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Mark's Madness: Rock 'em, sock'em baseball

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

This column deals with two issues: Sammy Sosa getting drilled in his big, fat head, and fan violence at baseball games. I'm for the former, against the latter.

Sunday at PNC Park, Pirates pitcher Salomon Torres hit Cubs slugger Sosa in the head. Torres, who considers Sosa his baseball hero, says he didn't intentionally bean Sosa. That seemed just a bit hard to believe considering Sosa had homered in his previous at-bat.

At any rate, the Cubs didn't ask to see Torres' Sammy Sosa Fan Club membership card before retaliating. In his next at-bat, Torres got hit on the side of the knee by Juan Cruz. Torres knew what was coming and fairly bragged about "taking it like a man," which brings to mind any number of risque jokes which would no doubt be edited out of this column. Torres might not feel so good about the whole episode if his sore knee forces him to miss his scheduled start Saturday, his first of the season.

The whole "you-hit-our-guy, we've-got-to-hit-yours" thing is childish and inane. Normally, the Cubs would have thrown at the Pirates' star to avenge the hit on Sosa, but Brian Giles presents a tough target on the disabled list, and the Pirates really don't have any other stars.

Sosa is OK, and I'm willing to pretend to be glad about that. But Torres shouldn't be castigated for beaning Sosa. After all, that's a pretty tough head to miss.

Sosa's head has reportedly grown two hat sizes over the past two seasons. Human Growth Hormone is a strength-building drug that does not differentiate between muscle and bone. Users of HGH thus get bigger skulls to go with their bigger biceps.

I certainly am not saying Sosa uses HGH and that his larger-than-life home-run numbers are thus tainted. Draw your own conclusions. I'm merely trying to point out that there are plausible scenarios that could cause a man's melon to swell to gargantuan size. Maybe it's just ego.

If Sosa's eyes start to grow apart, he's definitely using HGH. Until then, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. I don't want Sosa screaming at me like he did at Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly when Reilly challenged him to be tested for strength-enhancing drugs. What does Reilly know? For example, he obviously doesn't know that HGH is virtually impossible to detect through testing.

Sosa's head is huge and appears to be gaining mass constantly. There's a strong possibility that Sosa's head actually grew into the path of Torres' pitch. What Torres did was the equivalent of standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from Mount Rushmore and trying to throw a ball that doesn't hit rock.

Only one man could consistently miss Sosa's ever-expanding cranium: The Oakland A's fan who hit Texas outfielder Carl Everett in the head with a cell phone. Now that's accuracy. Maybe that guy could start Saturday.

I can't condone a fan hitting a baseball player in the head with a cell phone. But I can't condemn this particular choice of targets. Everett is a jerk. Remember when cell phones weighed a couple of pounds? Those were the days.

Between Everett getting bonked and Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field being under siege by drunken louts, it's safe to say that baseball has a problem with fan behavior. It's also safe to say that the problem is fueled by alcohol. It's even safer to say that beer sales at baseball games (and at other sporting events) will not be curtailed, let alone eliminated. Too much profit margin, too much sponsorship money.

Then again, maybe the problem of fan misbehavior is a matter of monkey see, monkey do.

Witness the juvenile tit-for-tat shenanigans that play out every time a baseball player gets hit by a pitch. Witness the brawls such silliness often culminate in, brawls that prove nothing besides the fact that baseball players can't fight.

Witness the ridiculous Tie Domi-Donald Brashear cementhead sideshow that cheapened the Toronto-Philadelphia hockey playoff series without affecting the result one iota.

Witness the frequent flagrant fouling of the Indiana Pacers' Ron Artest, who seems stupid even for an NBA player.

Witness Penn State football coach Joe Paterno jumping into referees' faces on repeated occasions this past season. Didn't Paterno used to be above that?

Fans idolize athletes and coaches. So when athletes and coaches act like morons, should we be surprised when there's an increase in fans who act the same?

The media certainly don't help by glorifying fans who behave badly at sporting events.

The nitwit who assaulted the umpire in Chicago was pictured in newspapers across the country, including USA Today. The attack was shown repeatedly on ESPN's "SportsCenter". The lowest common denominator isn't easily embarrassed. Exposure like that is the height of cool for trailer trash. Report what happened, sure. But leave out the picture, and don't use the name.

The Chicago crackpot is clearly a disturbed individual. He had six beers in the afternoon during the Cubs' game at Wrigley Field, then six more at the White Sox's game that night. Forget the alcohol. Going to two baseball games at two different parks in the same day qualifies him for a padded cell. I'm surprised he didn't overdose. On boredom, not drugs.

Today, it's one thrown cell phone. Tomorrow, it could be 50.

Today, it's one fan invading the field to attack an umpire with his fists. Tomorrow, it could be 200 fans invading the field to attack umpires, coaches and players with weapons.

Today, the incidents are minor. Tomorrow, you could see a full-fledged riot at a baseball game.

That's where the Pirates are lucky. You need a big crowd for a full-fledged riot.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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