Author: Ken Wolf
To fight or not to fight? That is the question. Watching the Reds vs Pirates melee a couple weeks ago made me wonder about these scrums and if Major League Baseball really cares? And if I do? While I appreciate the sport now more than ever, the pace is indeed snail slow sometimes, and there’s nothing like beanballs and brawls to spice it up.
Beanballs aren’t always the cause of these skirmishes, but a pitcher throwing at a batter is usually at their root. The rules are pretty vague and intention is not always cut and dry. Pitchers do accidentally miss their target and plunk a player. But when there‘s a history of dysfunction between teams and the timing is suspect, that intention can be pretty obvious. When to warn a pitcher, before or after retribution, often a given, is also a grey area.
Player safety and our improved education on concussions are much of the issue. A baseball to the head is dangerous. We can all agree on that. Ask the ghost of Ray Chapman who died from one. But that was in 1920 and safety was much sketchier. Protection has improved dramatically over the years with tougher helmets, ear flaps, and recently, the C-flap for jaw protection. Kirby Puckett would have been well served wearing one. A number of other batters have been hit in the ‘bean’ causing serious damage. Sammy Sosa took a number of shots, but apparently has a thick skull, as they never seemed to faze him.
It’s of course possible to get hurt during a brawl. Jason Larue and Michael Morse are good examples. But it’s uncommon. The vast majority of these scuffles are a bunch of pushing and shoving. When punches are thrown, they most often don’t connect, as the crowd is moving or somebody is holding back the swinger. And that’s the case with every bench clearer I’ve seen, a large portion of the players are attempting to break things up. If these were serious ‘Outsidersesque’ rumbles, it would be different.
MLB doesn’t always turn a blind eye. The Reds vs Pirates battle royale resulted in eight suspensions. Keone Kela got 10 games for ‘head hunting.’ Amir Garret received eight after the unusual move of charging the Pittsburgh bench solo. Some thought Pirates manager Clint Hurdle should have gotten more than two games, in that he may have been proactively managing the beanballs. But that’s tough to prove, if not impossible. David Bell got six, but much of that came from his return to the field after an ejection. It was the biggest clampdown in years and a previous wrangle between the two rivals was likely part of it. Nobody got hurt in any of it, from the beanballs or brawls. Both teams are in the division cellar and frustration likely played a part.
When the rules are grey, the unwritten ones will of course be more so. When is celebrating a homerun too much? When does pitching a batter in go too far? Other sports have automatic suspensions for leaving the bench, but other sports have an even amount of players on the field. Baseball is, overall, a very family friendly affair. Beanballs and brawls aren’t the norm. There’s less contact in baseball than the other major sports.
The game’s been around a long time and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Nor do I want it to. The nuances and grey areas usually work themselves out in the end, even if not everybody is completely satisfied. It will always be so when there are judgement calls. Keeps baseball interesting.