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Fans So Strange It’s Getting Scary

Luckily, there is no Free Golf Ball Giveaway Day planned for the international tournament being held this week in increasingly restless Los Angeles, city of lost balls. Otherwise, we might end up with the gallery yelling, “Fore!” to the golfers--or, scarier still, “Duck!” or, “Incoming!"--rather than the other way around.

I don’t know which is worse, L.A. fans being so blase that football teams blow town and tickets remain unsold by the thousands for a Grand Slam golf event, or L.A. fans acting so contrary to their laid-back image that they throw dangerous objects at human beings as casually as confetti. Of unpredictable behavior, this town is absolutely 100% guilty.

“I like California,” the current PGA Championship co-leader, Ernie Els from South Africa, said after Friday’s round at Riviera, setting up a punch line. “The weather is great. The golf course is good. But watching the [Dodger] ballgame last night on television, I don’t know about the crowds here.”

Hell’s bells, Els. Neither do we.

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By dispensing free baseballs, in conjunction with the aptly named Target discount stores, at a Dodger Stadium promotion Thursday night, the well-intentioned Dodgers did not succeed in giving their fans a memento so much as in giving them ammo. Batting practice was held before the game. Target practice was held during it.

The umpiring crew was utterly justified in forfeiting this game to the St. Louis Cardinals, a visiting team that had every right to occupy a field of play without a clear and present danger necessitating helmets or bulletproof vests. Thursday night’s outfield grandstand had more nuts than the Planters factory. Dodger players would have deserved and demanded similar protection in St. Louis.

“Fans throwing objects onto the field will face ejection and arrest” is an announcement made so commonly that it falls on deaf ears, like the one about reproducing the copyrighted telecast. The decisive action of the umpires at Dodger Stadium sent a strong and unforgettable message to spectators that such behavior is not only intolerable, but that it will bear consequences to more than just the responsible individual.

This way, perhaps fans will stop encouraging one another’s imbecility with laughter and applause. This way, perhaps fans will police themselves, the way they often do when fans hanging over the outfield fence risk touching a fair ball that was batted by the home team.

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While aghast at what they saw, Dodger officials’ gut reaction was that they expected more warning that the game might be halted. I understand this in theory, but warnings aren’t enough for people trapped in a hailstorm; they don’t wait to be beaned before they duck for cover. You wouldn’t hear gunshots and then announce: “Fans shooting at players will face ejection and arrest.” You would clear the hell out of there.

Once owner Peter O’Malley, his manager and his players come to grips with something more significant than the loss of two-thirds of their last turn at-bat, I feel certain that they will echo these sentiments, that for the greater good of customers and competitors alike, the strongest possible action will be taken to discourage anything like this from ever happening again.

Scolding isn’t enough.

Out on the golf course, where L.A. fans this week have been conspicuous by their absence, I would like to think that boxes of souvenir Top-Flites, Titleists and Pinnacles could be distributed to the masses without the golfers ending up being stoned with them. Ernie Els enjoys viewing rugby on TV; after what he saw in Los Angeles the other night, rugby--and, for that matter, South Africa--might seem nice and safe.

“California is a good place, I guess,” Els said.

Give him some proof.


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