To tase or not to tase

    To tase or not to tase. That was the urgent Philadelphia question this week.
    In this week’s “Centre Square” essay, Chris Satullo digs into ancient history to explain why it’s not a good idea to let big-league fans scamper about the field of play.

    [audio: satullo20100509.mp3]

    At first blush, I thought Philly cops indulged in risky overreaction when they zapped the teenaged doofus who capered about the Citizens Bank Park outfield last Tuesday.

    Then, I remembered what I witnessed on June 4, 1974.

    On that Age of Disco evening long ago, the worst-ever outbreak of bad behavior by major league baseball fans took place.

    Yep, I was there for the 10-cent Beer Night Riot in Cleveland.

    So I know how much can go wrong if fans who dart on the field go unpunished.

    The Cleveland Indians of that era were a feckless bunch. They lost many, many games while drawing paltry crowds.

    The team, desperate to put fannies in the seats, dreamed up a 10-cent beer promotion. In Ohio then, the legal age to drink beer was only 18. So thousands of teens were among the 30,000 on hand for Beer Night.

    The team set up beer wagons behind the outfield fence. By the third inning, each was a jostling, sudsy scene from Animal House. In the fifth inning, the first fan jumped onto the field, took beefy security guards on a Keystone Kops chase, then paused in center field to moon the crowd. Uh-oh.

    Now, children, gather round while Uncle Chris tells you about a strange fad that swept the nation in those distant times. It was called streaking. Hordes of able-bodied youth, usually male, would trot around in public en masse, showing off ALL of their able bodies. By the seventh inning, the Cleveland Stadium outfield had become Streaking Central, U.S.A.

    For a while, it was funny – but the chaos turned mean. In the ninth, a melee broke out in right field between drunken fans and the Texas Rangers bullpen. The rest of the Rangers raced from their dugout, waving bats like warclubs. As a mob slugged it out on the field, the deluded stadium organist played Sousa marches, as though that would help.

    In the end people got hurt, the Tribe had to forfeit the game, and my hometown had another black eye. In part because that first kid got cheered for eluding capture.

    So, putting a jolt of current through a dumb 17-year-old may not be the perfect solution. But neither is treating fans on the field of play as a big joke.

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