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Dodger Players, Coaches Suspended for Roles in Fight With Fans at Wrigley Field

* This matter has a rather simple solution: Players and fans have their places--and should stay there.

May 25, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

If 19 Dodgers really fought Chicago Cub fans in the Wrigley Field right-field seats last week, there would be no more right-field seats.

If 19 Dodgers really attacked fans, there would have been hospitalizations, not arrests.

If 19 Dodgers really blended into a single-minded war machine--if any baseball team anywhere is capable of that--then I'm Frank Robinson.

The problem isn't that baseball's look-at-me vice president boiled all those Dodgers for their involvement in the despicable incident of May 16.

It's that he boiled them all in the same pot.

Most of the Dodgers who went into the stands that night were mostly guilty of just being baseball players.

You know, the sort who will follow an aggrieved teammate to the mound after a brushback pitch, even if they don't agree with the cause or like the player, simply because it would look bad if they didn't.

You've seen it, the sort that takes one step forward, two steps back, and looks for somebody to hug? On that dreadful night, all but two or three Dodger fell into that category.

For all the beer and anger that soared through the videotape, most of the players went into the stands not to fight--heck, the Dodgers wish some of these guys would have more fight--but to stop the fight, carry out their teammates, and not be accused of being another Pedro Martinez.

That's the Boston pitcher who was recently publicly ripped by the Cleveland Indians for not leaving the dugout during an altercation that his inside pitching helped instigate.

For all those Dodger bystanders, cut their suspensions to one game as a reminder that a dozen wrongs don't make a right.

Of the 64 games' worth of penalties handed out, that would leave roughly 46.

Give all of those to Chad Kreuter and the other one or two Dodgers--we still don't know which ones for sure--who led the charge and actually fought the fans.

Those guys should have been thrilled with Wednesday's actions. Those guys should thank Frank Robinson. Those guys got off easy.

Going into the stands to engage in a brawl over, what, a cap? A souvenir?

Crossing the sacred line between spectators and participants, no matter what the emotional fuse, is always wrong.

I know, because I recently did it.

It was three weeks ago, for my first-edition column about the Dodger fan reaction to John Rocker.

I bring this up now because, in these matters, my credibility is still serving a suspension.

If you don't remember this certain ill-advised column, then certainly you remember the debris-throwing and fan-mooning that inspired it.

It was John Rocker's first appearance here since the Atlanta Braves' pitcher made racist and anti-foreigner comments in a national magazine this winter.

For eight innings, fans crowded around the Brave bullpen to cheer him and ask for his autograph. There were only a few hecklers.

For eight innings, my blood boiled.

Then Rocker took the mound and all nastiness broke loose.

The stadium rocked with boos and jeers, the most inspired anger here in years. Then out of the stands flew cups of beer, trash, and then some idiot who ran to second base and pulled down his pants.

Although certainly he was no bigger idiot than I.

Because while all this was happening, I was cheering.

So caught up in the outrage against the outrageous, I became outrageous myself.

I quickly wrote, and 15 minutes later filed, a story that applauded the fans not just for their booing, but for their pelting and pants dropping.

I sat overlooking empty Dodger Stadium for a few moments with a contented smile.

Baseball's redneck mascot had come to the most diverse crowd in the major leagues, and he had paid.

Then, I gasped.

And I thought, what have I just done?

Applauded people for the same sort of intolerance for which Rocker stood accused?

Endorsed lawlessness?

Written something that I would be ashamed to show my children?

I quickly called the office and asked that the column be changed to include applause only for the boos, and boos for everything else.

My new story noted that while it was great for fans to use their voices, it was wrong for them to take the field or throw things on it.

There was only one problem.

The presses had already started running. Other stories were stacked ahead of mine. At that moment, my new story would have to wait.

For 600,00 newspapers, I waited.

The next day, I didn't even need to see a newspaper to understand the damage.

Only half of our circulation received the new, sensible story. The other half called, or wrote, or e-mailed me in anger.

I tried to answer every complaint with the same two words, the only answer I could give.

"You're right."

In applauding the fans for abusing John Rocker, I had been guilty of the same impulsive stupidity for which Rocker is now famous.

I was going to wait to address this issue until Rocker visited New York next month, writing it in hopes--surely futile--that Mets' fans will not make the same mistake with their emotions.

But watching the Dodgers fight the Cub fans last week reminded me that this column could not wait.

Fans should stay in the stands. Players should stay on the field. So simple. So scary.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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