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Don't Throw Chairs at the Customers!

By Chris Carpenter Producer - Don’t throw chairs at the customers! That should be rule number one for any professional organization providing a product, service, or entertainment to the general public. But apparently it is a policy that has not been shared with Major League Baseball … specifically the Texas Rangers.

In an incident still being investigated, Texas Rangers rookie relief pitcher Frankie Francisco hurled a folding chair into the right field box seats at the Oakland Coliseum last Monday, hitting two spectators in the head.

Jennifer Bueno, who had her nose broken in the incident, plans to seek compensation for her injury once prosecutors and baseball officials have completed their investigation.

On Friday, Francisco was suspended for the remaining 16 games of the regular season pending appeal. He began serving his suspension over the weekend. It is the most severe penalty for on field conduct since former Cincinnati Reds Manager Pete Rose was suspended for pushing an umpire in 1988. But is it enough?

The incident begs an obvious question: what could possibly possess the American League Rookie of the Month for August to do such a thing? The Rangers are quick to point at profanity-laced threats directed toward the Texas bullpen that were flowing freely the entire game in question. Unfortunately, Bueno was sitting in the general vicinity of the relentless war of words between fans and players. Ranger pitcher Francisco Cordero reportedly told Sporting News Radio the day after the altercation that the fans were “way out of control” the night of the incident.

I was not there on Monday evening but as someone who has spent a great deal of time in Major League stadiums over the years I have a high degree of difficulty believing that the incident in question was much different than any others that occur in stadiums on a nightly basis. The main difference in this case was players entering the stands and a chair being used as a weapon.

Fans believe they have a right to heckle if they so choose. Conversely, players believe they have a right to retaliate against barbed threats directed toward them.

Fans heckling players is a problem that is far from being new. A journey into the annals of baseball history finds that Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Ty Cobb entered the stands in 1912 to beat up a heckler. Unfortunately, the man the Georgia Peach pummeled had only one hand. In 1922, Babe Ruth responded to a bunch of overly critical fans by jumping on top of the New York Yankees dugout and challenging them all to a fight. There were no takers. More recently, Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle fired a baseball at a fans chest from about 15 feet away for calling him Joey in 1991. Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Reggie Smith went into the stands after a fan in 1981. Fans stole Dodger catcher Chad Kreuter’s hat in 2000. The list could go on and on.

So who is right and who is wrong in these ugly episodes? I believe both parties are at fault. However, the blame game comes with a variety of contributing factors. Among them … too much beer, not enough security, and a strong sense of fan entitlement.

Let’s start with beer. America’s alcoholic beverage of choice has long been associated with the game of baseball. Despite attempts by beer companies to encourage fans to drink responsibly, their public service announcements fall largely on deaf ears. For every fan who takes this advice to heart, there are five others who think nothing of consuming eight, 10, sometimes 12 beers over the course of a nine inning game. You do the math. Double digit consumption spells trouble.

To demand that Major League Baseball remove beer from the ballpark experience is a difficult proposition although a necessary one. Unfortunately, baseball and beer companies have been cozy bedfellows since the dead ball era of a century ago. Through advertising, sponsorship, and in park sales, the beer industry indirectly provides Major League franchises with enough revenue to maintain ticket prices at a fairly reasonable level. The end result is that game tickets become much more attractive to fiscally prudent families. It is a vicious cycle really. To make ticket prices more family friendly the product that often prohibits a family atmosphere is a necessity in a Major League team’s revenue model.

While it is nearly impossible to think that beer will be removed entirely from the ballpark experience, strict limitations must be placed on the consumption of such products and highly enforced. Not just putting up the necessary signs around the ballpark as required by a team’s legal department but actually taking measures to make sure policies are being adhered to. If it is not happening already, Major League Baseball and the various food service companies contracted to sell alcoholic beverages must collaborate on an iron clad policy.

Another area that needs to be examined very closely is an obvious one:
security. Siding with the players, many media pundits suggested last week that more security needed to be installed at ballparks to prevent future incidents. One respected baseball journalist, who will remain nameless, suggested that security at baseball stadiums needed to be increased by ten fold to make sure players are protected from the fans. Excuse me, but according to the police report the player threw the chair.

