Gary Sheffield's run-in with a fan in the front row of Fenway Park's right-field stands was bad. The melee at the Palace in Detroit last November was worse. Yet, when you consider all the possibilities, both are among a relatively short list of violent acts that have taken place between players and fans during major pro sports events.
The Palace Brawl (Pacers at Pistons, November 2004)
The game had been ugly -- pushing, shoving, fouls. Then, late in the fourth quarter, the Pacers' Ron Artest fouled the Pistons' Ben Wallace -- hard -- from behind on a layup, and Wallace turned around and pushed back. The benches emptied and punches flew. Then, while order was being restored, Artest walked over to the scorer's table and stretched out on his back.
Suddenly, a full cup of liquid refreshment hit Artest. He charged into the stands, swinging wildly as he clambered over seats. Teammate Stephen Jackson joined him. And a number of fans fought back. Later, a fan in a Piston's jersey walked up to Artest on the court, shouting, and Artest punched him in the face. Jermaine O'Neal joined the fray. The NBA suspended Artest for the rest of the season, and handed out lesser suspensions to several other players. Charges also were filed against both players and fans.
Frank Francisco arrested after hitting two fans with thrown chair (Rangers at Oakland, 2004)
The Texas bench and bullpen cleared when fans were razzing the players in the bullpen and Francisco was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery after he threw a chair into the right-field box seats near the Rangers' bullpen. The chair hit a man in the head, then bounced and struck a woman on her left temple.
Tie Domi douses some fans, wrestles another while in penalty box (Maple Leafs at Philadelphia, 2001)
Domi, waiting out a penalty early in the third period, poured water over some taunting Philly fans. Then another fan tried to jump into the penalty box and slug Domi; he missed with the punch and fell into the box, where Domi wrestled him. "Hey, that's old-time hockey, it was perfect," said Domi. "Hey, he comes into my territory, that's what happens."
The fan was cited and Domi continued play later in the period.
The rumble at Wrigley (Dodgers at Chicago, 2000)
Rowdy Cubs fans were showering the Dodgers' bullpen with beer and tried to steal catcher Chad Kreuter's cap in the ninth inning of a tight ballgame. Dodgers coaches John Shelby and Rick Dempsey joined Kreuter and a slew of other Dodgers, going into the stands down the right-field line to retaliate. The Dodgers got a close win, but nine days later, 16 players and three coaches were handed suspensions for their involvement in the melee.
Home ain't what it used to be (Astros at Milwaukee, 1999)
In the sixth inning of an Astros-Brewers game in Milwaukee, a 23-year-old fan ran onto the field and jumped Houston right fielder Bill Spiers, a former Brewer. As Spiers tried to shake him off, his teammates came to the rescue, led by Mike Hampton, who got in some nasty kicks. Spiers suffered whiplash and was bloodied and bruised. The fan was arrested and held on a $250,000 in bail on charges of battery and disorderly conduct.
"In all my years of baseball, I've never heard or seen anything like that," said Brewers interim manager Jim Lefebvre. "To be honest, it's almost horrifying. It was just a terrible, isolated incident."
Royals coach Tom Gamboa attacked at Comiskey Park (Sept. 19, 2002)
Kansas City Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa was attacked on the field by 34-year-old William Ligue Jr. and his 15-year-old son, who rushed the field from the first-base line.
The Royals dugout cleared and the the bullpen rushed in from right field to help Gamboa and pummel Ligue.
Randy Myers marshals his martials (Astros at Chicago, 1995)
In the eighth inning of a wild contest between the Cubs and Astros at Wrigley, Chicago reliever Randy Myers surrendered a two-run, pinch-hit home run to James Mouton that gave Houston a 9-7 lead. As Mouton circled the bases, 27-year-old John Murray ran out of the stands and toward the mound.
"I felt the look in his eyes, that he wanted to hurt me," Myers said. "He reached for his pocket and I thought it could be for a knife or a gun, so I dropped him with a forearm."
Myers, it seems, was well-trained in the martial arts and pinned Murray to the ground until he was taken away. "I tried to defend myself and my teammates," said Myers. "When he was down on the ground, I kept holding his hands so he couldn't reach for his waistband or pocket. I kept thinking he might have a gun or a knife. Fortunately, nobody was hurt."
The reliever got big cheers from the Wrigley crowd when he exited after facing one more batter.
