Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: What Are Your Rights When Heckling At An MLB Game?
Did you know that the Yankees have security guards to protect their players at away games? Yep. Apparently you can get thrown out of a stadium for giving A-Rod the business, even if you’re in Boston or Detroit. Sounds odd — even somehow sacrilegious. Wasn’t the right to heckle our least favorite players handed down from the Founding Fathers? Wasn’t the first heckle on North American soil something like “Heeeyyy British! You can’t shoot you can’t shoot you can’t shoot, and you have bad teeth! Heeyyy British!”
But when it comes to saying stuff in an MLB park, you’d be surprised at how few rights you actually have.
Just ask Justin Jackson (pictured below), a 30-year-old Blue Jays fan who witnessed the Yankee Goon Squad in action. During a game earlier this month, Jackson was sitting in the Rogers Centre, near the Yankees bullpen, and watched as two other fans, seated in a row in front of him, began heckling Yankees pitchers.
Suddenly two men wearing black suits (what else?) and Yankees lanyard badges arrived on the scene, pointed to the two fans and began writing in a small book. They soon returned with Toronto police officers and pointed out the fans, who were forcibly removed. (Video here).
And when Jackson says forcibly, he means that one as bloodied in the confrontation.
When Jackson struck up a boisterous “Yankees suck!” cheer in his section, one of the Yankees security team took his photograph.
Seeking answers, I approached the two men, specifically the one who photographed me. I asked two very simple questions: a) what is your job and b) why did you take a picture of me?
“You need to sit down, or I will remove you as well.”
Who the hell are these members of the baseball empire so grossly bloated with cash that they can come in to our stadium and talk to me like they’re Darth Vader? These men were not having anything to do with my inquiries and stepped away.
Jackson lodged a written complaint with the Blue Jays, and is still waiting to hear back.
I asked a longtime beat writer for an American League team if any of this sounded strange.
“The Yankees have had security at away games for years,” he said. “The security guys who travel with them are either current or ex-NYPD officers.”
A Yankees spokesman in fact confirmed to the Toronto Star that the team travels with two of its own security guards, who are “responsible for ensuring the safety of Yankees players, staff and families, both inside and outside the ballpark.”
The Blue Jays subsequently told The Star that the fans in question were seen throwing peanuts into the bullpen, which is why they were ejected. Perhaps Vidal Nuno has peanut allergies? Jackson disputes this anyway, saying that he was sitting right behind the fans and saw nothing thrown.
But the fact remains that Toronto police saw nothing thrown, and were acting on the request of the visiting Yankees security. Is this even legal? According to the fine print on the back of your ticket, it is.
The Yankee Stadium security policy prohibits things like briefcases, laser pens and vuvuzelas, which seems perfectly logical. But it also prohibits “any other devices that may interfere with and/or distract any sports participant, other patron.” That could be a whole lot of things, and the Yankees get to make up what they are. Also:
Guests who are or appear to be intoxicated and/or unmanageable will not be permitted into Yankee Stadium. The Yankees reserve the right to change or modify these guidelines without notice.
Talk about playing to stereotypes.
LANDO CALRISSIAN: “We had a deal!”
DARTH VADER: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers Fan Code of Conduct states that any fan “acting disrespectfully” can be thrown out. The fun fact about MLB fan behavior policy is that there is none: at least as far as the league is concerned. Each team is left to its own devices, as was confirmed by San Francisco Giants Director of Security Tinie Roberson.
“Although there are some procedure similarities on what warrants an ejection, there is no standard league-wide policy,” Tinie told me as he was placing me in handcuffs (not true. We communicated via email). Individual teams decide.”
But when a fan is heckling a player, what constitutes too much? Can I be ejected for just pointing out Matt Kemp’s lopsided haircut in a loud manner, even though I’m not using profanity, and there are no great amounts of spittle? Can Kemp point me out and have me given the heave-ho?
“Fans are not automatically ejected at the request of a player,” Roberson said. “There has to be justification by observing and reporting and then the appropriate action is taken, which could be a verbal warning and/or ejection warranted depending on the reported incident.”
Sounds very democratic, although we know it probably isn’t — at least at the Rogers Centre. When the visiting Storm Troopers point you out, you’re gone.
But what about the Giants? Do they pack their own security for away games?
“Only when warranted the Giants would send security for away games,” Roberson told me. “Usually in the form of a Resident Security Agent that is the liaison between the team and MLB.”
This occurred frequently during the 2001 season when Barry Bonds was chasing Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record. I assume they also needed muscle to keep Bonds and Jeff Kent separated at all times.
Meanwhile, in Miami, some Marlins fans say they were ejected just for carrying signs and wearing t-shirts protesting the team’s selloff of several top players during the offseason. Marlins fan an Barton told the Palm Beach Post:
“They kicked us out. We didn’t even make it to our seats,” Barton said in a phone interview as they drove back to Fort Lauderdale.
He claimed that one officer told them their sign was blocking the view of other fans. “My friend offered to turn his shirt inside out and they said no,” Barton said.
He also said an officer asked them to wait for a Marlins representative, but no representative showed up.
“We asked police what we were doing wrong. And he said, ‘They want you to leave.”
Marlins president David Samson addressed the incident, saying that the fans were ejected because they were “creating a disturbance” and “would not show their ID to the police.”
One can also get tossed for making obscene gestures behind home plate.
And then there was the incident in 2011, in which Tampa Bay Rays security ejected a man and his son from Tropicana Field for wearing t-shirts that read “Yankees Suck”. Security claimed that the message on the shirts constituted profanity.
The Rays were widely criticized for that one. But knowing what we know now, could it have been the Yankees Visiting Security Goon Squad that secretly pointed them out for elimination? Watch what you say, and Beware the Men Dressed In Black. The next fan they come for could be you.