June 29th or 28th:
July 22, 2013
Baseball's Paper Airplane Problem
Paper planes are having a moment. Two weeks earlier, while Skip Schumaker was on the mound, a well-crafted plane landed with a flourish between the mound and home plate
Clearly, Dodger Stadium has a paper airplane problem (or not problem). You might expect it at Dodger Stadium, where fans have a tepid relationship with the action on the field. But paper airplanes are everywhere, and while this might not seem like a big deal to you, I'm going to write this as though it should be a big deal to you. Come along to be persuaded?
So here's some history. At the very, very, very beginning there were the Chinese, who (according to Internet) were throwing paper airplanes 2,000 years ago. Those might have been more like kites than planes. This Quora goes back into the 19th century and finds examples of “paper darts” for recreational use well before the invention of the word “airplane.” But the first time we see them showing up at sporting events, at least in game stories, is in the 1930s. From a description of a Harvard football game in 1934:
They began to toss paper airplanes out on the gridiron. A veritable paper fleet took to the air as the Crimson led 33 to 3.
It should be immediately clear how valuable a strong paper plane would be in a public event. When built well, they can travel almost infinitely with a small finger flick; their trajectory immediately erases its memory, so that there is no hope of tracing it back to its source. Besides a small risk of eye-poking, they don’t carry the force necessary to make them lethal. Messages can be written on them for political purposes. And they are constructed from one of the most banal, omnipresent materials you could ever hope to smuggle. Consider the effort and risk of throwing a tomato at a performer; now consider the ease of a paper airplane. It’s the perfect weapon, the event-disrupting equivalent of murder-by-icicle.
And so, in the 1960s at a Nixon rally, "some young men ... tried to get an anti-Vietnam leaflet into his hands... Some transformed their leaflets into paper airplanes and sailed them in the President's direction."
And, in the 1970s at NFL stadiums, it became something of a fan. In 1975: “"As the game wore on and the Saints' performance became more inept, paper airplanes filled the cavernous recesses of the Louisiana Superdome. 'It's sad to me when that sort of thing happens,' Manning said. 'But they've evidently had enough.'" It was a fan worried about “eye injury and perhaps an ear injury as a result of such airplanes” who inspired The Greatest Letter Ever Printed On NFL Team Letterhead.
It doesn’t seem to have been quite so much of a fad in baseball at the time, but it was there. Two airplanes landed on the warning track during the 1976 World Series. And, after Reggie Jackson spurned Baltimore as a free agent, Orioles fans reportedly weaponized the planes:
When the Yankees visited Baltimore for the first time, fans hurled nuts, bolts, and paper airplanes equipped with darts at Reggie Jackson.