No room for macho in the win column

JOHN EISENBERG

June 07, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

First off, let's define our terms. That wasn't just a fight between the Orioles and Mariners. That was an entire card.

How many bouts were there? How many fingers do you have?

Let's see. There was the main event, "Gorgeous" Norm Charlton against Alan "Mister Mean" Mills, which came late in the proceedings and had more action than any two Riddick Bowe title defenses. There was Mike "Cy" Mussina against Bill "Bill" Haselman. Mark McLemore against Chris Bosio. Todd Frohwirth against Jeff "Full" Nelson. Jeff Tackett against the world.

There were slug-outs and takedowns and headlocks and everything short of Fritz Von Erich with the Iron Claw. There was the remarkable sight of Bosio racing from the dugout to level a 49-year-old pitching coach (Dick Bosman) with a body block. What a man.

No, it wasn't just a fight. It was the fight of the baseball year.

"Best I ever saw," said the Orioles' Gregg Olson. "They had six or seven guys going after people. And we probably had the same number looking to start something."

It all started when Mussina hit Haselman on the shoulder in the seventh inning of the Orioles' 5-2 win, and ended with Mark Williamson standing in the empty clubhouse well after the game, a bandage across the bridge of his nose and a red scrape on his chin, looking very much like someone who had intersected with a windshield.

"I will get even," Williamson said. "You can quote me on that."

And you thought the Orioles were listless this year.

It was big. It was bloody. It had more people walking tall than any three kung-fu movies. ("We will not be intimidated," Rick Sutcliffe said.) More punches than any three hockey fights. It had drama. It had humor. ("I've been beat up by guys smaller than you," Frohwirth told one opponent.) It was the game clips package of every TV news director's dream.

It went on and on and on. Twenty minutes. It was a riot. A real one. A riot on the field. Total anarchy.

And a total blast.

The first interesting thing to happen at Camden Yards this year.

But would it have been so terrific if Mussina had broken his collarbone, as Bosio apparently did? Would it have been neat if the the Orioles' best pitcher had ruined his season and possibly his career?

Of course not. The risks didn't begin to equal the reward, which was, well, there wasn't a reward. But this is where baseball gets real stupid on you.

The fight broke out because of The Code. The unwritten code that rules baseball. If their pitcher hits your batter, you hit their batter back. Protect your teammates. Be tough. Be macho. Send a message.

Bosio started it. He was losing. Got frustrated. Threw pitches behind McLemore and Harold Reynolds. The Orioles took offense. According to The Code, Mussina was a wimp if he didn't plunk the Mariner of his choice. He plunked Haselman.

Next time, let him be a wimp.

Mussina said he was innocent, of course. Just threw a wild one. He has to say that. It's part of the drill. But Elrod Hendricks, bless him, was in no mood for cover-ups.

"Yes, I would say [Mussina] was throwing at the son of a gun, and he deserved it. [Bosio] was throwing at us," Hendricks said. "It doesn't have a place in the game. It's ugly, but when your players are being thrown at, you have to retaliate."

It's been The Code for a century. But why? Why retaliate when it is going to wind up jeopardizing your franchise pitcher? Why not just play and ignore the hotheads on the other team?

Throwing inside is one thing. That's part of the game. But headhunting, and the mandatory fights that come attached, are ridiculous. There's too much to lose.

Ballplayers talk about the importance of sending that message, but it's just macho posturing. The first time such a message wins a ballgame, let me know.

Baseball could take care of the problem with one stroke. Suspend players for leaving the dugout to fight. See you in three games, pal. That would make them think twice. That would quash their pointless need to be tough, which has everything to do with satisfying their egos and nothing to do with winning and losing games.

That the Orioles endangered Mussina should be evidence enough. Can a team get any dumber? That was all manager Johnny Oates was thinking about as he raced toward the mound.

"I was just praying that Mike didn't try to be a hero," Oates said.

He didn't. The Orioles got lucky. But maybe they won't next time. Or maybe they'll get smart and just turn the other cheek next time. It won't change their winning percentage. Not one iota.

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