called you a fat pig, a fat whore, a fat whatever, and you must respond by throwing upholstery.

Frank Francisco was suspended for 15 games by Major League Baseball and still faces the possibility of a civil suit by the Buenos.
Hey, it's 21st Century America. We televise people bathing in weevils. We have people fired by rich celebrities wearing a haircut made entirely of sleeping badgers. We wife-swap on TV. What's a chair-toss here and there?

Which brings us to Frank Francisco, the heretofore utterly anonymous Texas Rangers reliever who had had his fill of the heckler(s) in the Oakland Coliseum crowd and did what any fifth-grade educated, gap-toothed trailer-park whack-job on the Springer show would do -- he flung a chair.

And badly, as it turned out. He hit two people, one a woman who got her nose broken for her $12 admission.

Somehow, I sense she will come away from her ballpark experience with more than an autographed ball. She could end up owning the autographers themselves if her lawyer is particularly clever and rapacious.

Oh, we could wait for Francisco's side of the story, once the Oakland cops get done adding to their lunatic miscreant file, but you know what?

He doesn't have one.

The man threw a chair at other people. He is not an employee of Vince McMahon's. This isn't cultural, this isn't hormonal, this isn't anything but platinum-alloyed stupidity. He deserves what he gets, starting with the charge of aggravated battery, and more. Period.

Oakland has had a well-earned reputation over the years of having a nasty fringe element, whether it be at Raiders or Athletics games. There aren't a lot of them (most Raider fans dress the part but don't actually walk it), but they can conjugate the F-bomb after 12 beers, can call a man a greasy no-good bastard in 37 languages, and do both whenever the spirit moves them. Ichiro Suzuki was greeted with scurrilous anti-Japanese sentiment, not to mention quarters thrown at him, the first time he ever played in Oakland. There were a number of ugly incidents last Monday when the Red Sox speed-bagged the Athletics.

All that having been said, the man threw a chair. There is nothing mitigating about that, and no explanation we want to hear.

For one, he isn't 4 years old. For two, nobody throws a chair with very much accuracy, not even anyone in the chair-throwing industry. For three, you knew as soon as the chair left his hand and the law of bad behavior comes home to roost that an innocent would get popped.

At least we believe the lady in question was an innocent. There is no evidence being offered to the contrary, anyway.

What is interesting, though, is the number of ways the woman can enrich herself as a result of this spur-of-the-moment rhinoplasty. Certainly Francisco will be sued, and unless she hires a lawyer who doubles as a potted plant, the Rangers as well. The A's, too, and the Coliseum, if we know our legal system the way we do.

After all, she comes to a game and ends up with a hat made by Samsonite. How the hell is that good for business?

What else is interesting is the way the Rangers will try to spin the event, telling us all the ways in which Francisco is actually a model fellow, coming to the defense of an embattled colleague (Doug Brocail), who was exchanging profanity-enriched threats with someone reported to be a fire battalion captain from Hayward, a suburb south of Oakland.

And maybe Francisco is a hell of a fine guy. But the chair changed everything. Something inside his skull said, "Yes, this is an appropriate response." One shudders to think if he'd been standing near a bag of auto parts.

Nothin' says lovin', as the saying goes, like a torque wrench upside the melon.

Anyway, so the reports go, Francisco throws the chair, the fire guy avoids it, but it catches the guy's wife in the mush.

It's the act that clears up all the ambiguity about who said what to whom, what language is appropriate at a ballpark, the line between being a fan and being a hoodlum, and all the other issues that normally come up at times like this. There might be an occasion where someone becomes so offensive that a player might convince himself to go into the stands to address his grievances with a well-aimed fist or eight, but a chair? Sorry, a deal-breaker.

Hell, even on the Springer show, the bald-headed bouncer usually steps in before any of the panelists, union crew members or Jer' His Own Bad Self takes a gash.

Instead, Francisco and the woman get their 15 minutes of hell-fame, and lawyers across the nation are puddling drool in anticipation. If that isn't a cautionary tale of something, I don't know what could be.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com