The AP's Jim Litke writes that the onus is on us, the average fans, to not become a party to the rowdy fan element.
When I was a kid streakers were still popular and would show up at ballparks from time to time. And of course, the world famous Morgana the Kissing Bandit would frequent many a stadium. These incidents were funny or at least diverting.
Then the fans who ran on the field as a form of protest after the 1994-95 strike took the humor right out of it for me. I was at the 1996 Yankee-Brave World Series game in which Maddux shut out the Yanks 4-0. At that great game numerous fans strayed onto and were removed from the field. And this was at revered Yankees Stadium during the World Series. It also made me wonder how much they paid to miss the game and spent a night in jail. My ticket was seventy-five bucks, and I was nowhere close enough to the field to wonder onto it.
Now fans are getting violent and targeting individuals on the field. Maybe Litke is right and the next step in the progression is gangs of fans attacking individuals at the park. I do agree that the "fun" of a rowdy, drunken fan bloviating in the stands is a thing of the past. It's like watching an old Andy Griffith Show, in which the town drunk is the charmingly funny, avuncular Otis. Somehow this country sufficiently lost its innocence so that Otis is no longer charming. The only drunks on TV now are the "bad boys" on COPS. I guess this is a similar loss of innocence. Home fans would once cheer as their drunken comrades would spout off at an individual on the field, be it a home player, a visiting player, or an umpire. Now that goading fans' collective id could result in a personal attack on the targeted individual, it's not as much fun. So Litke's right that we, as fans, should understand the potential consequences of our actions and be a bit more reticent in support of the section's loudmouth.
That said, I can't accept the onus be put completely on one idiot's fellow fans. It's more a 12-step program than a solution to the problem. Invariably, these fans are intoxicated. Someone sold them the alcohol they drank or security either failed to prevent them from bringing in their own alcohol or failed to properly secure the intoxicated fan before he became a threat. Also, fans in any stadium I have ever visited can wonder down from the upper decks to the lower sections in the late innings relatively freely. Security could prevent them from doing so and thereby limit the over-eager types. In any of these cases, employees of the stadium are involved. They must be more diligent to minimize the risk and impose proper limitations. This will probably not change until after someone is attacked and chooses to sue the stadium authority for negligence.
Also, stiffer penalties against offenders may help, but these individuals don't seem to concerned about the consequences of their actions. If a penalty of, say, six months in jail were imposed and announced before every game, it could help prevent the gang mentality that Litke envisions from taking hold.
And this is all assuming that the attacker is intoxicated and exhibiting behavior that indicates he will become a threat. I don't know what can be done about a random nut who quietly wonders on the field and attacks an individual, like Steffi Graf's attacker ten years ago. There is no advance notice with this type. But I guess that is the risk for any public figure nowadays.
Whatever the next step in the nutty fan progression is, it seems to be accelerating. It's just another black eye for a sport that is struggling to get back on its PR feet. Maybe an insurmountable partition (Litke cites chicken wire) is the answer. But then the nuts would unleash their venom on their fellow fans and they're surly enough as it is. My advice? Stay home and watch it on TV. It's safer, cheaper, and is a better show. And the only things that will get attacked are your sensibilities by the local announcers.