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Post-Strike Baseball: Fans Are In A Foul Mood

May 3, 1995

In Pittsburgh, fans littered the field with wooden pennant sticks and delayed the game for 17 minutes. In New York, three people wearing ``Greed″ T-shirts ran onto the field at Shea Stadium and threw dollar bills at the players.

And in Detroit, the Tigers almost had to forfeit their home opener after fans tossed whiskey bottles, cigarette lighters and a metal napkin dispenser at players. Security guards took at least 20 people off the field.

Fans are in a foul mood following the longest strike in baseball history.

``This is their way of showing their anger at the players and the owners,″ said Thomas Tutko, a psychology professor at San Jose State University.

Many fans are protesting by not showing up. Through Tuesday night’s games, the average attendance of 27,481 was down 13 percent from last year’s average of 31,611. But the most powerful signs of discontent have been the rowdy outbursts in Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit and Milwaukee, where a fan dumped beer on Chicago White Sox outfielder Mike Devereaux.

The most vivid example of fan frustration occurred Tuesday in Detroit, where the scene got so scary that Cleveland general manager John Hart called the American League office during the game to demand protection for his players.

``I’ve never played in worse conditions,″ said Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, who was nearly hit by a baseball thrown from the stands. ``I’ve never seen anything like this. I wasn’t focused on the game today. I was just worried about what was going on. When you’re trying to injure somebody, that’s ridiculous.″

Although no players were injured by the debris, the American League and Tigers officials promised to tighten security for Wednesday night’s game at Detroit. Major league security director Kevin Hallinan went there to coordinate efforts.

Tutko, who specializes in sports psychology, said it’s a volatile situation.

``If you’re not careful, these kinds of things can escalate and get out of hand very quickly,″ he said. ``I think we’re just a hair-and-a-half away from a real disaster.″

Unruly fans are nothing new in baseball.

In 1934, St. Louis outfielder Ducky Medwick was forced to leave the seventh game of the World Series after Detroit fans, angry over his hard slide into Tigers third baseman Marv Owen, pelted him with garbage. In 1974, Cleveland forfeited a game to Texas when fans drinking 10-cent beers at Municipal Stadium got out of control. And in 1979, White Sox fans rioted at old Comiskey Park during an anti-disco demonstration, causing so much damage that the second game of a doubleheader couldn’t be played.

But the recent rebellions are unusual because they appear to have a common cause _ anger over the 232-day strike that wiped out last year’s World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season.

``When they canceled the World Series, it became absolutely clear to fans that they don’t matter to the players or the owners,″ Tutko said. ``They’re just fed up with the narcissism and greed on both sides.″

St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith said he understands why fans are upset, but isn’t concerned about his safety.

``I expected the fans to be unhappy,″ Smith said before Wednesday’s home game against Pittsburgh. ``We have to try to win them back by playing at our best.″

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