Peter Handrinos is a frequent contributor to Scout.com and author of the upcoming ‘The Best New York Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Fans’.
It’s an accomplishment - when people consider the world of baseball, they don't necessarily think of security.
It could easily be otherwise, when you think of it. Every year, the Major Leagues welcome more than 75 million paying customers to ball parks, a massive number nearly equal to the entire United States population west of the Mississippi. The teams are expected to keep all those millions sound and secure for the duration of 2,430 regular season ball games. Away from the ball parks, the game’s comprised of more than 700 young, rich, and famous athletes. It’s expected to keep most, if not all, of them away from the police blotters and scandal sheets, too.
And, yet, ball parks' most basic safety and ball players' law-abiding ways are rarely challenged. While never perfect, modern-day baseball venues are among the most family-friendly places in America, with almost every passing year seeing more decreases in record-low crime reports. At the same time, the Pastime's ball players may have the least character issues in the major sports. They may not all be choir boys but, if nothing else, they've managed to avoid the book-length exposes that have focused on lawless football ('Pros and Cons') and basketball players ('Out of Bounds') in recent years.
Most don't truly expect baseball's world to be anything but safe and clean - that’s the accomplishment. One of those most responsible for it is Major League Baseball’s Senior Vice President for Security, Kevin Hallinan.
The Bronx-born Hallinan served in the New York Police Department for over 25 years, earning over 30 citations for bravery and distinguished service before being named Co-Commander of the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force from 1984-86. He was still in that role when Commissioner Peter Ueberroth hired him onto his current post; one that’s grown to encompass everything from crowd management and alcohol control to on-field safety and player training over the last 20 years.
In his law enforcement experience and an education that includes a master's degree, Kevin Hallinan is one of the nation's foremost security experts. Recently, baseball's top cop discussed his work.
What did baseball mean to you as you were growing up?
Well, both my parents were Irish immigrants and they were very interested in, if you will, ‘American-izing’ their children. Dad came over in his 30’s, so very often, he was learning about the game just as I was as a little kid - the first Yankee Stadium game I ever went to, in 1947, was the first game he ever went to, for instance. Joe DiMaggio hit a home run that day.
Some of my favorite memories from childhood were about baseball. I became an avid baseball card collector. I even invented a card game, where I’d make up my own teams of ball players and play ‘games’ based on a deck of playing cards. If I flipped a king, let’s say, and that meant the play was a triple, a jack would be a single, and a five-card would be an out. I kept stats on the ‘Hallinan League’ in a cigar box, so I might have been ahead of some of guys in Strat-o-Matic or fantasy baseball (laughs).
And it never left me. To this day, the first thing I read in a newspaper is probably the sports pages, and not just because it happens to be my line of work. The front page headline can say ‘WAR DECLARED!’ and I’d still probably flip over to the box scores (laughs).
When did you first get involved in law enforcement?
We were working-class folks and I graduated from high school in Harlem, so college wasn’t really an option. My dad said, on the other hand, that being a New York City policeman was the next thing to being mayor, and my brother and I knew about the federal government’s ‘Safe Streets Act’, which offered money for police officers to take night classes. I eventually got my degree at Fordham that way, back in 1976, and I was proud of the fact that I was both a street cop and a student for a lot of years.
It was a very satisfying career, working as a detective and, eventually, sergeant and commander. I was very active, made a lot of arrests, and felt it was important.
That may be one of the reasons you received so many citations for outstanding service.
Well, it could be dangerous work, at times, but loved it. My older brother was an amazing guy - he probably had 70, 80 citations and won just about every Police Department medal there was to win.
When did you first think about working for Major League Baseball?
That all started when I was working for Sports Illustrated, serving as the head security consultant during the 1984 Olympics. [The Olympics] were led by future Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and I worked with one of Mr. Ueberroth’s assistants. We got along very well and the gentleman gave me a heads-up a year later, telling me ‘they need someone at Baseball’. At the time, I was still working with a FBI / NYPD joint terrorist task force, but the task force had already achieved many of its original goals and I was ready to move on.
Why do you think you were hired?
They had a lot of people competing for this job, and I’d bet I was the lowest ranked guy in the pool!
I guess a diversified background and hands-on experience were helpful. More than that, I did my best to communicate the view that security is a positive, not a negative. I always felt that creating a safe environment is all about getting people to think proactively, rather than just reacting to outside forces. Prevention, more than anything else.
It was a challenging situation to step into, in 1985-86, in that it was the era of the Pittsburgh drug trials. Can you talk about your response to that situation?
That was a very challenging situation. I reviewed the situation very closely and, basically, concluded that ball clubs had to be a lot more careful about who was getting access to Major League personnel and clubhouses. As a result, I recommended a Resident Security Agent program with full-time police officers working with each of our Major League clubs for the first time, as part-time security consultants.
