Ballpark brawl awakens fans, perhaps team


June 08, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

This uniformed city cop at Eutaw and Lombard feints two jabs at my head and then throws a right that misses by a mile. I put up my own fists and fake a left hook. The cop jerks a thumb toward Camden Yards, which is just behind him. Late on this Sunday afternoon, the two of us then gaze longingly toward the ballpark, where minutes earlier somebody finally, inadvertently left a wake-up call for the 1993 Baltimore Orioles.

"They didn't call you in?" I ask the cop.

"No," he said, "I only knew about it because I heard it on the AM radio. Beautiful, huh?"


"Finally, a sign of life from these guys."

As yet, neither of us has communicated with specific words this thing we are talking about, but no words are necessary. We each know we are talking about The Fight, which is the thing everyone in town is now talking about, wherein the Orioles' Mike Mussina hit the Seattle Mariners' Bill Haselman with a pitched baseball and everybody else commenced hitting with their fists.

Haselman charged the mound, both dugouts and bullpens emptied, and a 20-minute brawl finally ended with seven people ejected. If it happened on any street, the whole lot of them would have been arrested.

On the Orioles, Rick Sutcliffe, Alan Mills and David Segui were ejected for fighting. Everybody asks, did Cal Ripken take any swings? Not likely. We'd have noticed if Cal had hit anything. It would have popped up.

Terrible thing, all the sportswriters agree. Terrible thing, everyone on the radio talk shows says.

Yeah, sure.

I was home when it happened, watching on Home Team Sports. Announcer Mel Proctor began screaming, "Where are the police? Where are the police?"

As it happens, the police were doing exactly what police are supposed to do. Surrounded by 46,296 screaming fans, they were making sure everybody stayed in the stands and didn't attempt to charge onto the field.

Let the ballplayers take care of themselves. Baseball isn't real life, it's a game for children. It's played by well-conditioned young men who get to suspend youth indefinitely, and it's watched by thousands who get to suspend real adult cares for a few hours.

In such a childlike context, a fight on the ballfield is an extension of a playground brawl. What do you expect from grown men who communicate routinely by telling each other, "Way you chuck 'em in, hon."

Also, not to be minimized, in the context of the 1993 Orioles, maybe it was a belated wake-up call for a team not only floundering near the bottom of the standings but showing very few signs of a heart that beats.

Some weeks ago, in fact, manager Johnny Oates yelled at his ballclub, "Who's going to provide the leadership around here?"

This came as a revelation to many who thought the manager himself was supposed to provide the leadership, but apparently Oates was seeking aggressiveness from his players. In any event, his point is valid: This is a team yawning its way through a season in which it had been expected to contend for a pennant.

The owner, Eli Jacobs, has been tied up with financial troubles all spring. Nobody knows if this has affected the ballplayers. The fans continue to fill the park every game, but grow increasingly frustrated and sullen over lackadaisical play. But suddenly, with one errant pitch, everything is electric.

And so, late Sunday afternoon, maybe 30 minutes after the fight ended, I found myself at Lombard and Eutaw, where the uniformed cop began doing this delighted, playful pantomime of a fighter while happy fans filed out of the ballpark.

"Excellent," said one.

"Best thing that's happened all year," said another.

Naturally, we're not supposed to say such things. After all, fighting is never to be condoned. After all, children were watching. After all, someone might have gotten hurt.

Listen, please: This is baseball, not real life. This is a lifeless baseball team, going through the motions. For a moment, the Orioles showed some passion, some sense that this is not merely a business.

Maybe this will light a fire. If it doesn't, then somebody really should send in the police, and arrest them all for impersonating a major league baseball team.

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