Ever since college, when I was first exposed to a New Yorker's pain-in-the-butt civic pride ("Graydiss city in d' woirldt -- it's gots d'bess women, bess res'runts, bess clubs, bess teams . . ."), I've prayed to a graven image of legendary baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, asking that he and the other gods of the game never allow another Subway World Series. I just couldn't take that much Big Apple Feelgood. Now I've changed my mind. Why? How? Well, the story begins early on a Friday evening in late July, on a sardined New York subway car. Somewhere in the mass there's a screeching baby, and standing right by me and my friend are two young drunk guys sporting Hector (Macho) Camacho haircuts, muscle shirts and laaarge sponges of black underarm hair. They seem upset by the tot. Then one of them snaps, and I'm looking at a purple faceful of pinwheeling eyeballs, thumping forehead veins and bared teeth. "Man," he snarls, "I can't buh-lieve somebody bringin' a baby on the twrain! 'Ficould get my hands on that stoopit kid, I'd -- I'd -- " Judging by the way his shaking claws are coming together in an interlocking vise grip, I'm pretty sure the phrase he's groping for is "apply Intimidational Pediatrics Therapy." Then he makes a move! Luckily, his pal gets him in a Heimlich grab.
"Jimmy, if you doand juss calm down and shuddup, man, I'm gonna -- I'm gonna -- I'm gonna -- !"
"You shuddup, man!"
"No, you shuddup!" And on and on, like an idiot metronome. Now, can you guess where these two were headed? If your answer is "Yankee Stadium, to drink many, many more beers and maybe, just maybe, get in a fight," you win. If you were there for that night's tilt with the Detroit Tigers, you may well have "lost": a tooth, some blood, an arm. But I don't want to overstate this -- it was my first trip to the Abattoir That Ruth Built, so I was definitely impressionable. And I don't suppose that in the annals of fan mayhem what I saw will rank up there with the Chicago White Sox's fabled "I Hate Disco Nite" in 1979 (fans who brought disco records got in for 98 cents, the discs were put in a big box in center field and blown up by a mad FM deejay -- and, thus inspired, 7,000 shirtless drunks piled onto the field for an hour of bonfires and fights), or the violent night following the Tigers' 1984 World Series win. But remember, those were special occasions. This was just another Friday in the Bronx. Or, to put it in baseball- promotions terminology: Meat and Potatoes Nite.
My friend and I got to our bleacher seats in time to see batting practice and the first riot. He's an experienced New York baseball watcher, and, like a patient father, he explained the basics. "The men in blue shirts with the large billy clubs protect us from the men in the stands with the small billy clubs -- i.e., souvenir baseball bats. The -- Oh, no! Those fools! What do they think they're doing?"
The "fools" were a group of four perky coed types who had just marched into the bleachers waving Tigers pennants. Even I recognized this as being tragically stupid. From their happy smiles, it was clear they thought they were still in Campus Land, where opposing fans exchange hearty razzings, followed by friendly backslaps and a pull from someone's rum-and-Coke thermos. It didn't work out that way. The babes were about 10 feet into their kamikaze promenade when the mob-organism noticed them and set up a pro forma chant about Detroit that I can't reprint here. Incredibly, they kept giggling and walking, all the way to the upper rows. Then a Lucy Ricardo look-alike and a tubby little fella with a Muhammad Ali glare and a souvenir bat led a charge that resulted in the throwing of many beers and bolo punches. Terror set in, followed by a full retreat. The girls fled the stands, went under the bleachers, were attacked by a fresh mob and escaped only when the security cops cordoned them off and ran them out of the stadium. No attackers were ejected. "One other thing," my friend said as we watched the posse disband and stumble back into the beer line. "Shut up about being for the Tigers."
We watched a few innings of ball (I'd be faking it if I described the action, which I barely noticed) while my friend showed me how to spot faraway fights. (You watch for turning heads and platoons of cops running up the aisles.) As the sweaty lunatics surrounding me got drunker and drunker, I mused about the Yankees' fabled tradition. One of the first players ever hit on the head by a bottle chucked from the stands got it right here: center fielder Whitey Witt, 1922. In '85 a woman was sitting in the stands when a stray bullet went through her hand, and no one ever reported seeing or hearing a shot fired. Think about that a second. And it was last year, of course, that an anonymous fan threw a large knife at the California Angels' Wally Joyner . . .
At this point, something occurred to me: I should buy a souvenir batting helmet for skull protection. Standing in the concession line, I saw a large fight spilling out of the men's room, and a duke-out between the security cops and a mammoth fan trying to sneak in with booze. I also heard about what happens if one ignores the bleacher fans' tradition of "rejecting" enemy home runs by tossing the ball back onto the field. "Last night there was a guy who caught a home run ball and said: 'No, hell no, I'm keepin' it.' Five guys jumped on him. His face looked like a catcher's mitt." Pondering this, I was almost hit by a well-dressed, very boozed gent in front of me who passed out and fell backward like a chopped tree. Everyone jeered at him while the concession-stand woman astutely observed, "That man's drunk. I ain't servin' him no more." A fat guy in a Yankees cap was stationed by the counter wolfing down hot dogs. "Three more!" he said, pointing to his mouth. "I just jam 'em in here. Hey, I may be dead tomorrow!" Could very well be. Back in the stands, my friend and I counted 13 more fights (including a huge one right behind us and two caused by people who balked at giving up those enemy home run balls). All this was before the Yankees won in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run homer. All I remember from the ensuing melee is getting high-fived by a berserk woman who did not want to let go of my hand.
All right, I think you know what I'm getting at. Met fans are just as bad -- worse, actually, because they're more likely to take defeat as a personal assault on their manhood -- and I'm now willing to admit that the greatest fans in the woirldt deserve one another. If not this year, then someday. And to those who say that, as always, Vin and Joe and the NBC stiffs wouldn't show any of the good stuff --
Vin: Full count. Y'know, years ago Connie Mack noted . . . Oh golly, a fan with a ball jammed in his mouth was just lobbed out of the right-field bleachers. That'll halt play.
Joe: Don't put the cameras on that! Just encourages 'em.
-- I say, You're right, but I think there will be too much action for even them to ignore, including one or two assaults on their booth. The thing is: Ya gotta believe. ::