Mandatory rules on fighting not so simple Still, discussions take place on how to make it work

May 24, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The NBA warns its players that if they leave the bench to join an on-court fight, they will be suspended and fined. NHL players incur automatic suspensions for leaving the bench for an on-ice altercation. The NFL tells its players to "stay away" if a fight breaks out among other players or face the imposition of fines.

Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has no rules stipulating automatic disciplinary action for players who run onto the field from their dugouts or their bullpens to join a fight in progress.

After seeing, either live or on tape, the brawl at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night between the Yankees and the Orioles, fans may wonder why baseball has no rules governing such action. Various officials said yesterday the reason is simple.

"We're the only sport where structurally that rule wouldn't make sense," Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the Players Association, said. "It can't be in our sport because there's only one player on the field against nine."

If a batter, say, hits a double and slides high and hard into second base, riling the second baseman, a fight could ensue, and the batter would be alone amid nine defensive players who are on the field and would not be subject to a rule governing players in the dugouts and bullpens.

Despite the seeming one-sided nature of such a potential fight, Gene Budig, the American League president, said Wednesday that the matter would be discussed. "Some people have intentions of introducing it for discussion at our meetings of general managers," he said. The general managers meet annually in November.

One general manager, Pat Gillick of the Orioles, said he favored a rule that called for disciplinary action against players who leave their dugouts, their bullpens or their positions.

Another official, however, said he did not think baseball would ever adopt such a rule because "you would have to collectively bargain for it" and the Players Association would oppose it.

The fight between the Yankees and the Orioles appeared to be more bluster than brawl until members of the Yankees' bullpen charged into the fray. That is why Graeme Lloyd and Jeff Nelson were suspended and fined. In this situation, then, players who left the bench actually ignited the fight rather than joined it.

The kind of brawl that occurred at Yankee Stadium resembled a scene that used to be common on NHL ice. But after a free-for-all between the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers before not during but before a playoff game in 1987, the league adopted stiffer penalties for players leaving the bench to join a fight, and the scene has not been repeated.

The first player to leave either bench or penalty box to join or start a fight is automatically suspended without pay for 10 games. The second player to do that is suspended for five games without pay. The players' teams are fined $10,000 for the first incident, and the coaches of the teams face possible suspension and fine based on review of the incident by the commissioner.

Players who are on the ice and get into a fight incur five-minute penalties.

The NBA has also stiffened its bench-leaving rule, and that is the one the Knicks paid dearly for a year ago.

The league's rules say players who are not involved in a fight "must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench." Penalty for roaming: minimum suspension of one game and a fine of up to $20,000.

Like baseball, the NFL has no specified penalties for fighting or straying into a fight.

"Fights in the NFL are pointless and only lead to penalties as well as possible fines and disqualification from the game all of which hurt your team," the league advises its players. If players "unnecessarily enter a fight area," they will be fined whether their "involvement is active or inactive."

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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