Can’t we teach the thugs a real lesson?

Alex Verdugo, Alex Cora

Alex Verdugo’s (left) generosity turned into a particularly nasty piece of Yankee fan foolishness.

If you want to know why baseball players come to see baseball fans with contempt, as some always have and always will, you can point to the Yankee Stadium doings Saturday night. Even knowing the eternal rivalry between the Empire Emeritus and the Olde Towne Team, this was above and beyond the call of insanity.

All Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo did before the bottom of the sixth started was see fit to toss a practise ball to a young Red Sox fan in the bleachers. The ball didn’t quite reach that young fan’s hands, but it did reach a Yankee fan to whom Red Sox generosity might just as well have been a home invasion leaving none alive.

That Yankee fan threw Verdugo’s should-have-been gift ball back to the field and hit Verdugo squarely in the back. Verdugo was anything but amused. He turned toward the bleachers hollering to the fans. Highly-touted Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran hustled over to pull Verdugo away. Umpires, stadium security, and Red Sox coaches sought only to find the miscreant.

Miscreant found. And ejected from the ballpark posthaste. Eliciting a few cheers and a few more boos among the fans in that section. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasted no time pulling his team off the field after coach Tom Goodwin urged still-steaming Verdugo out of the outfield and toward the Red Sox dugout.

Cora even had to debate with the umpires over letting Verdugo have a few minutes to compose himself in the dugout. It shouldn’t even have been a debate point. This time, it was only Verdugo’s back. It could have been his head.

“I know my left fielder, I know Alex,” Cora said post-game. “He needed time to breathe and to get his thoughts.” Tell that to the umpires, as Cora ultimately did.

It seemed like nobody was listening to me. Like, imagine getting thrown at with an object in a sport and you’ve got to be out there right away because we have to continue to play the game — that part I didn’t agree. But Alex was OK with it. But you never know. What if he jumps the fence? What if he goes out there and attacks somebody? Whatever. That’s what I was telling them, just give us a chance to collect our thoughts, breathe a little bit and we’ll go out and play the game. That was the whole thing.

Verdugo knows the score only too well. Talk all the trash you want. Hammer all the family members you can think of. Chant your little heads off. Even holler “[Fornicate!] Verdugo” until your throat resembles a pair of sand blocks rubbing together. Throw a ball or other debris? Not so fast.

[T]he moment somebody throws — as players, we’re throwing balls in the stands to try to give people souvenirs, try to make little kids’ days and things like that. Just to hear people saying, ‘Throw it back’ and then someone actually throws it back and it felt like it was targeted towards me, it doesn’t sit right with me.

Throwing enemy home run balls back is a tradition almost as old as the live ball in some ballparks. Wrigley Field’s storied Bleacher Creatures have made it so much so that if you happen to watch a Cubs home game without a Creature throwing back an enemy home run ball (unless, of course, it’s a particular milestone mash with dollar value attached) it’s one step short of breaking-news bulletin time.

But no such Creature has ever been known to try separating an enemy outfielder from his assorted anatomy or his brains throwing a ball back. And not even the worst, most bombed out of his or her trees fan was ever been known (unless it just hasn’t been reported, until Saturday) to throw back a ball an opposing player tried to give a visiting fan as a souvenir.

Things weren’t hard enough between the Red Sox and the Yankees with the scheduled series opener last Thursday postponed after several Yankees—including right field star Aaron Judge—turned up COVID-positive? Things weren’t testy enough already Saturday, with a near-hour rain delay before the game and continuing rain during it?

Red Sox Nation should know that they now have an ally in Yankee manager Aaron Boone, who made no secret of his hope that the bleacher idiot ended up behind bars. Cora should also know that Boone would have acted the same as he did if the game had been in Fenway Park and a particularly brain-damaged Red Sox fan did likewise to one of his players.

It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable. My understanding is they did catch the guy. Hopefully he’s in jail right now. That’s just a bad situation. If I was Alex Cora, I would have done the same thing as far as going out and getting his guys off the field. There’s zero place for that in this great game, and in this great rivalry. Players should never feel like they have to worry about anything like that. I already reached out to Alex Cora, just to apologize, and to Alex Verdugo that, you know, that’s just a terrible, bad, sad situation. And sorry about that.

This during a season in which Reds first baseman Joey Votto—after getting ejected early in a game over an argument with an umpire, then learning a little girl named Abigail was heartbroken that she wouldn’t get to see her favourite Red play for just about all game long—reached out and sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I’m sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”

Saturday’s game was supposed to be about Duran’s major league debut. (He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a run scored, both in the top of the second.) And, about a pitching duel between Nathan Eovaldi (five innings, one earned run) and Gerrit Cole (six innings, one earned run, eleven punchouts).

The nasty weather ended the game after six in a 3-1 Yankee win. (Back-to-back solo bombs from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth took care of that, on Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s dollar.) The nasty weather in the left field bleachers became the story of the game, unfortunately.

The Yankees travel to Boston for a set in Fenway Park starting this coming Thursday. Red Sox Nation, beware: don’t even think about trying any similar stupidity if any Yankee decides to toss a practise ball to a visiting Yankee fan before an inning begins.

Maybe the thing for baseball government and the players union to consider together is mandating a forfeit to the opposing team, when a team’s own fans get as thuggish as the thug who thought Verdugo’s reward for generosity to a visiting young fan should have been a ball attack upon the left fielder’s back.

Once upon a sad October 1971 time, umpires awarded the Yankees a forfeit after heartsick Washington Senators fans—with Second Nats reliever Joe Grzenda one out from saving what should have been a win, and the Senators playing their final game before moving to Texas—stormed the RFK Stadium field. Grzenda never got to throw a single pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Those fans didn’t blame the Yankees or try to mangle, bangle, or dismember anything in a Yankee uniform. They’d have preferred decapitating duplicitous Senators owner Bob Short. (Banners with his initials proliferated in the stands.) Absent that, they took it out on RFK Stadium.

If you can forfeit to the visitors over breaking an entire ballpark, you ought to be able to forfeit to the visitors when a home fan decides a baseball offered a visiting fan should be the instrument for spontaneous back surgery upon the visiting player who offered it. Maybe (big maybe) that’ll teach the jackasses a few lessons.

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