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Insult and Batteries

Giant fans are rowdier than their Southland counterparts, as Angels are about to find out

October 22, 2002|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

San Francisco baseball fans do not need a state rivalry, north against south, to get their blood roiling.

They don't need ideological differences or arguments over water rights. They don't even need a visit from the dreaded Dodgers.

Given a history of clashes with various opponents, it seems almost any team can start the otherwise sophisticated citizenry hurling insults -- along with occasional coins, batteries and produce -- onto the field.

So, while tough crowds are more often associated with cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the Angels might face a rude introduction when they arrive at Pacific Bell Park to play the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the World Series tonight.

Ask players from around the major leagues or, for that matter, a San Francisco team executive.

"People who are Giant fans tend to be more outwardly passionate," said Jorge Costa, senior vice president of ballpark operations. "They are much more vocal, volatile. They tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves."

With the Series tied at one game each, making tonight's game pivotal, a local restaurateur plans to toss a rally monkey in the deep fryer. A season-ticket holder warns that the regulars who sit beside the visitors' bullpen will have beers in hand and tongues sharpened. Another fan explains: "The Angels aren't the Dodgers, but they are the last team between the Giants and the World Series" championship.

The Angels know what to expect.

"I'm sure [the fans] will be into it," said hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, a former Dodger. "We know some players will get abused."

The great majority of Giant faithful are well-mannered. After all, this is a city where the football team, the 49ers, draws a so-called "wine-and-cheese" crowd. But a rowdy element at baseball games has a way of making its presence felt.

During the recent National League championship series, the St. Louis Cardinals complained about "real brutal cases" of fans taunting not only players but also their relatives in the stands. "We've had a couple of our wives actually leave the ballpark and go back to the hotel because of the insults and profanity," Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa said.

After one game, fans leaving the stadium banged on the side of a St. Louis team bus. According to a police report, Cardinal pitcher Garrett Stephenson emerged and slapped a 35-year-old man.

"This was a guy who had really, really gone over the edge," La Russa said. "So I'm very pleased that Garrett told him to give it a rest [for the sake] of the ladies on the bus, told him he should shut his mouth."

The Cardinals are not the only team to face such treatment. San Diego Padre players have dodged flying batteries. Last season, a small group of fans heckled Cincinnati Red first baseman Dmitri Young to the point where he challenged them to fight. The next day, they allegedly tossed an egg into the Chicago Cub bullpen and, the following day, jeered Cub pitcher Julian Tavarez, a former Giant, until he too lashed out.

Like other professional sports, baseball has experienced an increasing number of ugly incidents between team members and fans. A Kansas City Royal coach was attacked on the field at Comiskey Park in Chicago last month and, two years ago in the same city, many Dodgers charged into the stands at Wrigley Field, resulting in 20 suspensions.

But Costa suspects Southern Californians might be specifically troubled by reports of unruliness by their neighbors to the north.

"It's the classic L.A.-San Francisco deal," he said. "The perception of people in L.A. is laid-back, passive, easy come, easy go. The perception of people in San Francisco is either a) over-educated and snobbish or b) downright volatile and hard to deal with."

At San Francisco State University, administrator Matt Itelson says the difference might be a combination of underdog mentality -- the Giants have not won a World Series since arriving from New York in 1958 -- and civic pride.

"Maybe there's more to be proud about," Itelson said. "It's such a wonderful, cosmopolitan city. Maybe that makes fans more passionate."

By now, the Angels might have heard horror stories from their manager, Mike Scioscia, and three of their coaches -- Hatcher, Alfredo Griffin and Ron Roenicke -- who played for a team that always felt San Francisco's wrath.

"I saw it from the perspective of being a Dodger, which was an incredible experience," Scioscia said. "We'd get pummeled with oranges, everything you could imagine, on our way to the dugout and back to the clubhouse after the game."

Hatcher also recalled debris sailing onto the field. He played alongside Reggie Smith who, in 1981, charged into the stands after a fan threw a plastic batting helmet at him.

No one agitated the San Francisco crowd more than Tom Lasorda, an executive and former manager for the Dodgers, with his showmanship and talk of bleeding blue. "None of my players would walk with me for fear that someone was going to shoot at me and miss and get them," he said.

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