Don't count on Texas justice for thuggery at the ballpark


CHICAGO - For anyone who thinks ill-tempered, immature professional athletes shouldn't be allowed to abuse innocent civilians, it was a pleasure to see Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers escorted into a Fort Worth police station, fingerprinted, photographed for a mug shot and booked for assault.

Somehow, though, I suspect this is about as good as it will get. It would be healthy for sports for Kenny Rogers to go to jail, but it would have been good for O. J. Simpson to go, too. What we've learned from experience is that athletic stars rarely pay a price for behaving like low-life thugs.

If there was ever anyone who deserved some Texas-style justice, it's Mr. Rogers. A few weeks ago, he threw a tantrum, punching a water cooler and breaking a bone in his non-pitching hand, causing him to miss a start. The next day, he walked onto the field before the game and saw several TV cameramen taping him, which apparently reminded him that he hates the news media. He shoved one of them, then ripped the camera away from another, injuring the man's neck and back.

Mr. Rogers got a 20-game suspension from Major League Baseball, but he's appealing, and the incident didn't keep him from pitching in the All-Star game. He issued a Clintonesque statement that expressed "deep regret for my actions" while neglecting to say exactly what he was sorry for.

His behavior at the booking suggests he's a long way from contrite. After what he did, Mr. Rogers ought to be opening doors and covering bar tabs for video people for the rest of his career. Instead, as he was being fingerprinted, he glared menacingly at a cameraman who was standing several feet away, and spat out: "You're getting really close, you know. You hear me? You must be pretty proud of yourself too." But with all the cops around, he somehow managed to keep his temper.

Still, it was nice to see a professional athlete get a reminder that even at the ballpark, it's against the law to attack someone just because you feel like it. Mr. Rogers was charged with assault on one cameraman and assault with bodily injury on the second. The latter charge is a Class A misdemeanor that can be punished with up to one year in jail and a fine of $4,000.

If you're an ordinary person arrested on that charge in Tarrant County, Texas, where this incident took place, you've got a reasonable chance of getting a convict for a roommate. A spokesman for the district attorney says that in the first six months of this year, 30 percent of the cases of assault with bodily injury resulted in jail time.

But this is no ordinary case - it was a brazen public attack.

You'd think that in an incident in which there is indisputable video evidence of the defendant's conduct, the authorities would go hard on him. You'd think that when a millionaire is involved, the option of a $4,000 fine would be seen as pathetically useless. You'd think that someone might want to make an example of a spoiled jerk. But people like Mr. Rogers go to jail about as often as they read Dostoevski.

One of the few players ever to get even a small share of his just deserts is Mr. Rogers' teammate, Frank Francisco, who was recently sentenced to 179 days in jail for throwing a chair into the stands during a brawl in Oakland. Unfortunately, all but 30 days of the sentence was suspended. What's more, reports The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Francisco will have to serve only 19 days, and "overnight stays in jail will not be required."

No overnight stays? I'll bet Martha Stewart would have liked a piece of that action.

But Mr. Rogers is bound to get off even lighter, confirming him and many of his fellow ballplayers in their belief that they're exempt from the rules. Where is Judge Roy Bean when you need him?

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays in The Sun.

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