The program’s strengthened our presence with the clubs, I believe, because we selected very serious, very professional people. In some cases, we had more than 100 or more applicants for each spot, and we went out of our way to hire only the most dynamic, outstanding cops. That was critical to get good officers out there as our eyes and ears.
It was just as important for the organizations, players, and umpires to be comfortable with a new resource, and free to utilize them with potential situations as they might come up. Toward that end, we give all players and their families a wallet-sized card with the contact information of our RSA officers, along with a 1-800 number that’s available day and night.
What was the players’ union response?
The union, certainly, had some initial questions, but they’ve been very cooperative. I think there’s a realization that we have a mutual interest, in that we all had a stake in the game’s integrity.
What kind of situations do RSA officers typically handle?
RSA’s are working with the clubs in overseeing Major League security policy on a local level as it relates to rules and procedures established by the Commissioner’s office. ‘My wife’s getting crank phone calls’, ‘Someone vandalized my car’. They assist players with various situations relative to security. The answers aren’t always clear, and players shouldn’t be on their own in dealing with that.
It’s interesting that you mention those kinds of incidents, because you’re not necessarily talking about major crimes. It’s relatively petty, everyday stuff that can escalate.
That’s exactly what I meant by being proactive. Don’t wait for anything to escalate into a headline.
It makes a lot of sense for the owner’s best interests, too. When teams are making these multi-million dollar, multi-year investments in players, they have to have a sense of their fundamental ability to stay out of trouble. In a way, organizations are investing in a player’s personal character just as much as they’re investing in his skills.
I couldn’t agree more. Over the course of 162 games, you have to be a good ball player, but that might not mean much if you’re not a good brother, a good father, a good citizen. I think the teams, more than ever, have realized that, so they’re looking for the all-around package. It seems to me that they’re looking for the guy with the baseball skills on the field and a sound, secure life off the field.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Can you talk about your involvement in the Pete Rose investigation back in 1989?
I became aware of the FBI’s case and their witness, Paul Janszen, and things went from there. Personally, I was hoping that there was nothing to the allegations, but the facts, obviously, told us something different.
During that investigation, or any other time, did you ever have a sense that powerful people would prefer that you kept quiet or covered something up?
It’s important to be clear about this - I’ve never, ever pushed anything under the rug. Every Commissioner has told me, ‘Do your job. Let the chips fall where they may’. That’s why I’ve stayed in the job so long, because I know that the integrity of the game has been a priority at the highest level.
Do you think the Rose situation has been an example of what players shouldn’t do?
It’s a very, very sad story, but I certainly hope so. I mean, look at what happened. This wasn’t some guy up for a cup of coffee in the big leagues. In Pete Rose, you’ve got the hit king of baseball. And he’s on the outside looking in, and all because of the gambling issue.
Going back to your earlier question, the union has been a great partner in trying to prevent that sort of situation from ever coming up again. One of the best developments in our cooperation has been the Rookie Career Development program.
You just jumped ahead to my next question. Can you talk about the RCD program?
I absolutely stole that from the NBA (laughs), I’ll admit it.
The RCD program was started 15 years ago as a joint venture with the Player’s Association. Three players are selected from each club’s 40 man roster, each with no more than 60 days service in the Majors. Their clubs believe them to be future stars, and the clubs have made outstanding selections - most of our best players in the game today have attended the program.
The program is conducted in Landsdowne, Virginia in January of each year, and it provides an opportunity to prepare the challenges players confront upon entering the big leagues - money management, drug education, working with the media, protecting their career. A host of topics are covered over four days and professional actors from the Second City acting group provide role-playing. There’s a second Rookie Career Development program conducted in the Dominican Republic in February of each year.
Additionally, we conduct Spring Training presentations with all Major League clubs, dealing with issues players may have to deal with during the season. Field security was one of the issues from last year. At the beginning of last year, Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield was struck by a fan during a play in left field. He could have responded by jumping into the stands and confronting the fan, but Gary told the media and myself that, having seen the presentation in Spring Training and knowing the potential consequences, he elected not to take further action.
Earlier, you mentioned the emphasis on your ongoing relationship with ball clubs, and I know that extends to safety in the stands, too. What’s the basis of your advice?
Since 9/11, there’s been a comprehensive approach to safety and security issues by the Commissioner’s office, working closely with all our clubs. Education, training, facility assessments, tabletop exercises, evacuation drills, they’ve all been a part of this relationship. We also began working closely with Homeland Security, and increased interaction with federal and state law enforcement.
