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Billy Altman Headshot

Kill the Umpire? OK, but Please -- Bare Hands Only!

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I know the calendar says we're in late February, but as far as I'm concerned, it's only these past few days that I've started feeling like 2010 has really begun. That's because major league baseball's spring training camps have officially opened their gates, and the sight of pitchers and catchers all lined up and tossing around the old horsehide under the watchful eyes of managers and coaches is the best proof I have that a new year has actually commenced.

In theory at least, every baseball season is different from the one before, and we already have some solid evidence of that with the unveiling of Major League Baseball's new Weapon-Free Workplace Policy. According to an Associated Press report the day that spring training started, signs have gone up in all of baseball's locker rooms declaring that "individuals are prohibited from possessing deadly weapons while performing any services for MLB," and forbidding "the possession or use of deadly weapons in any facility or venue owned, operated, or controlled by it." The list, by the way, includes "firearms, explosives, daggers, metal knuckles, switchblade knives, and knives having blades exceeding five inches." (My only question, regarding that last one, is if you've got a knife with a six-inch blade but you "choke up" on it, does that count?)

It's not hard to figure out what precipitated this initiative. Clearly, the recent incident involving NBA players Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton pulling guns on each other in an ill-advised mock shootout in the Washington Wizards clubhouse put a bee (bee) in MLB's bonnet about stopping something similar from ever happening inside a baseball locker room. That's because while there's no provision under current Washington DC law for a private citizen to have a gun at work, a recent Supreme court decision now allows gun owners to transport firearms in our nation's capital under limited circumstances, such as taking the weapon to be registered or to a practice range. Meaning, I guess, that if a Washington Nationals player had a legally registered firearm in his possession and was going for target practice after the game, but during the fifth inning got hit by a pitch he felt was a little too close to comfort... well, let's just say that all is all this was probably a wise move by baseball's powers that be.

Of course, any Mets fan with a long memory can tell you that if this rule had been in effect in 1993, maybe Bret Saberhagen would've though twice before tossing a firecracker under a table full of reporters at Shea Stadium, and maybe Vince Coleman might not have thrown one that same year from a moving car at some fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot in a particularly ugly incident in which a young fan got injured. Oh, wait, I forgot to read the fine print in the new MLB edict. Besides excluding security and law enforcement, possession of deadly weapons in parking lots "is allowed if protected by local laws." Overly aggressive autograph seekers, take heed.

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