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Baseball seems to be adding new meaning to the term box score. Last Friday night, which happened to be the 70th anniversary of Ray Chapman's death from a Carl Mays beanball, Chicago White Sox pitcher Greg Hibbard stung Texas Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele with a pitch in the fifth inning of the first game of a doubleheader at Arlington Stadium. Buechele charged the mound, precipitating a bench-clearing confrontation, and even Chicago manager Jeff Torborg's son, Greg, who is serving as a bullpen catcher while waiting to enter law school this fall, joined the fray. Everybody, it seems, is getting into the act.
The Rangers-White Sox brawl was the third such incident in baseball within a nine-day span and the 10th of the season. All of them started when a batter took umbrage at a pitch and went after the opposing pitcher. The night before Chicago and Texas squared off, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Pedro Guerrero threw a punch at Danny Darwin of the Houston Astros as the two were jawing at first base, with umpire Bob Davidson standing between them. Guerrero was displeased because the inning before Darwin had thrown him a fastball high and tight.
On Aug. 9, three New York Mets and four Philadelphia Phillies were ejected following a 20-minute fight that began when New York pitcher Dwight Gooden charged Phillie pitcher Pat Combs alter Combs hit him in the knee with a pitch. Gooden could not have been that surprised about being hit—earlier in the game he had hit two Phillies, Tommy Herr and Dickie Thon, whose beaning by Mike Torrez of the Mets in 1984 nearly ended his career. Says Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas, "It seems like a day doesn't go by anymore without a brawl. It's getting worse than hockey. What I'm afraid is going to happen is that one of these days a player is really going to get hurt in one of these fights."
Thomas is particularly sensitive because his Phillies have been involved in two bench-clearers in one month. In addition to the Mets melee, the Phillies had one with the Cincinnati Reds on July 20, when pitcher Norm Charlton of the Reds charged Dennis Cook after Cook hit him with a pitch. In terms of sheer brutality, though, the fight with the Mets far exceeded the one with Cincinnati. Nearly every player on both teams was involved, and at one point umpire Joe West was seen holding off Philadelphia leftfielder Von Hayes with one arm and throwing Cook to the ground with the other. Among the more frightening scenes were Phillie catcher Darren Daulton repeatedly punching Gooden in the back of the head and two Phillies choking New York infielder Tom O'Malley.
"The next time I'm ready to score, we'll see what happens at home plate," said New York's Darryl Strawberry. "I won't forget what Daulton did. He's good at sucker-punching. If [a Phillie] throws at me, I'm going after the catcher."
"Tell him to pack a lunch," Daulton said in response to the threat. "If he thinks the whole league is intimidated because his name is Darryl Strawberry, well, he's got the wrong guy here."
Is this baseball or professional wrestling? Perhaps box scores, which have been expanded in the last few years, should now include elapsed time of fight, number of punches landed and maybe even a tale of the tape for the participants in the main event. Then again, these brawls should not be made light of.
"Boys will be boys," said Texas manager Bobby Valentine after his team's set-to with the White Sox. But these boys could easily become disabled boys. Dumb luck is the only reason this season's brawls haven't produced any significant injuries. The Mets were especially lucky, considering that one of their stars, Strawberry, was the center of violence. He was endangering not only New York's chances in the National League East race but his own impending free agent prospects as well.
Sometimes it's hard to tell who or what is responsible for these things. The Chicago-Texas tilt may have begun with an innocuous home run by 145-pound White Sox rookie Craig Grebeck off Nolan Ryan the week before. When Grebeck came up in the third inning last Friday night, Ryan hit him in the left side with a pitch. Asked if there was a message in that pitch and other close ones, Ryan said, "Might have been." In the eye-for-an-eye world of baseball, the hitting of Chicago's third baseman entitled Hibbard to hit the Rangers' third baseman, Buechele, and that's when the brawl started.
While it may be difficult to determine who starts the fights, it's easy to pinpoint who can stop them: the league presidents. After a particularly ugly engagement between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners on June 30, American League president Bobby Brown handed down five-game suspensions to Brewers pitcher Bob Sebra, who admitted he hit the Mariners' Tracy Jones on purpose, and Milwaukee manager Tom Trebelhorn, who, it appeared to some, had served more as an inciter than a peacemaker, and three-game suspensions to three other Brewers and four Mariners. Everybody was also given small fines.