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Sheffield, fan both should be punished

Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2005

The beer has been mopped up, the Yankees have left town and now it's up to the wise men who run major league baseball to make sense of just what happened deep in the right-field corner the other night at Fenway Park.

That would be Bud Selig and his flunkies, of course. They'll get right on this one, as soon as they finish drawing up their bold plan to cleanse baseball of steroids.

Actually, they may be forced to do it sooner. When it came to steroids, Selig always could turn away whenever players were shooting up in the locker room and pretend they didn't exist.

But there's a video of this that's a little hard to ignore.

By now, it's been played and replayed thousands of times. It's been dissected frame by frame and analyzed more than the Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination.

There's no grassy knoll here, and we're sticking with the single-ball theory.

But plenty of questions remain unanswered:

Was the fan, identified as Christopher House, actually trying to get the ball, or was he merely doing his duty as a die-hard Red Sox fan by taking out a Yankee right fielder when the opportunity arose?

Did Sheffield attack House with a straight-arm after fielding the ball, or was he just introducing himself before making the throw back to the infield?

How did that security guard manage to leap onto the wall with a single bound?

Who was the mysterious woman with the cup of beer, and what was she doing with it?

And why does ESPN employ ex-jock announcers such as Rick Sutcliffe, whose knee-jerk reaction to the incident when it was taking place was that everyone was at fault except the players? It took Chris Berman, of all people, to tell a national television audience that the fan's actions didn't seem malicious while his broadcast partner all but demanded that House be strung up from the right-field foul pole.

Sutcliffe's not alone on that one. Almost every player asked in the aftermath about what Don King might promote as The Confrontation in the Corner blamed the fans in one breath while praising Sheffield for his tremendous restraint in the next.

''The people who should be commended are Sheffield and the security,'' said Mets first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who played for the Red Sox last year.

Before nominating Sheffield for the Nobel Peace Prize for not pummeling the fan like a rag doll, take a look at what really happened as he chased the ball into the corner Thursday night.

First, House obviously started it all by doing something he had no business doing #&151; reaching onto the field to either try and scoop up the ball, knock Sheffield out with a roundhouse hook, or practice his Tiger Woods-like underhand fist pump.

Put it in a court of law, though, and any judge who graduated from a decent law school would hold baseball at least partially responsible. The Red Sox, after all, separate their fans from the field with a tiny 3-foot-tall wall, inflame their passions by scheduling the Yankees almost every other week and then sell them copious amounts of beer.

If the players aren't supposed to be juiced, the fans shouldn't be, either.

Second, the security guard who leaped onto the wall to separate the fans and Sheffield is the only real hero in all of this. The guard's name, by the way, is Steven Chin, in case anyone wants to make him a better job offer.

Third, despite the protestations of his fellow players, Sheffield was dead wrong to go after the fan before he even threw the ball back in. If that wasn't bad enough, he tried to escalate the situation by going back and verbally confronting House before Chin literally flew in to separate them.

As player-fan confrontations go, this one doesn't match the NBA's Detroit melee involving Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers. It wasn't as bad as the incident last year when the Texas Rangers fought with fans in Oakland and reliever Frank Francisco was arrested after throwing a chair into the stands and breaking a woman's nose.

But it certainly had the potential to be. Most of the Yankee team ran to back up Sheffield, and if security didn't force calmer heads to prevail, it could have gotten real ugly, real fast.

What players need to understand is that fans have always been, and are always going to be, a part of the game. Sheffield wouldn't be making $13 million a year if people like House didn't pay $45 to sit in the front row down the foul line, and teams are always looking to boost revenue by adding more premium seats close to the field.

That doesn't give fans the right to interfere with the game, though it happens all the time (remember Steve Bartman at Wrigley Field?). On the other hand, players such as Sheffield have absolutely no right to assault fans, unless they fear for their lives.

So, Bud Selig, go ahead and make the Red Sox take away House's season tickets for a few months, assuming he has them. But make sure Sheffield gets suspended for at least a couple of games, too.

And, whatever you do, don't forget to give Steven Chin a raise.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org



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