Seeing Red

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa should be fired.

He should be fired for threatening gang violence. He should be fired for inciting a riot. He should be fired for basically putting a hit out on a fellow human being.

It's only fair play. A local radio DJ was fired last week for far lesser sins.

You already know the story. Everybody from Phoenix to Bangkok does.

Before the second game of the playoff series between the Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Beau Duran, a sidekick on John Holmberg's "Morning Sickness" radio show on KUPD-FM, called the widow of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile, who died of a heart attack in June. He told her she was attractive and asked her for a date.

Duran, a 22-year-old radio rookie, realized immediately he had made a crude mistake in the heat of a live broadcast. And he has spent the last two weeks in the local and national media making clearly heartfelt apologies to everyone from Kile's wife, Flynn, who deserved an apology, to Arizona Diamondbacks players and management, who didn't.

He even quietly accepted a sanctimonious tongue-lashing from gasbag Fox-jock Bill O'Reilly.

Still, last week, Duran was fired by KUPD for his mistake. He accepted the decision with grace and further contrition. It was probably for the best, too, since he told his on-air cohorts that he was no longer confident trying to pursue the edgy comedy for which the show is known.

Considering what really happened that day, the reaction is outrageously overblown.

Game 2: Diamondbacks versus Cardinals. It was a playoff game day with the opposing team in town. On these days, it is almost the duty of local rock radio to attempt pimps on the opposing team.

Holmberg and Duran thought it would be funny to call up player Chuck Finley, who deserves a little heckling, at the team's hotel.

They called the hotel, but Finley was not listed under his real name (a veteran play). At commercial, a listener sent an e-mail saying he'd seen Flynn Kile at the previous game. The listener wrote, "Flynn Kile is hot."

"I said, That's disgusting, our listeners are worse than us,'" Holmberg told me recently.

Holmberg continues:

"Beau says, I would ask her out.'

"I said, Oh, you would not.'

"I thought we were calling Beau's bluff," Holmberg says. "We called up the hotel and Beau says, Flynn Kile's room, please,' and the woman says, Hold on, I'll connect you.'

"We went, Ooooh, my God, what do we do?' We were shocked we got to someone's room. And at the spur of the moment, we did something really stupid and awful."

Here's the conversation:

Duran: "Hi, Flynn, my name is Beau. How are you?"

Kile: "Fine, thank you."

Duran: "Are you going to the game today?"

Kile: "Yes, I am."

Duran: "I was wondering if you needed a date, by any chance."

Kile: "Who is this?"

Duran: "I saw you on TV. You're really hot."

Kile: "No, I don't need a date."

Duran: "Okay. Well, whatever."

End of conversation.

So Arizona's best morning radio show lost an integral cog. Likewise, the Cardinals should lose La Russa.

Because, after Duran's stupid but harmless stunt, in which Duran essentially did nothing more than tell an attractive woman she is attractive, La Russa grotesquely made Duran's mistake another rallying cry for La Russa's already martyr-crazed team and fans. Darryl Kile died. Broadcaster Jack Buck died. Now this.

He seemed intent on stretching a grieving-process double into a playoff home run. Even worse, La Russa effectively opened the hunting season on Duran and other KUPD staffers: "Whoever is responsible for that should suffer severe and dire consequences," La Russa announced to America. "And if we could get our hands on them, we would deal with it physically. We would mess them up.

"I hope that whoever is responsible for this gets nailed."

La Russa is a veteran baseball manager. He understands the power of a big-league manager; he understands the irrational ecstasy and rage of sports fans.

This is particularly true in baseball, a sport that has spent a century being sentimentalized and deified while becoming increasingly thuggish and venal. Particularly since last September 11, when fans seemed to begin treating baseball as the official sponsor of patriotism and martyrdom.

Particularly in St. Louis -- America's best baseball city -- during the heat of the playoffs.

Particularly after La Russa has already exploited grief to motivate his team and fans into believing they're engaged in a jihad for two fallen heroes.

In my mind, La Russa ordered a hit. (That recent image of father-and-son white-trash tweakers charging the Kansas City Royals' first-base coach comes to mind.)

And he may yet be successful in getting Duran killed. Duran has received numerous death threats in the last week. So have his cohorts at KUPD.

Duran has been staying at a friend's house -- basically in hiding. The friend, with whom I spoke, is scared that his own life is in danger because he has Duran at his house.

The secretary who fields calls from the public was also threatened. KUPD has received more than 2,000 e-mails, hundreds of which wanted Duran dead in one form or another (interestingly, most death-wishers wished cancer on him).

"It's our job to push the line," Holmberg says. "But at the break, we all went, What did we just do? What were we thinking?' We weren't thinking. And I can't say this enough: We never intended to hurt Flynn Kile in any way, and I can't say I'm sorry enough to Flynn Kile for any pain we caused."

Actually, Holmberg can say it enough. He blew it. Duran really blew it. They apologized sincerely and profusely for blowing it. Duran was fired. It's over.

Now, I just hope the incident doesn't weaken Holmberg's resolve to provide Phoenix with its most aggressively innovative and hilarious radio show.

Because without him, Phoenix morning radio will once again be even more bland than St. Louis morning radio.

More important, it's time for Tony La Russa to say he's sorry to the employees of KUPD. Then, after showing some remorse for his actions, La Russa should be fired for putting people's lives in jeopardy just to win a baseball game.

After all, La Russa plays hardball. And hardball is all about fair play.

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Robert Nelson