Vernon Maxwell slugs Portland heckler (Houston Rockets at Portland, 1995)
With the Rockets on the way to a 120-82 loss, Maxwell lost his cool and plunged 12 rows deep to punch a fan who had been heckling him. "If I had been there, I'd have probably cold-cocked him, too," said Maxwell's lawyer. "You can't think of anything more vulgar, more fighting words, than what this guy said to Vernon." Maxwell got a 10-game suspension and $20,000 fine from the NBA.
Man U star Eric Cantona kicks fan with Nike spike (Manchester United at Crystal Palace, 1995)
Cantona, a superstar striker from France, charged into the stands and kicked a fan in the chest. According to a British newspaper, the Daily Record, he was wearing shoes with "inch-long aluminum studs." Cantona was charged in the attack and initially found guilty and sentenced to two weeks in jail.
Miami DL Mark Caesar douses Florida State fans with ice water (Miami vs. FSU, 1991)
While the Hurricanes celebrated their 17-16 win on the field, Caesar was dragged off it by FSU police and charged with misdemeanor simple battery, becoming the first player to be arrested at FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium. His offense: hitting fans with ice water thrown over his shoulder during the first half. "The fans were being abusive so I retaliated and threw some ice back," the 6-foot-2-inch, 290-pound Caesar said. Miami coach Dennis Erickson told the Orlando Sentinel, "On the sidelines, the fans were pelting everybody with ice, oranges, all kinds of things were flying."
Milton Bradley bottle throwing incident (Rockies at Dodgers, Sept. 2004)
Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley reacted angrily after a fan threw a plastic bottle at him after he made an error. Bradley picked up the bottle and approached the stands, yelling at the fan and then slamming the bottle into the first row of the stands. As Bradley walked off the field after getting ejected, he took off his jersey and hat. As fans behind the dugout booed, he gestured, urging the fans on.
"I deserved to be booed for reacting that way," Bradley said. "You can't approach the stands.
Albert Belle's hell: a perfect throw earns a suspension (1991)
Albert Belle, who disliked being called "Joey," was in the Cleveland Stadium outfield when Jeff Pillar yelled from the left-field stands, "Hey, Joey, keg party at my place after the game, c'mon over." In retrospect, it sounds like a friendly invitation. But at the time, it was a particularly nasty heckle, as Belle had spent much of the previous summer in an alcohol rehab program.
Belle retaliated by picking up a foul ball and throwing a perfect strike at Pillar's chest from about 15 feet away, leaving Pillar with a weltering souvenir.
This was one case when Belle had the clear support of the fans, who gave him a hearty round of applause for nailing Pillar. But Belle got a one-week suspension and a fine from the AL.
Charles Barkley spits on 8-year-old girl (76ers at New Jersey, 1991)
With 1:38 left in OT at the Meadowlands, the Sixers' Barkley, who said he was aiming at a heckler sitting court-level, spit on an 8-year-old girl. "He [the heckler] was walking toward me, and I spit at him," said Barkley. "I was tired, and I didn't have enough foam in my mouth. It went everywhere." Barkley, who appeared to be sincere in his apologies to the girl, was ejected, suspended for a game and fined $10,000.
Torre's take: "Dick Williams is an idiot" (Atlanta vs. San Diego, 1984)
Braves pitcher Pascual Perez hit Padres leadoff hitter Alan Wiggins on the first pitch to set off a beanball war that escalated into perhaps baseball's ugliest game ever: brawls between Atlanta and San Diego erupted in the second, fifth, eighth, and ninth innings after Padres manager Dick Williams told Padres' hurlers they could use Perez for target practice.
Late in the game, Atlanta fans got into the act. One slammed a mug of beer on Kurt Bevacqua's head, and Bevacqua climbed onto the top of the dugout in pursuit before police got in his way. Another fan was taken down by Atlanta's Chris Chambliss and Jerry Royster near the third-base line. Five fans in all were led away from the action in handcuffs.
"Dick Williams is an idiot," said Braves manager Joe Torre, who was ejected along with Williams and 12 others. "It was obvious he was the cause of the whole thing. Precipitating a thing like that was inexcusable. It was stupid of them, period, to take four shots at Perez. It was gutless. It stinks. It was Hitler-like action. I think he [Williams] should be suspended for the rest of the year."
He wasn't; Williams was suspended for 10 days and fined $10,000 -- and the Padres went on to reach the World Series.
