in downtown Chicago, baseball fans in Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium have become so violent that the stands are filled with police during every game and attendance has plummeted. The violence began this season on opening day, when a fan was assaulted so severely he is still in a coma. Naturally the
is causing the violence. Is it blacks? Hispanics? Whites? Laotians? We’re not told. All we’re told is that Dodger fans
, for some totally unexplained reason, they are the most violent.
Opening Day Attack Has Dodger Fans Seeing Blue All Over
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
LOS ANGELES—Baseball in Los Angeles: Dodger Dogs and views of the San Gabriel Mountains from the stands. Perfect California days for the Boys in Blue. A storied franchise playing in one of America’s vintage stadiums.
But these days, the boys in blue refer to a different uniformed team. Dodger Stadium is teeming with Los Angeles Police Department officers—on foot, on scooters, in patrol cars and in helicopters, on the lookout for fights and ugly rowdiness during and after games, in a stadium awash in empty seats.
As a result, the Dodgers, rich in history and victories and a source of civic pride since Walter O’Malley brought them here from New York in 1958, have become a source of embarrassment for the city this spring, with a parade of indignities testing the loyalty of their anguished fans.
The police presence—“Oh my God, it’s like an armed camp in there,” said David Hamlin, a communications consultant who attended a Chicago Cubs game last month—comes in response to an opening-day attack on a San Francisco Giants fan who is still in a coma.
The episode was unsettling for its brutality, but it was not entirely a shock, considering that the stadium has become a source of growing complaints about drunken and menacing crowds in the stands and in the streets.
The team has other problems, too. The long divorce drama involving its owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, has threatened the team’s financial viability and led Bud Selig, the Major League Baseball commissioner, to step in and take over to prevent the team from collapsing.
The owners, who are already derided here for spending money on luxury homes rather than on new players or security, were in danger of not meeting their payroll; indeed, it was considered something of a milestone when Mr. McCourt was able to meet his payroll at the end of May.
A team that used to be associated with championships was mired in the middle of the National League West on Wednesday, struggling to get to a .500 record. Attendance has slipped so much that The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article last week showing a picture of empty bleachers, with the headline “Dodgers’ fans are going, going … “
Can you blame Dodger fans for thinking that it’s time to send the bums back to Brooklyn?
“We go to games two or three times a year because of my affection for baseball,” Mr. Hamlin said. “I’d be very surprised if I go back this year. Very surprised. There are police officers on the field. There are police officers in the stands. The parking lot after the game made it look like watching the Mideast on television.”
Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa sighed when asked about the team he grew up with, attending the first games at Dodger Stadium and seeing players like Sandy Koufax pitch. “I think the entire city wants to get out of this purgatory,” he said. “I think everyone is frustrated.”
Attendance this year is down sharply; through 31 home games to date, it has averaged 35,787, compared with 43,489 last season—the biggest drop in the major leagues, according to ESPN.com. And those numbers may be somewhat overstated, given that many season-ticket holders appear to be leaving their tickets in the drawer and staying home.
Asked about all the empty seats, Josh Rawitch, a spokesman for the Dodgers, said, “We believe it is a number of factors.” He declined to elaborate.
Many of them, though, are self-evident. The financial turmoil surrounding the McCourts means that the team is essentially bereft of the big-name stars who attract fans even to teams with losing records, which the Washington Nationals were able to do with the pitcher Stephen Strasburg (at least until he hurt his arm last year). And it is tough being a losing team in any city.
More than anything, though, the opening day attack and the police presence in the stadium since then have made baseball here seem like anything but a family pastime. Dodger fans say the days when the biggest hassle of going to a ballgame was plotting ways to avoid the traffic, no small challenge for a stadium on the edge of downtown, now seem almost quaint.
Fans are beginning to draw unwelcome comparisons to the rough and threatening crowds that used to attend Raider football games before the team decamped to Oakland, Calif., in 1994, many of whom would sport gang colors and tattoos.
“When I got here, Dodger fans were unbelievably different than the fans I knew from New York,” said Woody Studenmund, a season-ticket holder and an economics professor at Occidental College who was born in Cooperstown, N.Y.—home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame—and moved here 30 years ago.
“They were polite, upbeat and seemed to make an effort to cheer even when good plays didn’t work,” Professor Studenmund said. “Until this sea of blue arrived, it was not surprising to see fights in the left field bleachers or other parts of the stadium. The whole crowd has become tougher.”
There seems little reason for hope on this season’s horizon. The McCourts will probably be dislodged as owners, though no one knows when that might happen. No one knows, either, how long it will take the team to repair its bond with the city.
“I think the damage is so severe that it will take many years to get past this,” said David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “They didn’t create the damage and ill will overnight. You have to go back and look at how amazing the Dodger brand once was. It will bounce back.”
“But it won’t bounce back overnight,” he added. “I think fans are interested in just getting past this era and to the point where you can go to a Dodger game and just think about and talk about baseball.”
Mark A. writes:
David B. writes: