It's Baseball, Not Beanball

June 08, 1993

Baseball brawls like the one at Camden Yards Sunday bring out conflicting emotions in a fan. One is sympathetic understanding for a team's protecting its own: It's a pitcher's duty to send a 90-mph message to an opponent he believes is throwing at his teammates. (Since pitchers don't come to the plate in the American League, the target is a surrogate -- not infrequently a player who has just got a painful hit.) The other is disdain for violence in a game that is not a contact sport, except sometimes on the base paths. Brawling has no place on the diamond.

Baseball fans need only look askance at professional hockey, where brute strength and a knack for high-sticking when the referee isn't looking seem to have replaced speed and finesse with the puck as the desired skills. Hockey management seems to believe that a little blood attracts fans. But it doesn't draw them as well as baseball or, for that matter, a quasi-contact sport with few melees, like basketball.

Also to be considered is the fact that baseball players are not all noted for their mature thinking. They live in a macho world, where the sort of dare that can touch off a barroom brawl can't be ignored, either. But it is not an unregulated world -- players are subject to discipline by their managers and, in the more serious scrapes, by baseball officialdom. Pitchers may not be ordered to throw at an opposing batter, but it's hard to imagine one doing so against his boss's orders.

Presumably some fines are in order for the players and the Seattle Mariners manager ejected Sunday. As baseball salaries run these days, that's not much of a deterrent. American League President Bobby Brown has the opportunity to send a message of his own. He must also decide on punishment for a similar brawl between the Toronto Bluejays and California Angels just four days earlier. If major league baseball doesn't condone this kind of behavior, some serious suspensions would have the deterrent effect of a beanball.

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