King Kaufman's Sports Daily

A ballplayer throws a chair into the stands, breaking a woman's nose, and outraged typists agree: Must be the fans' fault. Plus: Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day.


Salon Staff
September 16, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

Am I just missing the sputtering moral outrage over Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco throwing a chair into the stands in Oakland and breaking a fan's nose? Is it just my imagination that there was a lot more righteous indignation over Randall Simon playfully whacking a racing sausage on its costume head with a bat last year, resulting in a skinned knee for the intern inside the get-up?

Sure, the Francisco incident Monday night has been a national story, the subject of much talk radio chatter and a little bit of late-night TV one-linering. But while everyone who's commented on the incident is careful to say there's no excuse for what Francisco did, I'm just not seeing him vilified the way Simon was. I'm not seeing him held up as an example of the moral degeneration of our country, or our athletes, or something, the way Simon was.

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Shoot, he's not even being vilified the way Saints receiver Joe Horn was for pretending to talk into a cellphone after scoring a touchdown last year. It seems to me that Allen Iverson is thought worse of for shooting too much than Frank Francisco is for physically attacking the customers.

You know who's taking a lot of heat, though? Fans.

Rangers relievers say the chair incident was provoked by over-the-line heckling from A's fans near the bullpen. The fans at the center of the incident, admitted chief heckler Craig Bueno and his wife, Jennifer, who got hit in the honker by the chair that Francisco had aimed at her husband, say the heckling of the Rangers was everyday stuff. It contained no ethnic slurs or anything beyond the regular old "you're a bum!" kind of thing that goes on at every game, they say. No one has offered any evidence to the contrary.

And yet, the prevailing argument in a lot of what I'm reading and hearing is that this thing has to be the fans' fault, because players just don't attack fans without provocation. This is such an asinine idea I don't know where to start.

I wish I could throw a chair at the head of everyone who makes that argument, just so I can tell them it was their fault. Hey, man, writers don't just attack people without provocation.

MSNBC.com aimed a double-barreled attack on fans, a Mike Celizic column headlined "MLB teams encourage idiotic fan behavior" and another by JT the Brick with the headline "Classless fans ruin it for everyone else."

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Mr. Brick proclaims himself the national media's foremost authority on the subject of Oakland fans because he sits in the stands at Raiders games. But he's also been to quite a few A's games, where he's "heard the vile trash talking that goes on down the left field line," by which he means near the opponents' bullpen. Which, by the way, is down the right field line.

Just a couple more outstanding examples of fan hating in the media.

Here's Jenni Carlson, writing in the Oklahoma City daily the Oklahoman under the headline "Fans behavior as bad as players actions": "Never has a professional athlete gone to the ballyard planning to throw a chair into the stands or looking to sock a spectator in the kisser. Such actions are provoked, and regardless of how inexcusable the Rangers actions were Monday night, they werent the only ones at fault."

Carlson then offers not a shred of evidence indicating anyone else was at fault, except to list some arrests that happened at A's games last year. I haven't looked it up, but I'm guessing there were a few arrests in Oklahoma City last year too. And yet Carlson refuses to accept any of the blame for the Francisco incident!

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Phil Beebe, sports editor of the Star Press in Muncie, Ind., a fine city, wonders, "What has happened to our society that it is so acceptable for fans to be complete jerks? ... Just because a player is making $550,000 per at-bat, or $100,000 per pitch, does that mean they should be forced to endure the stupidity of the morons who have had six too many beers?"

No one has credibly suggested that the Buenos were drunk, incidentally.

Beebe goes on: "Some surgeons and businessmen make money comparable to some professional athletes. But when a surgeon is getting ready to cut open a patient, is his No. 1 critic standing there shouting obscenities in his ear?" He also writes that he's happy to take critical phone calls from readers upset about the paper's coverage, but if anyone ever started talking about his ancestry, he'd hang up.

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Well of course he would.

When you become a baseball player, you accept the terms of employment, which include being heckled by road fans. Yes indeed you should be forced to endure abuse from visiting fans, not because you make a lot of money but because that's an accepted part of the culture of the game. It is obviously not part of the accepted culture in an office or an operating room.

