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Chair Toss Raises Issue of Security

Rangers' Francisco is arrested in fan incident. Dodger, Angel players say they don't know formal protocol in dealing with such altercations.

September 15, 2004|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Major League Baseball advises its players not to engage unruly fans, in an attempt to avoid nasty altercations such as the one that unfolded Monday night in Oakland, where Texas Ranger reliever Frank Francisco hurled a chair, injuring two spectators.

But recommendations easily can be ignored when players' safety becomes an issue.

"If they attack you or one of your friends, what are you supposed to do, back away?" said Alex Cora, whose Dodger teammates chased a fan into the stands at Wrigley Field in May 2000 after the fan allegedly struck catcher Chad Kreuter on the head and took his cap.

"We were just trying to defend him. It wasn't that people went up there just to exchange blows."

The fallout from that incident was staggering. The commissioner's office ordered suspensions and fines against the Dodgers totaling 45 games and $71,000. Ronald Camacho, initially arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct after being mobbed by Dodger players, was awarded $775,000 in civil penalties assessed against the Chicago Cubs and Dodgers.

A woman who suffered a broken nose after being hit in the head Monday night at Network Associates Coliseum by the chair thrown by Francisco said she intended to press criminal charges. Francisco, arrested Tuesday morning and charged with aggravated battery, a felony, is also expected to receive a lengthy suspension from baseball.

While the Rangers and Oakland Athletics disagreed over who was to blame for the altercation, which occurred in the ninth inning after Texas' Alfonso Soriano homered to tie the score at 5-5, Ranger owner Tom Hicks apologized, saying that "even in a difficult or abusive environment, players should never be provoked into such actions."

Commissioner Bud Selig echoed that sentiment in a statement, saying, "There is no excuse whatsoever for any attack of our fans by any of our players under any circumstances."

Although baseball security officials advise players to avoid conflicts with fans, several Dodger and Angel players said they were unaware of any formal protocol they are supposed to follow if they are verbally or physically abused by fans.

Bullpens on the playing field, such as the one in foul territory down the right-field line at Network Associates Coliseum, site of Monday's fracas, can be a magnet for trouble because they place visiting players near fans.

"The fans are right on top of you in Oakland, and they're probably the most outgoingly obnoxious fans in the league," said Angel closer Troy Percival, who said beer had been spilled on him and peanuts tossed at him there.

The bullpens at Dodger and Angel stadiums are behind outfield walls, giving players an extra measure of protection, security officials say. At Dodger Stadium, there is a security officer stationed in the visitors' bullpen and more officers nearby on a platform in the right-field pavilion.

If a fan continually taunts a player or exhibits obnoxious behavior, security personnel will either force the person to stop or remove him or her from the stadium, said Doug Duennes, vice president of stadium operations at Dodger Stadium.

A 10-foot wall protects visiting relievers at Angel Stadium, where a uniformed member of the Anaheim Police Department stands guard near the bullpen.

Angel reliever Brendan Donnelly said he could not envision a scenario that would justify throwing a chair into a crowd.

"You can't throw stuff," Donnelly said. "People throw batteries at you sometimes, and you want to throw them back, but what if you miss and hit a lady in the nose or a kid? You just have to call security."

Nonetheless, Donnelly said he would defend himself if attacked, and Cora did not apologize for the incident at Wrigley Field.

"It was a sad incident, but we don't regret anything," Cora said. "With time, people will realize that it wasn't our fault."

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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