We’ve also had a video called 24/7, in partnership with the other professional sports leagues, to communicate with game-day employees. It deals with a fictional terrorist plot against one of our stadiums, and shows the importance of our first-line personnel in helping prevent attacks on a day-to-day basis.
Beer sales have always been a big part of baseball economics, but with more alcohol than ever flowing nowadays, most ball parks have significantly safer environments. Can you talk about your efforts in terms of alcohol?
Major League Baseball is working to incorporate alcohol management into all our operational procedures. Stadium employees are trained to watch out for irresponsible consumption and intervene with fans who many have had too much to drink. We believe alcohol service policies are reinforced by our fan code of conduct, setting a tone for the type of behavior that’s expected. We have designated driver programs at each stadium and fans are expected to take individual responsibility for their behavior.
The ‘TEAM’ - Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management - program has clearly been responsible for creating a much more responsible environment.
In a way, there’s a contradiction in the expectations at the ball park. People naturally expect to have a beer and scream their lungs out while cheering, but they also expect ball parks to be safe places for their kids.
There’s a balance to the approach. Too much security isn’t good, because [the fans] are there to have fun and see a ball game. The good news is, we can do so much behind the scenes, without the fans even knowing about it. Our goal is creating a safe environment, one that’s safe and secure. I believe that our record attendance indicates that we’re having some success. However, we must continue to work hard in this area.
I imagine that, in its widest scope, it’s a relatively massive job, if only because the Major League seasons are so long and the game’s become so incredibly popular. You’re talking about a sport playing more than 2400 games per year for paid attendance of over 75 million. It’s nearly 900 more games, and 40 million more fans, than the NFL and NBA combined.
Well, it’s a big responsibility, but I can tell you that’s it certainly not a one-man show. I work with many good people throughout the game, and that’s why it can seem that I talk about coordination and cooperation until I’m blue in the face (laughs). I’m proud of the relationship we’ve established with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners throughout the country. I’ve been there. I can appreciate that they can have very stressful and dangerous jobs. They’ve all been important to our success to date.
What do you see in the future of Major League security?
The security of Major League Baseball becomes more comprehensive each year. The challenges in all areas of our responsibility have increased. In order to protect our players, and therefore the integrity of the game, the education of our players must continue to be a priority. The continued attention to safety and security issues at our ball parks, using technology and experts in the field, must take precedence.
Indeed, we’ve entered into a new relationship with the University of Texas, which has a program for first-responders for all thirty ball clubs. They have a kind of ‘disaster city’ compound down there, and it’s helped get everyone on the same page. We’re really excited about it, in our relationship with Dr. Deb Blakely of the University of Houston, because it’s dramatically improved the understanding of the goals involved. Again, that’s a use of experts and technology to make us better at what we do.
If you don’t mind a personal observation, I’m kind of struck by the energy and enthusiasm you seem to have for your job.
This is an exciting, enjoyable position to be in, one that requires me to make full use of my talents. To work with the world’s best athletes, and the most talented people in so many different fields - from the lawyers to the operations people to the film people to the media - is most rewarding. You have to be at your best when you’re dealing with them, and they bring you to another level because of their talents. So I’m truly honored to be part of it. For me, it’s been a continuing education process.
After dealing with how many fights and confrontations and potential disasters, how do you avoid getting down?
I remember once, right before an All-Star Game, an All-Star player’s agent gave me a call, asking if they could meet me at the hotel. They came up and sat down, and the player looked like someone just shot his dog. He told me about his particular problem, which was related to a personal dispute. There wasn’t any law-breaking involved, but he was worried about his reputation.
I said, ‘OK, let me handle it. I can deal with it. It’s no big deal’. The agent said, ‘It’s going to be OK?’. I said, ‘Absolutely, it’s going to be OK. I’ll give you a call next week with some suggestions’. The player walked out of that room like the weight of the world just slipped off his shoulders.
That guy went 3-for-4 in the All-Star Game (laughs). Now, I don’t take credit for all three [hits], but maybe two of the three.
In that situation, and others, I’ve found ways to deal with run-in’s and find a solution. If you can deal with people on a common sense, one-on-one basis, you can find good outcomes.
After two decades in the job, are you more of a baseball fan, less of a fan, or about the same?
More of a fan. Hey, there have been a lot of light moments. I remember, once, I was walking down the street in Cooperstown and some young people got all excited and started hopping up and down, pointing at me. ‘Wow, it’s really you!’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘How about that? I’ve got some admirers here’. A kid suddenly said, ‘I can’t believe I just ran into Brooks Robinson!’ (laughs).
But, most of all, I’m very, very excited about this sport. I just think, as popular as it is, it still has a sky’s-the-limit potential both domestically and internationally. And I’m still reading the box scores.
The complete Table of Contents for the ‘Baseball Men’ interview series can be found here.