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VonneMarie
04-15-2003, 12:00 AM
Royals' Gamboa returns to Chicago
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com




Royals players run to the aid of first-base coach Tom Gamboa last season. (Ted S. Warren/AP)



CHICAGO -- Tom Gamboa spent a very anonymous offseason.
That's the way Gamboa preferred. That's the way it always has been, and how it's supposed to be, the veteran baseball man figured, when you are a coach at the Major League level.

For a moment or two last Sept. 19, Gamboa became the center of media attention from coast to coast and lost that anonymous stature. Again, it wasn't by Gamboa's choosing, and it was for all the wrong reasons.

In fact, it's a horrible incident the 55-year-old would like to forget.

Gamboa was the Kansas City Royals first base coach in a game basically finishing off 2002 against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field). His team held a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning, a runner was perched on second with nobody out, and Michael Tucker was set to bunt against Mike Porzio, the White Sox left-handed reliever.

Tucker popped up the bunt, Porzio made a tremendous lunging catch and the runner couldn't advance. Gamboa was focused on the play and then the runner at second in between batters, when William Ligue, Jr., 35, and his 15-year-old son raced on to the field and attacked Gamboa from behind.

The shirtless pair kicked and pummeled the defenseless Gamboa, connecting originally with a flush shot to his jaw. The assault lasted until Gamboa's Royals teammates quickly and forcefully came to his defense.

"Looking back on it, I can see where I blacked out for an instance," said the affable Gamboa of the assault, speaking prior to Monday's game in Cleveland. "If I had been standing up, it might have been different. But, unfortunately for me, I was bent at the waste, with my hands on my knees.

"My head just torpedoed straight into the ground when they hit me, and I never got the benefit of using my hands or knees to brace myself on the fall. The whole impact was on my head.

"I remember in an instant thinking, 'Who are these guys, why are they on the field, and why are they swinging at me?' " Gamboa added. "But, I really was in shock."

The media focus briefly returns to Gamboa this week, and it has very little to do with the Royals posting their best start in franchise history. On Tuesday, Gamboa makes his first return to U.S. Cellular Field since the attack, for a three-game series with the White Sox.

It won't be his first trip back to Chicago. In November, Gamboa appeared in a Cook County court to give his opinion as to how the punishment for Ligue's son should be handled. The young man already had been incarcerated for one month, charged with aggravated battery and mob action, and Gamboa felt probation, community service and drug and alcohol counseling would be the best alternative.

The final sentence handed down was five years probation, 30 hours of community service and counseling.

"Having raised five kids, I remember that if they get grounded for a weekend at 15, it seems as if it's an eternity," Gamboa explained. "If losing his freedom for a month was not enough to realize he was on the wrong path, I didn't see what any more jail time would do.

"I couldn't see giving up on a teenage kid, as bad as the mistake was and even though he should know right from wrong. If that kid does time two or three years from now, at least I know in my heart he was given an earlier choice to guide himself accordingly. Hopefully, some family member will point him in the right direction."

Gamboa has very little concern for the direction of the elder Ligue, rightfully being downright angry for his unprovoked actions in the assault. At the time of the attack, William Ligue claimed Gamboa "got what he deserved," having made an obscene gesture toward him earlier in the game.

At the son's sentencing, a letter was read apologizing to Gamboa, his mother and the city of Chicago. It also stated the attack was totally unprovoked and random.

"What bothered me was people who didn't know Tom Gamboa, those seeing it replayed 100 times, probably didn't think that the coach deserved it but that I had to do something to provoke it," Gamboa explained. "Nobody would run out of the stands and attack a guy for no reason.

"But, people who knew me knew it was a lie, totally out of character. I've never had a moment of trouble in my entire career."

The elder Ligue never contacted Gamboa. Early last week, Ligue made a plea through Assistant Public Defender Edward Ptacek, his lawyer, to settle on his sentence for involvement in the incident if he were to plead guilty.

Ligue and his lawyer are hoping for a punishment similar to what Ligue's son received. Assistant State's Attorney Richard Keating is set to push for jail time, of which Ligue could serve up to five years.

"We've all got our problems, and I understand he had a series of things that went wrong in his life," said Gamboa of William Ligue. "It's how we handle adversity.

"He's using drugs and alcohol as an excuse. But, he's an adult and should be accountable for his actions. I have absolutely no sympathy for him."

Gamboa suffered hearing damage in his right ear, the problem proven conclusively in three tests since the assault. Doctors believe it won't be a degenerative condition.

His coaching duties have also switched back to the bullpen, where he started with the Royals in 2001. The competitor in Gamboa gives him the desire to be on the lines coaching, but above all, he is a team player.

Royals manager Tony Pena believes Gamboa's demeanor is better suited for the bullpen, where the Royals have a number of young arms working in relief. It has nothing to do with repercussions from the attack.

One positive coming from the incident, by Gamboa's estimation, is that all 30 Major League teams had to submit security plans to the Major League Baseball office prior to the 2003 season. Changes could then be recommended as seen fit.

"It's the first time we've had to submit that plan," said David Schaffer, the White Sox Director of Park Operations. "Everything we turned in was approved."

Schaffer wouldn't discuss specifics, not letting anyone outside the organization become privy to information on how they protect the players and coaches on the field. As for his feelings toward the White Sox organization, Gamboa harbors absolutely no animosity.

White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, and Ken Harrelson, a White Sox television announcer, both visited Gamboa in the clubhouse immediately after the game on Sept. 19, apologizing for the incident. Jerry Reinsdorf and Roland Hemond also wrote Gamboa letters the next week, saying the same thing.

Gamboa appreciated the concern, along with the 1,000 or more letters, e-mails and calls of support -- primarily from Chicago fans.

"The thing that is unfortunate coming out of this incident is the amount of recognition I've received," Gamboa said. "The focus should always be on the players, but virtually everyone knows who I am by name and face all from unwanted exposure over an incident that should have never happened."

Gamboa began as a scout with Baltimore in 1973 and has served in countless capacities since then, from Cubs Minor League Field Coordinator to a manager in the Midwest and California Leagues. He also spent seven seasons managing in winter ball, leading Mayaguez to three championships.

If those were the accomplishments being focused on, Gamboa wouldn't mind answering questions. But, the assault is not now or will ever be a main topic of conversation.

That's why he didn't make himself available for offseason interviews, except for one appearance on the Jim Rome Show. From what Gamboa had been told, Rome was lighting into him for his lenient and forgiving approach toward the two attackers.

So, Gamboa went on the show, explaining how he wanted the son to have a second chance but not the father. Now, Gamboa simply wants to do his job and enjoy what should be an entertaining early-season series.

"Going back to Chicago is no different from going to our first two series this season in Detroit or Cleveland," Gamboa said. "It's another in a long, long baseball season.

"I won't be looking over my shoulder, seeing if anyone tries to imitate the first thing. I won't let one incident of two deranged people influence my opinion of Chicago as a great sports town or how I live my life."