No one goes into the baseball racket expecting not to be heckled on the road. If a player can't handle that heckling -- any amount of heckling -- or doesn't feel he should have to, he should find another line of work. As many of the fan haters have noted, the world is bursting with jobs in which strangers don't yell at you. Playing baseball simply isn't one of them.

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Now it's been widely suggested that security should have been tighter near that Rangers bullpen, and I agree. Though I disagree with most commentators in this case in that I think security should have been there to protect the fans from the players, not the other way around.

But while I don't want baseball parks to come to feel like armed camps in the wake of the odd isolated incident, it does seem that a security guard or uniformed cop ought to be present at any point where fans and visiting players come in close contact. That person can either defuse an escalating situation or quickly call in some backup.

In those cases when heckling does go over the line, when it's profane or abusive, when a heckler's behavior is bothering the fans around him -- the feelings of the players are irrelevant here -- security should step in.

Fans have the right to heckle within reason, and to feel safe when they do, to not have to fear being attacked by the ballplayers they're riding. I don't know what can protect them from being attacked by the media.

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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]

Today's stat: Runs.

Not runs scored, a stat heavily reliant on teammates. Remember from Wednesday how Bonds gets walked so crazily often because the Giants don't have any other hitters in their lineup? That's essentially true, though he'd probably get walked a lot in any lineup, and J.T. Snow is actually having a pretty solid year. Even better than just pretty solid since late June.

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But Snow almost always hits ahead of Bonds. Behind him, there's a whole lot of not much. But Bonds still gets on base so often -- all those walks aren't at-bats, but they aren't nothing, you know -- that even the anemic Giants have driven him in 76 times through Wednesday. Add to that his 41 home runs, and Bonds has scored 117 runs, second in the league behind Albert Pujols of the Cardinals with 121.

But that's not the stat of the day. The stat of the day is "runs created," a metric invented by Bill James to try to measure the overall offensive output of a player. Here's a good definition at Baseball-reference.com. The short version: It gives credit for positive things, like getting hits, walks, steals, etc., and subtracts for negative things, like making outs, getting caught stealing and hitting into double plays.

Essentially, runs created says that while any particular double you hit may or may not account for one or more runs depending on the game situation at the time, over the course of a whole season, if you hit this many doubles, you will have accounted for this many runs. And the same for every other thing you might do.

There are a number of formulas for figuring out runs created. I'll use ESPN.com's, which is fairly sophisticated and can be found on its stats glossary page. Here are the top five in the National League in runs created, through Wednesday:

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1. Barry Bonds, S.F. -- 166.6
2. Todd Helton, Col. -- 133.6
3. Albert Pujols, St.L. -- 132.9
4. Jim Edmonds, St.L. -- 128.4
5. Bobby Abreu, Phi. -- 126.6

The other two MVP "candidates," Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers and Scott Rolen of the Cardinals, are eighth and ninth, at 120.7 and 116.3. Beltre and Rolen are both terrific fielding third basemen, by the way. We'll get to defense next week, but here's a preview: Bonds isn't as bad a fielder as you likely think he is, and the defensive difference between Rolen or Beltre and Bonds isn't anything like 50 runs, as the offensive difference is.

Back to runs created, the difference between Bonds and second place, 33 runs, is almost exactly the same as the difference between second place and 17th, where you find Derek Lee of the Cubs with 100.7 runs created.

I mentioned this phenomenon the other day, where the distance from Bonds to second place is usually about the same as the distance from second to something like 10th or lower. I said there should be a word for second place when it's so ridiculously distant from first. It hurt him a little to do so, but reader Hugh S. Kearney, a Democrat, suggested we call it a "Mondale."

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Anyway, the closest MVP "candidate" to Bonds is Pujols, who's created 33.7 fewer runs. In other words, disregarding defense and just replacing Bonds' bat in the Giants' lineup with Pujols' would cost the Giants about 33 runs, which translates to about three wins. That is, replacing Bonds with an MVP candidate would knock the Giants from first in the wild-card race to a third-place tie.

Except, of course, there are no other MVP candidates.

Previous column: NHL lockout

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