Around these parts, the 1981 season is usually remembered as the year the Reds had baseball’s best record but got screwed out of playoff appearance due to the ridiculous rules put in place after the players’ strike. But for one particular Reds fan, it is likely remembered as the season that almost included his grisly death in front of over 15,000 fellow fans.
The date was Wednesday, April 22, 1981. The Reds were playing the Atlanta Braves. The Braves ultimately won the game 7-3, mostly thanks to Gaylord Perry’s complete game and Bob Horner’s big day at the plate. Other than the two hits by pitcher Perry, the game would have been fairly unremarkable until the bottom of the eighth inning, when, with George Foster batting, a fan nearly fell out of the second deck reaching for a foul ball. A YouTube video is worth a thousand words (although this particular YouTube video misidentifies the event as having taken place on Opening Day, which is incorrect), so check it out:
Sweet boots, bro.
The fan’s name is Randy Kobman, and he was an 18 year old senior at Lakota High School at the time. One assumes he skipped school to attend the game, since it was a 2:30 start on a Wednesday afternoon. He may have wound up regretting his truancy given that he got a few close-ups on the TBS broadcast and some mentions on local news. According to a contemporary account, Kobman stood 6’3" and weighed in at 230 pounds. He had been a star football player at Lakota, so much so that in 2005 he was inducted into the Lakota athletic hall of fame (and if you feel like spending this Saturday morning contemplating the ravages of time, follow that link and compare Kobman’s appearance in that 2005 photo to his appearance in the 1981 video). At the time of the incident he had signed a letter of intent to play football at Indiana University. I wasn’t able to find much about his collegiate football career, except that he was awarded a letter by the Hoosiers in 1982.
According to the Associated Press, Kobman was sitting in the green seats behind home plate. Had he not caught himself and been pulled back up, he would have fallen about thirty feet onto the blue seats below. Such a fall might not necessarily be fatal in all cases (it wasn’t when something similar happened to this guy at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2013), but in Kobman’s case, he appears to hit the thigh-high wall at full speed and tumble over the railing head first. I’m neither a doctor nor a physicist, but based on the angle of his body and what I can tell of his trajectory when we went over, I don’t think much of his chances had he not had the presence of mind to catch himself, the upper body strength to begin to pull himself up, and the good luck that plenty of nearby fans – the true heroes of the story - were able to help.
One of those nearby fans – the one in the purple shirt with the matching Pete Rose haircut – was Kobman’s brother Bob. Bob Kobman seemed more disappointed in the Reds poor showing in the game than worried about his brother’s brush with death. He was quoted as saying that the two brothers left the stadium shortly after the incident, but not because they were shaken up. Instead, it was because the Reds were so far behind that the game had become "hopeless."
Bob Kobman described his brother as being fearless, and he wasn’t alone in that assessment of his character. Randy Kobman’s Lakota football coach Stu Eversole agreed that the young man was "not afraid of anything," but seemed to express relief that he would soon be gone, stating, in an actual quote that made me think that Eversole was probably the best high school football coach in history, "I’ll just be glad when he crosses the state line so he can maim himself and be Indiana’s responsibility." Such sentimentality between a young man and a mentor figure is downright touching in this day and age.
Randy Kobman’s youthful fearlessness might have created a truly tragic moment, not just for him, but for the people seated below him as well. Thanks to his presence of mind and upper body strength, and more importantly, to the efforts of his brother and the other fans seated around him, we can now look back at this incident and laugh (and not just at Kobman’s boots, shirt, pants and haircut). Since the closest thing to a tragedy in this event is that he didn’t even catch the stupid ball, it’s simply another Great Moment in Reds Fan History.