Last month there was a bench-clearing brawl between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. A Yankee player, Tyler Austin, slid hard into second base and spiked the Red Sox infielder, Brock Holt. The Red Sox took umbrage with this behavior, although I don't think any of the fist-waving, spittle-flecked screams of anger by the Sox players included the word “umbrage.”
A few innings later, when Mr. Austin came to bat again, Sox pitcher Joe Kelly promptly fired a 98 MPH fastball into the middle of his back. Now, it was time for Austin to be thoroughly umbragized, and he sprinted toward the mound and expressed his displeasure with the situation by trying to punch Mr. Kelly’s teeth through the back of his skull. Both dugouts quickly emptied and a full scale “basebrawl” was underway.
With basebrawls, rarely does much actual fighting occur. It's mostly a lot of shoving and wrestling, finger-pointing and profane threats to perform prostate exams using a broken baseball bat. A modern basebrawl is the only time we get to witness a group of millionaires vowing to kill one another. Oh wait, there is another time when this happens: a typical political panel discussion on CNN.
In the wake of the brawl, the following things occurred, in this order: 1. Kelly said it was an accident and the pitch “slipped.” 2. Everyone who has ever watched a baseball game laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, sure!” 3. League officials expressed outrage and promised that fines and suspensions would be forthcoming. 4. League officials, when safely behind closed doors, high-fived each other and squealed with delight, saying, “The Sox-Yankees rivalry is hot again! People are gonna start watching baseball again!”
It's kind of hard to explain, but the history of baseball is chock-filled with memorable beanball wars and bench clearing brawls. Back in the 1950s, New York Giants pitcher Sal Maglie was known as “The Barber” because he regularly gave batters a close shave by firing the ball at their chins. If the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers did not have numerous brawls each summer, it was a boring season.
In the 60s, star pitchers Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were so ornery, they'd plunk any batter who had the temerity to hit a home run off of them. When someone took either of these pitchers deep, it was guaranteed the next time up he'd be drilled right in the ribs. It was just part of the game. Of course, back then there was no Designated Hitter, and so these pitchers had to come to bat, where they often endured retaliatory lumps of their own. This built-in system of checks and balances kept things from getting out of control — most of the time.
After talking with my wife, I now see the light, and totally agree that hitting a batter on purpose is wrong. I cannot condone this behavior, since someone could get really hurt. Joe Kelly should be ashamed of himself.
But you have to admit, the Sox-Yankees rivalry is hot again! Just sayin’.