Settling the score with their mitts Brawls: Through the whole history of the game ballplayers -- managers, too -- have been known to swing a punch as well as their bats.

May 22, 1998|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

Look at the bright side, Orioles fans. When the Baltimore Brawlers decided to slug it out with the Yankees rather than simply losing to them Tuesday, at least it wasn't "Strike Out Domestic Violence Night" at Yankee Stadium.

No such luck during a minor league game in 1995 between the Winston-Salem Warthogs and the Durham Bulls. On the very night the Bulls management was promoting peaceful familial relations at the ballyard, its players elected to engage in a melee with the Warthogs. Chances are the public-service message was somewhat muted by the events on the field that night.

Fighting in baseball has as long and boorish a history as the game itself, much of it recorded in a new book by California lawyer Jon Light titled, "The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball" (McFarland Inc., $75).

First to gain infamy in Light's book is a 19th-century third baseman named Arlie Latham, who, because of his pugilistic tendencies, earned the moniker "Freshest Man on Earth." He loved fighting so much, Light says, that once he scheduled 20 fights in the off-season, five of them with his own teammates.

Ty Cobb, one of the most despised of baseball players, had his share of fights. During a 1917 spring training exhibition tour, he and Baltimorean Buck Herzog of the New York Giants staged a fight in Cobb's hotel room because of a spiking incident during the game earlier that day. The smaller Herzog decked Cobb with his first punch, before Cobb clobbered him. "I got beat," Herzog later said, "but I knocked the bum down and he'll never forget a little guy like me having him on the floor."

Other luminaries also engaged in fisticuffs, maybe none more often than Leo Durocher. In his long career as player and manager between 1925 and 1973, "The Lip" squared off against Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel, Mickey Owen and Carl Furillo. Maybe no one punched out more All-Stars.

Still, in terms of ferocity, Billy Martin may have had Durocher beat. Someone once said the former Yankee player and manager was a "mouse studying to be a rat." Martin was a true democrat in terms of fighting. He brawled with opponents, with teammates and, once, with a marshmallow salesman.

"He's the kind of guy you'd like to kill if he's playing for the other team, but you'd like 10 of him on your side," said Indians general manager Frank Lane.

Martin fought with the legendarily unstable Red Sox Jimmy Piersall in 1952. In 1960, he charged the mound and broke the jaw of Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer. When managing the Twins, he knocked out his own pitcher, Dave Boswell. In 1976, as manager of the Yankees, he threatened to punch out the irascible Orioles manager Earl Weaver after their teams were involved in a melee prompted by the beaning of Reggie Jackson (then an Oriole). Jim Palmer retaliated by plunking Mickey Rivers on the back. "The next time one of our guys is deliberately thrown at," Martin groused to reporters afterward, "I'm going to deck Earl at home."

As thuggish as Martin was, he was not guilty of the most vicious incident on the ballfield. In 1965, the Giants and Dodgers, blood rivals then, were locked in a bitter series. With Giants pitcher Juan Marichal at bat, Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro decided to send him some kind of message by whipping the ball a fraction of an inch from Marichal's head while returning it to Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax. Marichal decided to send Roseboro an even stronger message by taking his bat in both hands and smashing Roseboro on the head. The bloodied catcher needed 14 stitches and suffered headaches the rest of the season.

Instead of getting a 20-year prison stretch, Marichal was suspended for nine days and fined $1,750, the largest player fine in the National League to that point. Roseboro later sued Marichal, but eventually forgave his assailant. Roseboro's campaign on behalf of Marichal helped the pitcher gain entry to the Hall of Fame.

Another memorable brawl occurred in a game between the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres in 1984. The Padres believed Braves pitcher Pascual Perez was throwing at them, so their pitchers tried to retaliate. But three successive and hapless Padres pitchers lacked enough control to wing Perez until the eighth inning. By then, a game's worth of pent-up tension spilled over into a huge rhubarb that only ended when fans flocked onto the field. Players from both teams had to join forces to save themselves. Fourteen players were ejected from the game, the most ever.

In baseball's early days, the term "Kill the Ump" was far more ominous than today. Not content to simply spit in the faces of umpires, players sometimes pummeled them as well. But, there have also been cases in which the umpires threw the first punch. A National League umpire named Tim Hurst onced chased New York Highlander Clark Griffith into the dugout, where he knocked him out cold.

But, for us, the most disturbing piece of baseball-related violence occurred when Joe Kuhel of the Washington Senators took a swing at a member of the press, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich. Kuhel was fined $100. A few days later, a fan sent the first baseman a $50 bill. "I'd send you the other half," the fan wrote, "if you hadn't missed."

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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