Ilie Nastase flings ice cream cones at fans (Dutch Open, 1982)
Nasty's primary target was a linesman who made a ruling he disagreed with, but what the heck, the fans got in the way. Nastase registered his outrage by grabbing a vendor's load of ice cream cones and throwing at least some at fans, writes John McGran in "World's Greatest Sports Brawls." He then returned to the court, painted the linesman with the delicious treat, and played on.
Reggie Smith, in the stands at Candlestick (Dodgers at San Francisco, 1981)
Smith, a Dodgers outfielder, had been jeered for half of the game from behind the Dodgers' dugout at Candlestick Park. His stoic stance vis-à-vis the abuse snapped in the sixth, and he went charging into the stands to take on Michael Dooley, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound Giants fan later described by his wife as a "rather mellow guy." Smith got in one good shot, but then the crowd pounded him. Other Dodgers came to the rescue, and pounded the fans back.
Smith was ultimately ejected. Eight fans were charged with misdemeanors. Dooley went to the hospital after his brief visit to jail. And almost immediately, Mrs. Dooley talked about suing.
Bruins brawl with Rangers fans at Madison Square Garden (Boston at New York, 1979)
After the Bruins won a 4-3 contest, it looked like some player fisticuffs might take place, with Rangers goaltender John Davidson in the lead. What ended up happening was much uglier, with Bruins players and Rangers fans going at it. Fans started throwing things on the ice, and one of them punched Boston's Stan Jonathan, setting off a melee with Bruins charging into the stands.
"Terry O'Reilly, the Boston captain, went into the crowd," wrote Jim Naughton in the New York Times. "O'Reilly was surrounded by fans. Seeing that, the rest of the Bruins, except Gerry Cheevers, the goaltender, climbed over the boards."
Most reports, wrote Naughton, agreed that at the very least "John Kaptain was beaten over the head with his shoe, that a woman was slapped across the face and that several fans were punched." Four Rangers fans were arrested for their part in the melee.
Piersall's punch, kick and catch contest (Indians at New York, 1961)
In the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland's Jimmy Piersall was minding his own business in center field when two fans came out of the stands in the seventh inning and tried to attack him. Piersall immediately scored a knockdown punch on one. The other, mustering all his courage, ran away as quickly as possible. But Piersall took off after him, getting not-quite-close enough to land a rough kick on the kid. No problem. By then, Piersall's teammates, Johnny Temple and Walt Bond, had arrived to land a few solid blows.
Barely missing a beat, Piersall made a spectacular catch at the fence to rob Johnny Blanchard of a two-run homer. Dig this: Yankee fans gave Piersall a huge cheer as he left the field.
Babe the "big bum" challenges all (The Polo Grounds, 1922)
The Bambino was battling a slump in late May and tried to stretch a single into a double, was thrown out, and expressed his displeasure at the call by throwing dirt in the umpire's eye. The ump responded by tossing the Babe. Episode over? Not even close.
The New York fans booed and hissed as the Babe exited the field, pausing only to take a theatrical bow. Then, as Robert Creamer recounts in "Babe," a heckler behind the dugout shouted, "You god damned big bum, why don't you play ball?" Ruth immediately jumped onto the dugout roof and into the stands, chased the heckler until he was too far out of reach, then returned to the dugout roof.
And from there he shouted, "Come on down and fight! Anyone who wants to fight, come down on the field! Ah, you're all alike, you're all yellow!"
Ruth got a brief suspension and a $200 fine for the episode.
Ty Cobb bloodies "Otto Blotz" (Tigers at Yankees, 1912)
A couple of days worth of heckling by Yankees fans finally got to Cobb at the old Yankee home, Hilltop Park. Cobb vaulted into the stands behind the Tigers' bench and went right after a man identified, pseudonymously, as "Otto Blotz." The Peach pummeled Mr. Blotz, who couldn't fight back with his fists -- he only had one hand, and that hand had only two digits.
"Cobb's execution was rapid and effective," the New York Times reported the next day. "Ty used a change of pace and had nice control. Jabs bounded off the spectator's face like a golf ball from a rock."
Cobb was suspended, and probably for the first time in his career was backed by his teammates. They went on strike, vowing not to return until he was reinstated. After a team of replacement Tigers lost 24-2, Cobb told his teammates thanks, but no thanks. The "real" Tigers returned to the field, and Cobb was back a week later. No word on the ultimate fate of Blotz.
The baseball incidents described above previously appeared in Jeff Merron's Page 2 list: "Players vs. fans.