September 04, 2010
But this throwing back of the foul ball, it sets a worrisome precedent.
Lest you forgot, Phillips back in August upset all of Redbird Nation — especially Mother Hen Tony La Russa — by referring to the Cardinals as a bunch of [whiners]. Phillips actually used an unkinder word, one with other connotations, in setting a certain tone.
Despite what seemed to be a guaranteed bellwether moment in the season, the Cards would lose nine games in the standings heading into Friday night's series opener in St. Louis.
At least, at long last, Cards fans had a chance to respond to Phillips — who has been dubbed "Public Enemy No. 1" by Al Hrabosky of Fox Sports Midwest. Easy there, Mad Hungarian. Besides, that designation probably should have been given to Cueto, who was absent from the kick line on Friday.
But respond to Phillips the fans did; With jeers, funny signs and, presumably, lots of dirty looks and mean thoughts.
In the third inning, one fan even showed complete contempt for objects hit by Phillips into the Busch Stadium stands by throwing back one of his foul balls.
The rest of the crowd went berserk. Some of the Cardinals players were appreciative. The moment probably felt as satisfying as the last out of the Cardinals 3-2 victory. And it was, from a certain point of view, funny.
Back in the '70s, or maybe earlier, Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field began the practice of throwing back opponents home run balls. This custom, which receded for a time, roared back in the '90s and has become a rusty staple at Cubs games ever since.
And it's spread, like an annoying virus, to most if not all major league stadiums.
Throwing back home runs is wrong on many levels, if not every level. How many levels you got?
• The home run still counts. It's not like umpires will mistake the rejector for part of the outfield fence, get confused and call it a double.
• You caught a home run ball, no matter who hit it. Keep it and treasure it like a normal human being would. This ain't no bowling alley and you ain't no ball return.
• Nobody cares what kind of arm you have, Henry Rowengartner. The scouts ain't watching you.
• Pressuring others, especially children, to throw back home run balls is the worst kind of excuse for human behavior. If somebody told you to throw yourself off the upper deck of Yankee Stadium, would you do it?
So, what happened in St. Louis is a variant of that.
Earlier in his third-inning at-bat, Phillips fouled a ball off and the crowd in that section tried pressuring who caught it to throw it back. He or she would not. Heroically, I say.
But then, a few moments later, Phillips hit another foul. The second fan didn't need to be coerced. He gave it a good heave, from his section in the lower deck, onto the field. Cardinals pitcher Kyle McClellan(notes) watched it happen from the bullpen.
"It was funny," McClellan said. "The first one, they booed the guy that didn't throw it back. And the next one, [teammate Mitchell Boggs(notes)] said, 'That ball's coming back.' We could see it from the bullpen. The guy was fighting to get it, and showed it off, and then let it eat. He had a pretty good arm, too."
Phillips, who went 0 for 4, is now is extra double convinced that people in St. Louis don't like him. The Throwing Man was escorted by security from his seat and, presumably, out of the ballpark.
Hmm, too bad. He missed the final six innings. He did go home with a good story. It better not have a sequel.
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