For a long time, for all the heroes and the heroics, the Koufaxes and Garveys and hobbled home run trots, the experience of going to a Los Angeles Dodgers game was largely about beating traffic.
Fans arrived late, left early and -- at least in the eyes of rivals -- didn’t seem terribly concerned with what happened in the intervening hours.
But over time, being a Dodgers fan became an almost tribal identity to some. That helped to rebuild a fervent base of support for the team -- and brought an unsettling pattern of fan abuse and boorish behavior that hit another low last week when a Giants fan was severely beaten on opening day. The violence left even the truest blue Dodgers fans saying something has to change.
“It’s not right,” said Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame former Dodgers manager and, for many years, the face of the organization. “It’s just a baseball game.”
Brian Stow, 42, a Santa Cruz paramedic, a father of two and a Giants fan, was walking through the Dodger Stadium parking lot with two friends after the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over San Francisco. He was wearing Giants apparel, police said, and two young men began taunting him. One of the assailants blindsided Stow with blows to the back and head, police said.
The two assailants repeatedly kicked and punched Stow while he was on the ground. Stow’s friends attempted to help, and were also punched and kicked before the attackers fled in a car driven by a woman. Police said it appears there was also a 10-year-old boy in the car.
Stow has a brain injury and is in a medically induced coma at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He remained in critical condition on Monday.
Part of Stow’s skull has been removed to reduce the pressure on his brain, said his colleague Rebecca Mackowiak. Even if he recovers, she said, “he won’t be the same person again.”
The attack adds to Dodger Stadium’s reputation as the home to what former major league player Dustan Mohr a few years ago told a reporter might be “the worst crowd” in baseball.
The beating stunned fans from both teams. In the games that followed over the weekend, San Francisco supporters were jittery; one removed his Giants license plate frame before the game so his car wouldn’t get vandalized. Two children forbade their mother to wear a Giants cap to the game because they were afraid she would get hurt.
“I think it’s insane,” said Kevin Kafayi, a dentist in San Francisco. Kafayi has been a Giants fan since moving from Iran in 1986.
“The guy is in a coma,” Kafayi added. “He was beaten unconscious. It’s unbelievable to me. I love the Giants. I hate the Dodgers. But to go that far, to beat someone into a coma is unbelievable. It’s taking it too far.”
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to arrests in the case. The mayors, police chiefs and teams from L.A. and San Francisco took the rare step of issuing a joint statement decrying the violence as “unconscionable.”
“Baseball is a family sport that has unified our country after times of crisis and tragedy,” said the statement, which was signed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, San Francisco Police Interim Chief Jeff Godown, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Giants managing partner Bill Neukom. “This senseless act of violence has no place in our society and certainly not in our national pastime.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich called Monday for the team to invest in even more security and to curtail alcohol sales.
“The Dodgers organization has an obligation to make security a top priority now,” he said. “Denying that lack of security played a role in this attack is simply sticking their head in the sand.”
That criticism appears to be directed at McCourt, who said over the weekend that the attack was “tragic” but insisted he was satisfied with security levels at the ballpark. Among a reported opening-day attendance of 56,000, the LAPD reported, 72 fans were arrested, most related to alcohol use, and another 48 were cited for traffic infractions and the like. That was a sharp decline from opening day 2010, when 132 arrests were recorded.
Josh Rawitch, vice president of communications for the Dodgers, said Monday that the stadium’s alcohol policies are already stricter than those of some professional baseball teams. The Dodgers do not allow alcohol sales after the seventh inning, do not sell beer in the stands and forbid tailgating in the parking lots.
The team has been struggling to control unruly fans for some time. There have been fights and gambling in the stands; fans running onto the field and pelting the outfield with trash. In 2003, a Dodgers fan shot and killed a Giants fan in the stadium parking lot. At the Dodgers’ 2009 home opener against the Giants a man was stabbed several times after getting into an argument. The Dodgers responded by adding more security, and with the LAPD cracking down on public intoxication.
Other teams have also struggled to deal with fan violence, notably the Lakers, whose last few championship wins brought melees and looting around Staples Center and downtown L.A.
But the Dodgers-Giants rivalry seems particularly potent. It is among the most fabled rivalries in sports, continuing even as the Dodgers of Brooklyn and the Giants of Manhattan moved across the country in the late 1950s.
The teams vied for their first championship in 1889 and had their first all-out brawl a year later. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have won three dozen pennants between them and have played each other more than 2,000 times, splitting wins roughly down the middle. As any baseball fan would tell you, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World didn’t come at Concord in 1775, but at the Polo Grounds in 1951, when Bobby Thomson’s walk-off homer beat the Dodgers and handed the Giants the National League title.
For years, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park was the site of tension between fans.
“It was a dump,” said Brad Mangin, a sports photographer. “Things could be crazy. ... You’d see Giants fans light Dodger pennants on fire.”
But in 2000, the Giants traded in Candlestick for the tony AT&T; Park, ushering in a new era -- more civil, though prohibitively expensive for many. Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium’s tenor began to change.
Some fans in San Francisco say the actions of a few should not stain the Dodgers franchise or its fan base.
“There’s a bad apple in every crowd,” said Jason Walker, 31, tending bar at Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant and Bar in Union Square. “It shouldn’t reflect on the teams at all. It’s a random guy who should be thrown in jail. It’s not the teams’ fault. It’s awesome to have rivals play on opening day.”
The cities’ statement encouraged fans to let the rivalry play out on the field.
“That’s where it must stay,” the statement said. “We call on our respective citizens to stand together in honor of that rivalry as you have done throughout the years. Root hard for your teams, and do so with civility and common decency.”
Anyone with information about the case is urged to call the LAPD at (213) 847-4261.
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.