That kid in Philly should not have been tased

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Phillies fan taser.jpgLet me start out by acknowledging a couple of things:

1. That kid at the Phillies game had no business whatsoever being on the field last night. He should be arrested and charged to the fullest extent the law allows.

2. Fans on the field represent a threat to the athletes. I remember the Monica Seles incident. I remember Tom Gamboa being attacked in Chicago.  That’s scary stuff and no one should abide threats to the players, coaches or officiants at a sporting event.

That said, I do not agree that the guy at the Phillies game should have been subdued with a Taser. It was too much force, in my view, and was disproportionate to the threat presented.

And make no mistake: a Taser is designed to be use to combat threats, not merely to help subdue drunks or trespassers. Indeed, the very company who makes the Taser calls it a product that “protects life.” One that is designed to “incapacitate dangerous, combative, or
high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement/correctional
officers, innocent citizens, or themselves
.” 

Watch the video of the incident here. Can anyone point to a moment where the kid threatened or even came near anyone on the field? Any point where he appeared to be “dangerous,” or “combative?” Any point where he appeared to “pose a risk to law enforcement officers?” If you can identify it please let me know, because to me it looks like the whole scene was calling far louder for an overdub of “Yakety Sax” than the use of high voltage force.  In the grand scheme of things, this kid represented a threat somewhere below that of your average streaker and somewhere above Morgana the Kissing Bandit.

The most common response I’ve heard to this argument today is “but Craig, we don’t know what the kid could have done! There was so much uncertainty!”  My response to that: every single encounter between law enforcement and the public brings uncertainty. Ask a cop and he’ll tell you: even the most mundane traffic stop has the potential to turn dangerous quickly. That’s just a fact of life when you’re dealing with people who do wrong, or who are at least suspected of such.

But we don’t allow police officers to use force at every traffic stop or whenever they encounter a drunk or a trespasser. Why? Because such force is not necessary to accomplish the goals of police work.  Force — and the the use of a Taser is definitely force — is a last resort, only to be used in a manner commensurate with the threat presented and to overcome the obstacles which prevent the accomplishment of the officer’s goal.  This is the law. It also happens to be a pretty good idea.

Late this morning the Philadelphia police issued a statement standing behind the police officer who used the taser.  The rationale was that “the officer had acted within the department’s guidelines, which allow
officers to use Tasers to arrest fleeing suspects.”  To which I respond: where was he fleeing? He was in a walled off stadium surrounded by police and security guards. He was almost certain to just stop and give up as soon as his beer-fueled bravado ran its course, which appeared to be within approximately 10 seconds of when he was tased. He wasn’t going anywhere.

I know that people worry about the safety of players.  I do too.  I also worry, however, about what happens when the government uses its most serious power: the power to exert force over citizens. There are over 2000 baseball games a year. In any given year there
are very, very few incidents of fans running on the field. Of those, incidents in which the fans get anywhere near a player before being subdued are even rarer. If more attention were paid to in-stadium security, the incidents would be even rarer than that.

Now think about what we risk when we tell police officers that it’s
perfectly acceptable to use force without heed to the actual threat — as opposed to potential threat — posed by the suspect.  Because make no mistake, that’s what anyone who uses the “but we have no idea what could have happened” argument to support the police officer is really saying.  Personally I find that unsettling.

Based on what their web site says, I think the folks who make Tasers would find that unsettling too.

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.