Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Players, officials see need for Tasers
The video of a 17-year-old fan being chased around the field and finally Tasered at a Philadelphia Phillies game drew laughs as it became an Internet sensation.
Around the major leagues, though, many players and managers aren't joining in.
While some question the use of force on a teen who ran on to the field as a lark, plenty of players, baseball officials and security officers say it's difficult to make that determination in the moment. Recalling the stabbing of tennis star Monica Seles in 1993, and the beating of Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa in 2002, they stressed the need to feel safe on the field.
"You've got to do whatever you think is necessary to stop some of these fans," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's a wacko fan. I'm all for it."
It says something about the distance that has grown between fans and players, but also about the concern that's developed about security among everyone at the ballpark.
Some of baseball's enduring images come from fans on the field -- like the two kids in Atlanta patting Hank Aaron as he rounded second base after breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record in 1974. Then there was Morganna, "the Kissing Bandit," who made a tradition of sauntering onto the field and plopping red-lipsticked smooches on players' cheeks in the 1970s and 80s.
But there also is a darker side to fans getting in on the action, particularly in the last 20 years or so. Gamboa was mugged by two fans at a Royals-White Sox game in Chicago. The Houston Astros had to rush to the aid of outfielder Bill Spiers when he was attacked by a fan in Milwaukee in 1999 and the NBA's Indiana Pacers brawled with Pistons fans in Detroit in 2004.
"I think it's important that the players are protected out there," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "You never know what's going to happen. So many times we've had guys run on tennis courts with knives or whatever, we just have to make sure that's taken care of."
Philadelphia police sent a strong message on Monday night when Steve Consalvi jumped onto the field and eluded capture as several security guards gave chase. Finally, a police officer shot Consalvi with a Taser and he fell face-first to the turf.
It was the second time an unruly fan had gained attention in Philadelphia this season. A New Jersey man was charged last month after he intentionally vomited on an off-duty police captain and his 11-year-old daughter in the stands during a game.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has criticized the use of force in the latest incident and Philadelphia police have said they are still reviewing whether to change their policy regarding having officers respond to non-threatening on-field incidents.
The police got no arguments from most players and coaches. Only applause.
"Fans should not be on the field. It can be scary, because you just don't know what a guy might do," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it's important to try to get a guy to the ground. In a situation like [Philadelphia's], that will deter somebody from doing that again."
Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee knows the image of a fleet-footed fan juking out a portly security guard in the outfield can be comical. But he admitted to being frightened about one getting too close.
"You never know what their intentions are," Lee said. "They have probably been drinking, or maybe have taken drugs. You don't know what they are going to do."
Reds outfielder Laynce Nix said it doesn't take a Taser-armed guard to make him feel safe on the field.
"You never know what kinds of crazies are out there, but I don't feel threatened," Nix said. "To be honest, I kind of wish somebody would come out for me. I would take pleasure in taking care of him, but I feel safe with the security."
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said each team sets its own security standards. The Minnesota Twins, for one, do not use armed police officers on the field. They employ a group consisting primarily of unarmed, off-duty prison guards to monitor the field.
Twins vice president of operations Matt Hoy said the team gets better liability insurance coverage if its employees are not carrying weapons, "but in today's world, things are constantly changing and we may get to a point where something like that is necessary."
"The players are obviously in great condition, but they're really defenseless," Hoy said. "If somebody wants to come out there and do something to them they probably could. The hawk side of me says I'd love to have them all have Tasers, but I don't know if that's reality."
Consalvi's zapping has been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube, and it's been a big talker with fans at ballparks far and wide in the past few days. Few have offered their sympathies.
Knowing security officers had Tasers "definitely would affect my decision" to run onto the field, said 17-year-old Matt Anderson of Hastings, Minn., who was attending the Tigers-Twins game on Thursday.
"When I first saw it, it seemed a little over the top and unnecessary for someone who wasn't causing trouble," Anderson said. "But then when you think about it, if you let that go, what are you going to let go in the future?"
Indeed, during the very next game at Citizens Bank Park, a 34-year-old man sprinted onto the field in the ninth inning.
The Philly fans' reaction?