Baseball had a problem.
When Chris Chambliss homered to win the AL Championship Series for the Yankees in 1976, he couldn’t even touch them all.
Instead he had to dodge and skirt and even stiff-arm those fans who overwhelmed police and captured the field, like today’s Ukrainian protesters.
Four years later the Phillies had a chance to win their first World Series. Since Veterans Stadium was already one of the great outdoor beer gardens of the Western Hemisphere, baseball sensed its problem would spiral into anarchy.
So it solved it.
As Kansas City batted in the top of the ninth, a door opened in center field and the horses came. And kept coming. Frank White, the Royals’ second baseman, thought he was back in the Dominican winter league.
The mounted police hugged the railings, and other cops brought German shepherds, on leashes, and stood on top of the dugouts.
The message was clear. Don’t test your animal instincts against real animals.
Baseball no longer had a problem. The fans stayed where they were, and the Phillies hugged each other in peace, the way all baseball champions do to this day.
Charging the field became inadvisable and then became unthinkable.
Now college basketball has a problem.
On Thursday at UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii coach Gib Arnold had just absorbed a technical foul when a blue-and-gold clad student ran across the floor and upbraided him. Hawaii players pushed the fan away, but that was the first resistance he met.
Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was suspended for three games, endangering the Cowboys’ NCAA tournament chances, when he pushed an abusive fan at Texas Tech.
An argument at the end of Utah Valley’s home victory over New Mexico State became a full-blown brawl when hundreds of fans came out for the ritualistic storm-the-court exercise.
Which raised this question: You really feel compelled to storm the court when you beat New Mexico State?
There was no bodily harm in any of these incidents. Apparently nothing will stop them until there is, until someone brings a knife or a loaded gun to the playing surface.
Ask Monica Seles how many Grand Slam titles she lost, along with her blood, when Gunter Parche came out of the seats in Hamburg with a boning knife in his hand.
What would happen to anyone who stormed the violin section at the L.A. Philharmonic?
What would happen if a drunken patron watched Biff and Willy argue, during “Death Of A Salesman,” and decided to join in?
Yet some fans think the ticket they buy qualifies them to join the cast.
Jeff Orr, the Texas Tech fan who incited Smart, was still in his courtside seat when Smart barged toward him after he’d blocked a shot.
Smart said that Orr used a racial slur. Orr denied that. Orr abstained from Texas Tech basketball games the rest of the season, as did most of Tech’s players.
Both parties apologized, and life goes on.
But surely some of you would have smiled, in private, had the rules of the street taken over, and Smart had, you know, broken Orr’s jaw.
So were the horses and dogs.
Likewise, there are several punishments for the UCSB fan that might seem excessive but are tasty to consider.
He should have been forced to run into the action during the Daytona 500.
He should have been shoved into the octagon with Ronda Rousey waiting.
Or the Gauchos should have been given a double technical. Those 6-point plays have a way of motivating the home team to step up its crowd control.
Once upon a time, student sections were funny. One recalls the Duke students yelling “airball,” in German, when Washington’s Detlef Schrempf went to the foul line.
In an amazing display of coordination and wit, the Iowa State kids executed a mass “flop” when Smart, a noted foul embellisher, was introduced Saturday.
Maybe the misbehavior will be cured by apathy.
College basketball attendance keeps plunging. UCLA’s crowds are down by more than 1,000 per game in the past three seasons.
Even Kentucky, playing in an arena that has accommodated over 24,000, averaged 18,969.
At many places there aren’t enough customers to storm anything, except maybe the beer stand.
Few court-stormers would recognize the name of Mike Curtis. The Mad Dog was a particularly medieval Baltimore Colts linebacker who saw a fan cross the line in 1971 and threaten to make off with the ball.
Curtis clotheslined the fan before he could.
Curtis is 72 years old today and presumably not very busy. Let’s put him in charge of college basketball “event protocol.”
Because the NFL doesn’t have a problem.