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Steve Wulf
August 27, 1990
Baseball has begun to resemble hockey as melees like last week's between the White Sox and Rangers proliferate. Can anything be done?
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August 27, 1990

Brawl Game!

Baseball has begun to resemble hockey as melees like last week's between the White Sox and Rangers proliferate. Can anything be done?

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Another manager, Joe Morgan of the Boston Red Sox, was suspended for three games for his part in a bench-clearing fracas in Cleveland on June 3. The previous night, Indians relief ace Doug Jones had thrown close to catcher Tony Pena's head and Pena had pronounced that the Red Sox would get even. Sure enough, in the first inning of the next day's game, Roger Clemens hit Cleveland's leadoff batter, Stanley Jefferson, in the elbow with his second pitch. After the game Morgan said, "I loved it. We got even, didn't we? We, as a team, voted 34-0."

If you think that Brown let his constituents off lightly, consider the action that was taken by National League president Bill White following the Mets-Phillies brawl. Only Philadelphia bullpen coach Mike Ryan received a suspension (for three days); Daulton, Strawberry and Tim Teufel were each fined $1,000; and five other players, including Gooden and Combs, received lesser fines. Says Don Drysdale, the Hall of Fame pitcher who was noted for his chin music, "You know what fines are? They're like blowing cotton. They don't mean a thing, not with the salaries these guys are getting."

The fines are hardly a deterrent. They certainly didn't deter Guerrero. For taking a swipe at Darwin, Guerrero was suspended by White for only one game and fined $1,000. Says White, "Indiscriminate on-field fighting has to stop." He's right, but one-game suspensions and $1,000 fines are not going to do it.

Although no official statistics are kept on the number of mound chargings, it's clear that hitters are much more sensitive than they once were. "They're a bunch of wimps," said Don Baylor, the Brewers' hitting coach, on CBS's pregame show last Saturday. Baylor holds the major league record for being hit by pitches (267). Asked once which one hurt the most, he said, "None of them."

If Baylor had a pitching counterpart in the old school, it would be Bob Gibson, the Cardinals Hall of Famer. Gibson was a firm believer in the brushback pitch, so much so that when he had to face his best friend, Bill White, after White was traded from the Cards to the Phillies, he hit him. Gibson also believed in getting even. In 1972, Tommy Hutton of Philadelphia hit a home run off Gibson, and Gibson vowed to make him pay. He never got the chance, though. Earlier this year, when Gibson and Hutton were both broadcasting a game in Toronto's SkyDome, Gibson picked up a baseball and hit Hutton right in the butt.

Much has changed in the time it took Gibson to retaliate. For one thing, charging the mound has become de rigueur for getting back at a pitcher. For another, umpires have shifted the strike zone a bit toward the outside, so hitters tend to lean over the plate more. The Charley LauWalt Hriniak school of batting, which has become all the rage, teaches hitters to lunge into pitches, thereby making them less able to duck away from inside pitches.

The aluminum bat used in high school and college ball has contributed to the situation as well. Because the pitch on the fists often results in a cheap single off an aluminum bat, pitchers seldom throw it and batters seldom see it. Says Joe McIlvaine, the Mets' vice-president of baseball operations, "The first thing we do when we get a young pitcher is reprogram him so that he'll pitch inside. The young hitters aren't reprogrammed, though. They have never seen the inside pitch before. They don't like it. And when it gets up high, they get scared and angry."

Then there's the economic factor. Because players today are making so much money, a hitter may see the inside pitch as a threat to his livelihood. Says Combs, "Hitters seem very defensive about pitches inside. Money may have a lot to do with it. They might feel that if a pitch hits them they could get hurt. But they could probably get hurt a lot easier fighting, so there are two ways to look at it."

Pitchers can be as culpable as hitters. Cincinnati's Nasty Boys—Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers—revel in intimidation. Some old-school pitching coaches pass along a bizarre code, which dictates that a pitcher throw at a hitter who 1) unexpectedly homers off him, or 2) has the misfortune to come up after one or more of his teammates has homered. (But as Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who was not averse to throwing inside, once said, "I think it's malicious to hit anyone because of your own inadequacies.") Finally, pitchers give the mindless excuse of "protecting my teammates." On the contrary, such so-called protection often serves to endanger teammates by provoking a brawl.

Can anything be done to curb the onslaught of fighting? Some baseball people favor quicker warnings to teams in incendiary circumstances, while others think warnings just lead to more trouble. American League umpiring supervisor Marty Springstead suggests a rule borrowed from hockey. "The third man to join in a fight gets an automatic ejection," says Springstead. "That might stop the bench-clearing brawls."

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