Fan celebrations better off staying in the stands
While spectators used to run on the field, new rules keep everyone safer
Sometimes, the good ol' days really weren't. Take those "celebrations" on the baseball diamond in times gone by ... please. I'm referring to the loud and colorful ones involving fans hurdling fences before sprinting like maniacs toward nowhere in particular on the field after their Major League team clinched a series during the playoffs.
OK, some of those moments were nice. Several were inspiring.
But the way these things are handled nowadays is just about right -- no fans on the field.
This came to mind Wednesday night after I watched the Cardinals win the fifth and decisive game of their best-of-five Division Series in St. Louis against the Pirates. After Adam Wainwright used a strikeout to wrap up his complete game for a trip to the NLCS against the Dodgers, he opened his arms wide for his charging catcher. Then the infielders joined the scrum. Pretty soon, there was a coach here and the manager there, along with the outfielders racing from afar.
The fans? Well, they were exactly where fans should be during these celebrations -- the stands. While the manager, players and coaches for the Cardinals embraced on the field, the fans slapped high-fives as they screamed to the top of their lungs and did whatever else they wished to do at that moment. Not in left field. Not around second base. Not by the pitcher's mound while trying to tackle David Freese in an attempt to give the Cardinals slugger a bear hug or something. They were in the stands, where folks should remain who didn't hit, pitch, field or throw their team to victory on that day or any other during the season.
Now don't get me wrong. I still get chills viewing those black-and-white films from 1951 of Bobby Thomson meeting more than just his Giants teammates at home plate inside the Polo Grounds. They were joined by much of Flatbush.
Then there was nine years later in Pittsburgh, where Bill Mazeroski shocked the Yankees in Game 7 with his World Series-winning blast over the left-field fence at Forbes Field. Just like Thomson, Mazeroski encountered fans from the stands in the aftermath. But unlike Thomson, who mostly was uninterrupted by the public until he scored, Mazeroski was intercepted by a couple of fans before he reached third base. He and his impromptu pals ran toward home plate together to greet the rest of western Pennsylvania.
All of that was nothing compared to October of 1969, when the Mets kept doing the impossible. They went from perennial losers during their previous years to scrambling from a huge deficit in August to defeat the Cubs for the division. They also shocked Hank Aaron's Braves in the NLCS, and then they grabbed the World Series over an Orioles team loaded with future Hall of Famers. So during the Mets' clincher of a world championship at home, you could excuse those at Shea Stadium for going nuts, and they did, with folks seemingly diving from the upper deck to join tens, hundreds and thousands losing their minds on the field.
Celebrations turned ugly after that. Two words: Chris Chambliss. I mean, he's still trying to reach home plate at old Yankee Stadium after his walk-off homer in Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS.
As soon as the ball left the stadium, Yankee fans began pouring over the walls, with Chambliss rushing past, over and through the growing mob as he rounded the bases. He never reached home in the beginning. With people still streaming onto the field, he dashed to the clubhouse for his own safety, but he later returned with several New York policemen to touch the plate. Under those circumstances, the umpires said his homer would have counted anyway, but unless you were a little goofy, you never wanted to see those circumstances again.
I remember the first World Series I covered. It was in 1980 between the Royals and the Phillies, and when the Phillies prepared to clinch at home at Veterans Stadium, the Philadelphia police responded by placing cops on horses around the edge of the field. There also were attack dogs. I know. After going from the press box to field level, I nearly missed the postgame interviews. That's because when the elevator doors opened, I was frozen with fear. One of those dogs was sitting there, growling, waiting to pounce.
The era of fans rushing the field was over. Almost. In 1982, when the Brewers upset the Angels in the ALCS, Milwaukee fans set a world's record for leaving their seat to reach the field. Within minutes of the final out, the floor of Milwaukee County Stadium was covered with humanity, and much of it was smothering those in Brewer uniforms. It was a scary sight, especially since Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn was operating with an artificial right leg at the time.
If you want the official date when fans were told to become just spectators instead of participants in these types of celebrations, how about September 11, 2001? With the threat of terrorists materializing in various forms, fans weren't allowed to carry large objects into ballparks or stadiums anymore -- let alone charge the field. Plus, a year later, there was that horror in Chicago, where a father and son ran onto the field at Comiskey Park to tackle Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa, and then the deranged duo proceeded to punch and kick their victim before the rest of the Royals team sprinted to his defense.
Needless to say, when the 2002 Angels clinched the World Series at home that autumn against the Giants, everybody knew their place. The fans, the players, everybody. It didn't matter that the packed house was giddy over the freshness of the Rally Monkey and the endless noise created by something called ThunderSticks. When the World Series ended on a routine flyout, the Angels jumped and yelled around the pitcher's mound, and their fans did so from their seats.
Now, 11 years later, fans are doing exactly the same thing in these situations more often than not.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.