IN THE BIG-BUCKS baseball of today, conviction, like the safety squeeze, is a dying art. While the squeeze play requires impeccable timing, flawless execution, and intelligent base running, strength of character calls for nothing more than a little self-confidence and the courage to stand up for what's right. If only the big-leaguers could learn from us little guys.
Case in point: my battle with Seattle Mariners management over prohibiting the word "suck" from publicly funded Safeco Field. The three-week conflict peaked on Monday, May 6, when I—a season-ticket holder and ardent supporter of the First Amendment right to free speech—publicly assailed the ban as censorship, launching a full-scale defense of my rights as a King County taxpayer and citizen of this great democracy right on the corner of Occidental and Royal Brougham Way. (As an adjunct to this protest, I am donating my season tickets to a Rainier Valley Little League team this week.)
I took to the street in a $15 custom-made "Mariners Management Sucks" T-shirt, barking into a $100 megaphone about censorship, the First Amendment, and the U.S. Constitution. I handed out 300 cards with the dictionary definition of "suck" printed on them. I collected signatures for a petition protesting the Mariners' policy. I held up homemade signs: "Baseball, Not Disney," "The First Amendment: An American Pastime," and "Bin Laden Sucks."
About a dozen courageous men and women—total strangers, mind you—joined my cause. Many of these fans came wearing their "Yankees Suck" T-shirts, uniting with me, a die-hard Yankee fan, in the name of free speech. Together, we chanted, "Censorship sucks," and gave interviews to a throng of television media. We informed passersby about the Mariners' ban, read aloud passages from the Bill of Rights, and likened Safeco Field to Soviet Russia. One man came dressed in a lizard costume, whatever that signified. Another was from Canada.
The protest was so perfectly peaceful and P.G.- rated that the police officer assigned to keep an eye on it spent most of his time flipping through a car magazine. Still, save for those who took my side, save for the 100 noble souls who came over to sign our petition, by and large, fellow fans responded to my demonstration with apathy. Don't these people care about their right to free speech? Doesn't it bug them to willingly submit to $6 Red Hooks and a healthy serving of censorship? Apparently not—after all, these were the same pathetic fans that have told me to quiet down when I've cheered for the M's in their own house, without encouragement from that stupid Moose.
We demonstrators were not deterred. We continued yelling and chanting and picketing until about 7:30 p.m., when, wearing a television camera microphone, I headed for the left-field gate to challenge the censorship policy and walk into the park. Followed by a handful of reporters, I handed my ticket to the usher, spun the turnstile, and walked in. To my surprise, nobody asked me to remove my shirt. When I asked the usher and guards about the policy, they pretended that I didn't exist. When I heckled Blue Jays left fielder Jose Cruz Jr. that he "sucked," nobody came to kick me out. Only after I walked the perimeter of the park distributing 200 additional "suck" cards did a man at the center field Guest Services desk explain to me that the staff had been instructed to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell policy" about the word "suck," and that they had been told to ignore us demonstrators "at all costs."
OSTENSIBLY WE had won. I, however, liken it more to a forfeit—at the first hint of bad PR, Mariners management spinelessly backed away from their Disneyland policy. If they truly cared about facilitating a "family friendly environment," if they really wanted to ban the word "suck" from Safeco Field, they'd have fought us tooth and nail, in the papers, on the air, and in the courtroom. Clearly the ban was just cosmetic. The instant it became possible that our protest might impact ticket sales for the worse, team officials slunk away from the issue like A-Rod from a brawl, proving they're no better than the rest of Major League Baseball's overpaid, money-hungry hacks.
This callous cowardice crystallized the next morning, when Randy Adamack, the ballclub's vice president of communications, was quoted as saying, "This issue is better off going away," that "We don't need a confrontation at the gate," and that "Our policy is still in place, but our employees have been instructed not to ask people to remove or cover up until further notice." At no point did Adamack apologize for infringing upon our rights. At no point did he state that the ban had been reversed. Down the road, might "suck" be off-limits inside the ballyard yet again?
I called Adamack directly last week to ask about the future of "suck" at Safeco Field. Gruffly questioning the "goal" of my articles, he not only refused comment but also told me the Mariners organization essentially had blacklisted me as a journalist and would "never" comment to me on this subject again. I hung up the phone bummed but unfazed—this strategy made perfect sense. First Mariners management tried to suspend freedom of speech. Now, after sucking up their position on "suck," the same officials have set their sights on another of the Bill of Rights and are trying to suspend freedom of the press instead.
You can bet I plan to keep fighting these cowardly abuses of corporate power. As for the M's, I challenge CEO Howard Lincoln to follow the Moose onto the field during the seventh inning rendition of "God Bless America." Not only might he learn something about freedom from the song itself, but being so close to the dugout and the guys we're all there to watch, maybe he'll find some balls, as well.