Here's a sad sign of the times: The best broadcast team in baseball took to the airwaves repeatedly in the past week, trying to deter Giants fans from retaliating against Dodgers fans during the three-game series between the teams that started Monday night in San Francisco.
Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper did television and radio spots explaining that real Dodgers fans weren't to blame for the Opening Day beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. They told Giants fans to respect Dodgers fans, root for their team and keep everything in perspective.
The Giants took the responsible and proactive approach. They beefed up security to World Series level, which is interesting because World Series crowds -- at least the pre-clinching ones -- are far less likely than fans in rivalry games to inflict damage at a stadium. World Series tickets are too expensive, for one.
The extreme measures the Giants took to plead for sanity were probably necessary, but they're sad. Few incidents have sparked such public ire in the Bay Area as the beating of Stow, a 42-year-old father of two from Santa Cruz. People are rightfully shocked that someone could find himself in a coma simply because he wore the wrong jersey and took the wrong path to his car after a game. It's one of those flashpoint moments that cause right-thinking people to wonder whether the world has gone mad.
There has been a lot of ugliness in the aftermath, including racial comments and ignorant threats spewed on message boards, which are hardly a measure of anything, but still. The increased security is justified, if only because the prospect of revenge is a legitimate concern, given the heat this has generated.
A possible gang connection is an undercurrent of the retribution fears, although there is no evidence at this point linking Stow's attackers to Hispanic gangs. Sadly, there is enough animosity between Giants fans and Dodgers fans that Stow's beating could have been an unfortunate confluence of alcohol-fueled bravado and misplaced team loyalty. In other words, just like the majority of ballpark scuffles. However, the north-south identification among gangs in California can be personified by baseball uniforms: Giants north (Nortenos), Dodgers south (Surenos). It has nothing to do with baseball, just as Stow had nothing to do with the Nortenos. In fact, this wasn't about baseball any more than a wreck between a Chevy and an Oldsmobile is about General Motors.
I contend this is a sports story only because it occurred outside a ballpark. The two men who beat Stow are thugs first, baseball fans second. Their motivation had nothing to do with sports; Stow's Giants jersey was merely the avenue they chose to display their subhuman tendencies. They went after him because he was there; his affiliation to the Giants was just the excuse.
You can't rationalize the irrational. It's been well-known for quite some time -- at least three years -- that the atmosphere around Dodger Stadium has changed, especially for Giants-Dodgers games. Hispanic gang members have become a significant presence, and Giants gear is too big a temptation for some knuckleheads to resist.
Senseless beatings happen on city streets and in schoolyards, in hotel rooms, outside ballparks. To make it a referendum on the lunacy of fans, or the outsized role sports play in our culture, is to miss the point completely. The Giants had to beef up security and invoke their announcers for PSAs not because Giants fans might be tempted to beat up Dodgers fans but because sociopaths might be tempted to beat up someone who roots for the Dodgers.
In this context, the Dodgers' slow and slightly odd response to the tragedy makes some sense. They acted as if they were weighing their liability rather than reacting to a horrible event on their property. It seemed unusual; but if they came out too strongly, it might appear as if they were taking responsibility. They didn't want to claim those two thugs as their own; in the process, they came across as being short on compassion.
Since then, both teams have come together to offer a sizable reward for the capture of Stow's attackers. The Dodgers have taken steps to improve security at future games. Rethinking their decision to offer half-priced alcohol at select games this year might be a good idea, too.
The Giants did a cool thing Monday night. They dedicated the game to Stow and brought the two teams onto the field before the game. One player from each team spoke. Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt thanked the crowd for its contributions to a fund for Stow, then said, "Respect the rivalry, and respect each other as fans."
They can do that; and, by all accounts, they did. That doesn't mean as much as it might seem to, however, because the lesson of Brian Stow's tragic misfortune has only the most tenuous connection to the Giants or the Dodgers or baseball. The senselessness is the saddest part of all.