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Players thrown a changeup

Times Staff Writer

Jose Guillen crossed a line. An Orange County line. And he had to pay. The Anaheim Angels outfielder dissed the coach, and his playing days this season are over. Probably for good.

Milton Bradley crossed a line too. A Los Angeles County line. The Los Angeles Dodger outfielder threw his bottle and a temper tantrum in a public place and basically gets a timeout, says “I’m sorry,” and agrees to talk about his feelings. If the Dodgers make the playoffs, he’ll be back.

In this tale of the two counties, the national pastime and manners, it’s tough love in O.C. and talk therapy in L.A. While fans disagree here and there, overall the faithful in both camps salute (although more of that in O.C.) the disciplinary actions taken in both cases -- even though both teams are involved in down-to-the-wire division races.

Guillen’s and Bradley’s outbursts are the latest example of bad behavior in baseball, most notably an incident in which Texas Ranger reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair into the crowd and broke a woman’s nose during a game (he was suspended for the season). From sports talk radio to ballparks, fans have been trying to control their tempers as they weigh in about what should be done about the rash of hissy fits.

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For his boorish behavior after being replaced by a pinch runner last Saturday, Guillen was suspended without pay for the last eight games and any postseason play. Even if an arbitrator overturns the Angels’ action, Manager Mike Scioscia has already said Guillen will not get into the game.

“I’ve gained way more respect for the Angels for the way they’ve handled this,” said Jim Luster, a 26-year-old home improvement store manager from Rancho Santa Margarita. “They’re losing one of their best offensive players, but that guy is a cancer in the clubhouse.”

Added Luster, a former college baseball player: "[Guillen] doesn’t cut it in my book. He’s out there to win; he’s not playing in some pick-up game. It’s his job. He should be professional. I can’t blow up in someone’s face at work. It’s not professional.”

Meanwhile, Dodger fans in chat rooms and on talk radio programs are, in general, equally supportive of the punishment meted out to Bradley -- a five-game suspension and a $15,000 fine -- even though sports fans everywhere believe Bradley’s outburst was the more egregious of the two incidents. The hearts of Dodger fans seem to go squishy when considering Bradley’s mea culpa and decision to enroll in an anger-management program.

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“Through counseling, a more focused and healthy-minded player is likely to emerge,” wrote one fan on www.all-baseball.com. “We know he has the talent and ability to be a star player; might this be the key to unlocking his potential?”

Indeed, from Dodger owner Frank McCourt down to the average fan, many thought Bradley’s punishment swiftly enacted by major league baseball was too “harsh.” A two- or three-game suspension for the outfielder, who has already been ejected from four games this season and known for angrily breaking bats over his knee, would have seemed more reasonable. Wrote another Dodger fan in the www.all-baseball.com chat room: “I too hope he gets a big welcome cheer when (and there will be a when) he next plays at the Ravine.”

Double standard

The two disciplinary decisions are sending completely different messages, according to Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist who specializes in anger management for athletes. “The Angels made a very powerful statement that this kind of behavior isn’t going to be tolerated. It’s very courageous to potentially sacrifice your season in this way. If more clubs did this, you’d see a lot less athletes acting out.”

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What about the Dodgers?

“They’re saying, ‘We understand your behavior is serious,’ ” continued Abrams, who also counsels prisoners. “But not so serious as to compromise our chances for success in the playoffs.”

No, Abrams isn’t from Orange County. He’s from northern New Jersey.

The disparity in discipline of the two players may actually have more to do with clubhouse, rather than geographic, boundaries. Scott Bollens, a former baseball player and now a professor of urban planning at UC Irvine, said the two incidents certainly play into stereotypes of the two counties, but that’s not ultimately what’s underneath both decisions.

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“Guillen broke the rule of challenging his own manager, while Bradley challenged a fan,” Bollens said. The former is “absolutely unacceptable in any sport. It leads to a spiral of ill feelings on a team if action isn’t taken immediately.”

But even Guillen got some sympathy from unexpected quarters in Orange County. Gary Grassfield, assistant manager at Firing Line, a shooting range in Huntington Beach, was critical of the Angel player’s behavior. But Grassfield isn’t sure if the punishment fit the crime.

“It’s a little overboard,” said Grassfield. “I think just kicking him out during the regular season would have been enough.”

But then again, Grassfield’s judgment may be impaired due to a childhood trauma. As a kid, he was a Dodger fan.

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