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No fan of talk about incident

BALTIMORE -- Stop the madness.

Please!

Please?

We are now one week into an episode that should have been in our conversational rearview mirror no later than last weekend. But it goes on and on and on, and now the Boston police are injecting themselves into the matter. The police are seeking charges against two fans who had their little moment of infamy in the April 14 game against the Yankees, and Gary Sheffield, who is supposed to be a tough guy, is still acting as if someone beat him senseless while he was in pursuit of a batted ball. I mean, listening to him babble on, I'm wondering why he isn't in intensive care, rather than batting third for the Yankees.

This is all beyond ridiculous. I will repeat what I said last Thursday night. When it was all said and done, do you know what exactly happened?

Nothing.

The actual baseball was unaffected. Jason Varitek hit a low liner down the right-field line. Sheffield misplayed it. If you're the right fielder, the one thing you do not want the ball to do in that circumstance is to start rolling along the curved fence. When that happens, it's a triple for the Jason Variteks of the world and possibly even an inside-the-parker for the Pokey Reeses.

The ball rolled to the Mohegan Sun sign, and then whatever happened, happened. I say that because, like many of you, I have watched that video at least 20 times (no exaggeration) and I am still unable to determine just what it was that Christopher House did in that footage, or whether he even made contact with Sheffield. And if he did make any contact at all, it was certainly minimal. After whatever happened, happened, Sheffield thrust his glove in the direction of Mr. House and then decided it might be a good idea to throw the ball back to the infield on the off chance that Varitek might be thinking about trying for home.

Oh, yeah. A second guy managed to nail Sheffield with the contents of his beer cup, which was certainly a waste of six hard-earned dollars.

As far as I'm concerned, both Mr. House and Mr. Sheffield are truth-fudgers. The former was not going for the baseball and the latter was not harmed or impeded in his pursuit of the baseball.

The guy I can't understand here is Sheffield. I have been told he is so macho that on an occasion when he was actually the victim of a gunshot wound, he elected to get a haircut before seeking medical attention. So what is all the whining about some negligible contact initiated by a fan -- if there even was any contact?

Please understand my basic position. It would be difficult to find more of a hard-liner on the subject of fan interference with a baseball in play than me. I have (jokingly, I assure you) said and written on numerous occasions that the best way to discourage someone from becoming an intentional part of the action would be to take the offender out to second base just before the next home game and chop his or her hand off. That ought to get everyone's attention.

But seriously, folks, what really can be done with these insipid people, young and old, who think their desire for a souvenir should override a defensive player's right to make a play? After all, they have been asked politely not to do it and threatened with expulsion for doing it for years. And just about every night, in some ballpark, a fan battles a player for a foul pop, a fly ball, or a ball rolling along a low fence, such as the one in Fenway Park that extends from the right-field foul pole to the visiting bullpen.

The Red Sox' solution is to post a few signs in the area of L'Affaire Sheffield/House warning people of the consequences should they interfere with a live baseball. That's fine, but they need to keep going. That isn't even the biggest trouble area in the park. There is a better chance of someone interfering with a player trying to catch a foul pop than there is of a repeat scenario such as last Thursday. If they're going to put up signs, they need them from the section by the left-field foul pole all the way to the visiting bullpen, the only exception, of course, being the sections protected by the screen.

The best solution would be to remove the first three to five rows all the way around and create an open space between the fence and new first row. Then station security people there to monitor the action. But that has about as much chance of implementation as my Day After proposal.

Meanwhile, what is driving the absurd obsession with this incident? Oh, gee, let me think. Let's start with the fact that it was a Yankee game. I rather doubt we'd be yakking about this a week later if the player in question was Craig Monroe (he is a Detroit Tiger). Then throw in talk radio, the Internet, and ESPN showing the video 147 million times. We live in an age where overkill and overanalysis are the norm. I promise you if this had happened even 20 years ago, and even in a Yankee game, it would not have had any legs. Back then it took someone throwing a bolt at Mickey Rivers or a dart at Chris Chambliss to get our attention, not someone breathing on Gary Sheffield. And speaking of Sheffield, I have been amused by the way so many have praised him for his "restraint." For what? For not acting like a jerk and a criminal and beating the stuffing out of House?

It doesn't bother me a whole lot that the Red Sox have revoked House's season tickets. He has taken one for the old team, for sure, and if it does make an impression on other people thinking about messing around with baseballs out there, great. But criminal prosecution for, and I quote from the statute, "interfering with a public assembly?"

No!

It's nonsense. Sheffield is the one who could have avoided the whole thing by playing the ball properly. Sheffield is the one who should have been fined by Joe Torre for not throwing the ball to the infield before turning his attention to House. Whatever House did -- AND WE STILL CAN'T EVEN SAY WHAT THAT WAS -- it had no effect on the play. From the moment that ball started its little excursion, Varitek wasn't going anywhere but third.

Believe me, when someone really interferes with play, I'll be the first to mount a soapbox. Chris House did no such thing. Throw him out of the park, sure. That's for the greater good. But he has no business being in court.

This is all madness. We must move on.

Please.


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