What can baseball do to prevent future incidents like the recent attack on a Giants fan at Dodger Stadium by a couple of alleged Dodgers fans? Bryan Stow was seriously injured, and has shown signs of brain damage at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. His skull was fractured, and his neurosurgeon said Stow suffered frontal lobe bruising, as well.
Stow's family said they don't blame Dodger fans as a whole for the attack, and Los Angeles Police Department officials said their investigation is ongoing. Given the seriousness of the incident, however, one would hope that any real fan would blow the whistle on Stow's attackers.
Is there a trend toward fan violence in baseball? Some seem to think so, as if a local version of "West Side Story" is a threat to break out anytime fans of both teams are in attendance at the same game.
GQ Magazine recently conducted a study on the worst sports fans in America. The winners? At No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles. Of those fans, GQ wrote: "The truth is this: All told, Philadelphia stadiums house the most monstrous collection of humanity outside of the federal penal system."
Wow. Pretty harsh stuff, don't you think? Yet, beyond the online complaints by Philadelphia fans themselves, there seems to be little dispute nationally.
I'll say this for Philly fans:They travel well. The Phillies are coming to Washington on Tuesday for their first visit of the year, and you know their fans will be there in decent numbers. One can only hope there will be no incidents, and some sense of decorum will prevail. But no one's holding their breath.
Those of us old enough to remember the early years of the Capitals can easily recall the huge numbers of Flyers fans who would descend upon the Capital Centre when their Broad Street Bullies would head down Interstate 95. The Caps were awful and the Flyers were at the top of their chippy game in those days, but I really don't recall any problems with fights in the stands or parking lots. There were a couple of near-incidents in the press dining room when Philly broadcaster Gene Hart and the late Bob Fachet, hockey writer for The Washington Post, would get in each other's faces over the Flyers' commit-five-penalties-and-hope-you-only-get-whistled-for-two game plan, but no fists were thrown.
Baseball seemed to be the last bastion of acceptable fan behavior, but GQ actually listed the Top 15 Worst Sports Fans. Beyond the Phillies in the top spot, the other baseball fans who made the list were the Red Sox at No. 6 (labeled "Insufferable hypocrites") and the Yankees at No. 9 ("Satan's chosen team").
Your team has to be pretty good, obviously, for its fans to start woofing. The Capitals have been pretty good for a number of years, but I'm not aware of any serious incidents involving their fans and fans of opposing teams - certainly nothing like the attack outside Dodger Stadium.
There's no cure-all for fan violence. We live in a society that glorifies a kind of take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to rooting for whomever is perceived as the good guy in a competition. Sure, there have been some isolated incidents of property destruction after some baseball teams have won - or lost - big games. Physical attacks, however, are something altogether different, and unacceptable under any circumstances.
Nationals fans have, so far, done a good job of policing themselves. Let's keep that in mind next week.