Violence best confined to professional sports instead of tolerated on America's streets

May 24, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

I COULD TELL you how revolted I was by last week's spectacle of Dem O's and those revolting New York Yankees setting back the pugilistic sciences in what has laughingly been called their fight. I could tell you that, but you know I'd be lying.

Oh, we've all heard the condemnation of the violence. The brawl was a disgrace. Armando Benitez has been described as only a notch above the Antichrist for hitting Tino Martinez with a pitch.

What was my reaction to Martinez getting hit?

"He's a Yankee," I proclaimed to anyone who would listen. "He deserved it."

"You're condoning violence!" protesters will scream about my position. Not at all. I'm merely trying to control violence, to see that it stays in a setting where it can be regulated. The best setting is professional sports.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Professional sports are a vicarious thrill for American men that serve as a cathartic release for the violence we would otherwise be inflicting on each other. We need only discard pro sports to see how atavistic -- when it comes to violence -- American men can be.

Former heavyweight boxing champion and underrated wit and sage George Foreman hinted at this. The same man who, when asked by former "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson if his next opponent was any good, replied, "I hope not," and said he wanted to get Mike Tyson in a ring "before a good district attorney gets to him" also said, "Boxing is the sport every other sport aspires to be."

Thus we see aggression even in supposedly noncontact sports. We see aggression in the jujitsu match being waged under the name of the NBA playoffs. In a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, Bulls forward Scottie Pippen and Pacers guard Reggie Miller were in an arm lock.

"Pippen's got Miller in an underhook!" I shouted at the TV, revealing that I'm probably borderline certifiable. "Pippen's got Miller in an underhook! An underhook's a wrestling hold, for God's sake!"

In baseball, pitchers throw at hitters to intimidate them. In spite of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner's pouting about Benitez, pitchers have been throwing at hitters for years. Steinbrenner and Yankees manager Joe Torre said pitchers would be more inclined to behave if the designated hitter rule were abolished. Not bloody likely. Beaning was a part of the game long before that rule.

Martinez got off a lot easier with Benitez on the mound than he would have if he were facing Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale. Gibson, in his autobiography, "Stranger to the Game," made no apologies for his nasty streak.

"We all threw hard and threw sliders and hit the corners and moved the batters off the plate to make certain they understood who was setting the agenda," Gibson wrote about himself and other pitchers of his era. "I wouldn't even say hello to hitters on the other teams, because I didn't want one of them to get the idea that I liked him or something, or that, since I'd given him the time of day once, I might not buzz one under his chin. My mission was to win, and the only man who could keep me from completing that mission was the S.O.B. in the batter's box."

How serious was Gibson? Bill White was his closest friend on the St. Louis Cardinals. When White was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a Gibson fastball found its way to White's elbow. Gibson also broke Duke Snider's elbow with a fastball. And it wasn't just Gibson. Sandy Koufax, whom Gibson described as one of the nicer pitchers, fractured Cardinal outfielder Lou Brock's shoulder with a fastball. What was Brock's offense? He bunted twice on Koufax and got singles.

Gibson said there were no batters charging the mound to attack the pitcher or bench-clearing brawls when these incidents occurred. That would come later when, as Foreman predicted, baseball players became overwhelmed with the desire to pound protoplasm and tried their hand at pugilism. The result, of course, was pathetic. The Orioles-Yankees "brawl" consisted mainly of players swinging wildly at air.

They left me pining away for Chuck Wepner and Brian London, two boxing stiffs who at least managed to land a punch on occasion.

Surging testosterone is now common among athletes. The bench-clearing brawl is now an integral part of the American pro sports scene. Given the distasteful choices of witnessing violence on America's streets or violence on its playing fields, I'd gladly choose the latter.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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