Players across the sports spectrum seem to be feeling their oats the
past couple weeks. The Lakers-Rockets NBA series has turned into a
brawl and baseball has seen several ejections and suspensions handed
down over the last several days. Are we seeing the effects of over (or
under) officiating or are players really more on edge these days?
Suspensions, brawls, warnings, headhunters, beanballs, ejections… these are all integral tenets of the sports we love. Without them, the stakes would be as dramatic as an afternoon pinochle tournament at your local retirement home (and even those can turn violent without proper supervision).
Personally, I could care less about what the Los Angeles Lakers of Los Angeles are fighting about with the Houston Rockets (those are basketball teams, right?). But perennial crybaby and major league fire-starter Milton Bradley? Foot-in-mouth Bobby Jenks? Two-packs-a-day Jimmy Leyland?
Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Indeed, the cast of characters may change from year to year, but the subtle game of intimidating your opponent and firing up your team with guts, fists and butt-busting fastballs hasn’t. Ty Cobb anyone?
No matter what the era, baseball players have always found a harmonious balance of edge and competitiveness. When your livelihood is on the line, you bet you’re gonna go out and stand up for yourself. Those who don’t… well, they end up like Mr. Krause, pushing pencils and checking email forty times a day.
Now I don’t propose an increase to the level of violence on the field; but hell, don’t peel it back. I need that respite of poorly timed right hooks (see Shields v. Crisp, 2008), knee-buckling vengeance (see Bradley v. The World, 2007) and knuckles-to-skull contact (see Ryan v. Ventura, 1993). Anyone who says he/she doesn’t is a liar.
Baseball does not suffer from under or over officiating. It’s doing just fine the way it is. Fights, ejections, suspensions… they’re all just a part of the game. When it becomes bedlam…
… well, then we might have to reevaluate.
Until then, just keep on hating me. But don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
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Thursday night’s brawl between the Rays and the Red Sox showcased, once
again, that baseball players just can’t fight very well. So, here’s the
question (in two parts): 1) What is the best baseball brawl you’ve ever
seen and 2) which 2 players would you most like to see duke it out?
While it’s true that baseball players tend to be awful at fighting on the field, there is no doubt that a bench-clearing brawl is one of the most exciting parts of the game. In every case there is some kind of ‘other’ energy at play as soon as a hitter decides to charge the mound and whether he lands a punch or not, most people would be lying if they said they didn’t enjoy watching that kind of drama unfold. The brawls tend to be explosions of emotions that have been built up over a long period of time: clubs with histories, beanball wars, personal vendettas, et al tend to set the stage for the best fights in the game, and I totally get off on seeing those frustrations blow up. The Prince of New York wrote a great post (*click here to read*) on the dueling psychologies of baseball brawl analysis and he’s absolutely correct in his conclusion that most people enjoy them (or get off on them like me) — even if they try to conceal it.
That being said, I have to admit that I often feel let down when a Coco Crisp or a James Shields wails and misses outright… or when an Iwamura throws a couple of sissy-punches that are more for show and less impacting. It’s like watching softcore pOrn on Cinemax: show me the real thing or I’m better off watching reruns of Full House.
The best baseball brawl I’ve ever seen?
I think we all know there is only one right answer to that question, so before I reveal what everyone already knows, let me make some honorable mentions:
Big Z v. Michael Barrett; Big Z v. Gatorade Cooler
Hands down, Carlos Zambrano is the most explosive personality in the game right now. An atomic fist fight waiting to happen, Big Z showed some real hutzpah last year when he decked his own catcher, Michael Barrett, in the face after an onfield dispute regarding pitch selection or whatever… who cares… this fight was awesome. Cardinal fans always love to see internal dissension in the home dugout at Wrigley, but what made it even more awesome was the jacked up face of Michael Barrett the next day. Of course, in the end, this fight was the catalyst that got Barrett out of Chicago, setting the stage for Rookie of the Year candidate Geovany Soto to make his breakthrough as the Cubs’ catcher. I’m hoping that Big Z can find a reason to hate Soto too, but I’m not putting any money on it.
What I am putting money on is that if Big Z gives up a go-ahead homerun to Matt Kemp late in an otherwise flawless pitching performance, not even the Gatorade cooler is safe. Don’t believe me? Check out the pounding Zambrano gave this poor, helpless, inanimate object.
Izzy Alcantara’s Foot v. Catcher’s Face
Besides having a really cool name, this Pawtucket minor leaguer will go down in history as one of the smartest basebrawlers of all time. To ensure that the catcher wouldn’t hold him back, he gave him a swift back kick to the face! What is sad about this fight is that when he finally reached the mound, he let everyone down by dancing around and ultimately getting mauled himself (*click here to watch*). Ah, such wasted potential.
Mike Sweeney v. Jeff Weaver
If ever there were two lameball pacifist fighters pitted against one another, these would be the two. This fight didn’t even have anything to do with pitch location; it was all about something Weaver said (allegedly) behind his glove. Sweeney didn’t like it and charged the mound while Weaver had his back to the plate. What does make this an awesome fight is that Weaver had no idea Sweeney was coming and by the time he turned around, it was too late. Much like Alcantara, Sweeney used a diversion tactic by first slinging his batting helmet at Weaver before taking him to the ground and landing a few solid body blows. Good times.
Good times aside, these fights are equally catatonic in comparison to the greatest basebrawl of all time:
Nolan Ryan v. Robin “Sissy-pants” Ventura
There’s nothing quite like making a mannish dash for the mound to fight someone who is old enough to be your father and then getting put in a headlock only to have your skull, nose, jaw pounded on by the strikeout king. I can’t say enough about how bad*ss the Ryan Express was in this matchup and I highly doubt anyone will ever come close to equaling his solidly aggressive performance — ever. This fight is as unlikely to be surpassed as is Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hit streak. It just ain’t gonna happen.
But there are some fellas I’d like to see go up against one another in the near future. Albert Pujols is only one bad pitch away from knocking the snot out of Brandon Backe. As their ongoing series of differences escalates, I believe Backe realizes more and more that he has absolutely no chance against an angry A.P., but if anything, Backe has already proven to the world that he’s not exactly Fulbright quality. I eagerly await his date with number 5’s right hook.
But the potential ironclad matchup I deem most notable, most exciting, most entertaining would be: Milton Bradley v. Carlos Zambrano. Both of these guys are nuts! and suffer from extreme anger management issues. No one, no thing is safe when these two are on the field and that includes first base coaches, pitching hands and the aforementioned sufferings of that poor, helpless Gatorade cooler in L.A.
I’d give my left (ahem) to see Big Z pitch Bradley inside and just see what happens. If there is a god…
…but just in case there isn’t, we’ll always have the mysteriously entertaining rituals of Ko
rean baseball brawls:
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right…