To paraphrase legendary comic Rodney Dangerfield; ‘I went to the fights the other day and a baseball game broke out.’
By now, sports fans have all seen the majestic overhand right that the Rangers Rougned Odor landed flush on the jaw of Jose Bautista, and the subsequent brawl between overheated members of Toronto and Texas. This one was inevitable, with bad blood dating back to the Bautista bat-flip from last season’s playoffs, ultimately won by the Blue Jays. And while bench clearing battles are generally considered to be confined to the hockey arena, baseball has had it’s own fair share of foul play. However, it’s not always the fists that fly. As a matter of fact, Odor’s spot-on imitation of Rocky Marciano aside, ballplayers have often found that chucking the knuckles is extremely over-rated.
After all, you may need those hands for something more useful, like turning a double-play for example.
No, it’s generally a lot of pushing, shoving, tackling, name-calling and impromptu martial arts that result from a bean-ball incident, and even though punches may not always be thrown, there have been some classic confrontations that would make Abner Doubleday wince.
In 1972, Detroit pitcher Lerrin Legrow, perhaps tired of getting pounded by the Oakland A’s during the ALCS, decided to throw at shortstop Bert Campaneris. Campy, as he was universally known, responded in a classic ‘eye-for-an-eye’ style and helicoptered his bat the full sixty feet/six inches, barely missing Legrow’s head. Funny to watch now, especially with Tiger manager Billy Martin losing it in the aftermath, but pretty dangerous stuff all the same.
George Bell charged the mound a few times in his career but kind of forgot what to do when he got there. In 1993, in a White Sox uniform, he sprinted towards Boston’s Aaron Sele with bad intention but paused long enough to allow first baseman Mo Vaughn, a monster of a man, to momentarily switch sports and play linebacker. It might have been the best block ever thrown in baseball. In 1985, Bell had done the same thing as a Blue Jay going after Bruce Kison.
The awkwardness of his ensuing karate kick made for great front page photographs, but did more damage to Bell’s reputation than it did to Kison’s physical health. While we’re at it, there was also 1999, when Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers took offence to Tim Belcher’s aggressive tag and let fly with a WWE worthy drop kick. All that was missing was the ropes and turn-buckle. Keep in mind that both Belcher and Park were pitchers, which historically means that they can’t hit worth a damn.
There was 2003 when young Bosox pitcher Pedro Martinez pushed feisty 72 year old Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground with ugly force. 1998, when Armando Benitez, already ejected, challenged the entire Yankee bench….and they all obliged, especially a somewhat crazed Darryl Strawberry.
Even classy Nolan Ryan, he of the seven no-hitters, had his share of skirmishes, the most memorable as a member of the Texas Rangers. At 46 years of age, I supposed he seemed like easy prey for 26 year old Robin Ventura of the White Sox. Not only did Ryan put Ventura into an immediate headlock-sleeper hold, he recorded about 14 well placed noogies on the youngster’s head before they could break it up. It proved the old adage in sports that ‘age and treachery will defeat youth and exuberance every time.’
The biggest of them all may have been in 1984, however, when the Padres and Braves turned the diamond into a battle-field with no less than four bench clearers during their nine inning ballgame. Even the fans got in the act, spilling onto the infield to duke it out in the name of baseball. There were a total of 13 ejections in that one, which makes the latest Ranger-Blue Jay melee look relatively tame by comparison.
Speaking of which, Toronto and Texas are done for this season, so we’ll have to wait until next year for a rematch, should there be one. In the meantime, for those particular baseball fans who enjoy a hot brouhaha along with a cold brew, there’s always YouTube.