Jewish World Review July 22, 2002 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5762

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Baseball needs to ban the fans | I think I've come up with the solution to baseball's image problem: Ban the fans.

That's right. Lock the gates, tack up "No Trespassing" signs and tell everyone to go home.

The fans would love it, and in no time at all baseball would return to its former glory and be as popular as women's lacrosse.

At least that's the thinking of Mike Veeck, owner of the Charleston (S.C.) Riverdogs, the Class A affiliate of a team that has perfected the art of discouraging fans, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

On a recent Monday night, Veeck locked hundreds of fans out of Joe Riley Stadium as the Riverdogs prepared to do battle with the Columbus Red Stixx. Everybody except employees, scouts and the almighty media was barred from entering the stadium on what Veeck had dubbed "Nobody Night."

The idea was to set the record for lowest attendance at a professional baseball game. After the fifth inning, when the game became official along with the attendance (zero), the few fans who had hung around were allowed back in the stadium, where they immediately set another record by performing the world's shortest "wave."

I'm making that last part up (I think). Actually, the fans seemed quite happy to be locked out of the stadium. Veeck had staged a party for them outside the outfield fence complete with discounted food and beer. If they were so inclined, the fans could sneak a peek through the fence at the game going on inside. It was just like any other night at the park, only with worse seats and less chance of being hit with a ball or bat.

This is not the first time Veeck has tried to whip up fan interest with some outlandish stunt. Proponents of elective surgery may remember Veeck as the father, so to speak, of Vasectomy Night, on which a lucky (?) fan received a free snip job by winning (?) a drawing. (This promotion was called off at the last minute when management realized that food and beer sales would suffer because all the men refused to remove their hands from their crotches.)

Other promotions were more successful, like Tonya Harding Bat Night and Marriage Counseling Night (scheduled, one must presume, immediately before Vasectomy Night). Veeck elevated himself into my personal pantheon of American heroes when he staged Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in 1979. Fans were urged to burn disco records in the outfield of Comiskey Park, but the event turned ugly when somebody, apparently high on the fumes of melting vinyl, began singing the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."

All of which suggests that it's not the greed of owners or players, the use of steroids or the $4 price of hot dogs that's bringing baseball down; it's lack of imagination. What we need are more visionaries like Mike Veeck who understand that the way to fill seats is to lock fans out of the ballpark for half the game and then, when you let them in, go after the men with a pair of dull hedge clippers.

With a strategy like this, I predict fans will flock to the ballpark faster than you can say "Monday Night Football."

So keep up the good work, Mike Veeck. But I'd like to state, for the record, that Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" was a mighty fine song.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Sarasota Herald Tribune