More security is not the answer but better security is. For some teams, their idea of security is an elderly gentleman in an Acme Security Corp. blazer. A better solution would be to have a security staff that is highly trained in diffusing situations commonly found at ballparks. These types of situations include public drunkenness, fighting, and yes, profanity laced heckling. Better training will go a long way in establishing what is and what is not acceptable behavior. If this is happening in your ballpark already, fantastic.

If these types of incidents, such as Monday night’s chair match continue to increase, in coming seasons it is not hard to imagine a scenario where fans will be greeted at the ballpark gate by barbed wire and brutish security guards sporting machine guns.

A third area for examination is the pervasive feeling of fan entitlement. Many people believe that because they have paid $15 dollars to get into the game that they should be allowed to say and do whatever they want. Further muddying perceptions of entitlement are those who think that because these are million dollar athletes playing a child’s game that they deserve to be heckled automatically. Why? Because players don’t know what it is like to earn an honest day’s pay. They fail to remember that most of these athletes have sacrificed greatly to earn a place on Major League playing field.

Finally, we must remember that we are living in an era that glorifies instant celebrity. Many baseball fans remember the ill conceived exploits of William Ligue Jr. Ligue, who was attending a Chicago White Sox game with his 15 year old son in 2002, called his sister in advance to tell her be sure to watch the 11 o’clock news because he was going to be on television. Ligue was true to his word. After taunting Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa throughout the game, Ligue II and Ligue III rushed onto the field in the ninth inning, knocked him down, and beat him until the blood flowed.

Why did this incident happen? I believe it is because we are living in a society that places great value on instant celebrity. We glorify average Joe’s who can outwit, outlast, and outplay others, sometimes underhandedly, for a million dollars. We love it when a famous business tycoon who appears to have a sleeping squirrel on his head, fires someone who could be our next door neighbor. Much of America thinks nothing of a show that does not condemn but celebrates contestants who swap wives on television.

We are a nation who desperately needs to be entertained. The lowest common denominator continues to be lowered with each passing day. If throwing a chair works on wrestling shows why can’t it work at a Major League baseball game?

But that is big picture stuff. In the here and now we have a player who was driven to rage by a group of fans. A chair was thrown and a fan was seriously injured. Was Frankie Francisco wrong to commit such an act of hostility? Of course he was. Despite the mean spirited epithets spewed by a few overzealous fans, Francisco in no way, shape, or form should be exonerated. He would be well served to accept his suspension, agree to whatever local law enforcement authorities charge him with, and do absolutely everything in his power to make sure such an act never takes place again.

Undoubtedly, a lawsuit will be filed, the victim will be awarded an exorbitant amount of money, and justice will be served. Or will it?

It is my hope that eventually Jennifer Bueno will forgive Frankie Francisco for what he did. I am certain that she must be feeling a wide range of emotions … anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, depression, just to name a few. But she will never experience true freedom until she is willing to let go of what has happened.

As Christians it is imperative to love those who hurt us. We are to treat others fairly and with kindness, not sparing the justice we ourselves wish to be shown. When mistreated by others, our response should be one of positive behavior, not allowing right or wrong to be determined from our emotions or feelings. God commands us to exchange hate for love.

It is very understandable to have contrasting thoughts regarding this philosophy especially when you have been struck in the nose by a folding chair.

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus says, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

In this passage, the Jews despised the Romans because they oppressed God’s people, but Jesus told the people to love their enemies. Loving your enemies means acting in their best interests. We can pray for them, and we can think of ways to help them. Jesus loved the whole world even when most of it hated Him. Jesus asks us to follow His example by loving our enemies.

At times this is a very difficult concept for us to practice due to all of the physical and emotional hurt that is brought upon us by others. But if we are to live by faith, we are to grant our enemies the same respect and rights that we desire for ourselves.

And don’t throw chairs at the customers!

Information contained within this article from the Transformer Study Bible.

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