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August 10, 2011

The Lineup Card

12 Favorite Basebrawls and Individual Performances in Basebrawls

by Baseball Prospectus

1) Armando Benitez vs. Tino Martinez and the Yankees
At 28-9, the 1998 Yankees had already shown that they were in the business of kicking ass and taking names when the Orioles came to town having lost five straight games to push them under .500. The O's were on track to snap their streak with a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning when the Yankees drew two walks while making two outs against tiring O's starter Sidney Ponson and reliever Alan Mills. A Paul O'Neill single off Norm Charlton cut the lead to 5-4 when Benitez, the Orioles' imposing but immature closer, was summoned for a four-out save. Instead, he served up a three-run homer to Bernie Williams to give the Yankees a 7-5 lead, then blatantly plunked Tino Martinez between the shoulder blades with a 90-something MPH fastball on his next pitch. "That was a real cheap shot," said Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat.

Martinez jawed at Benitez on the way down to first base, and the 6-foot-4 reliever dropped his glove. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and things escalated when Yankees' lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd—a 6-foot-8 Australian native my friends and I called "The Big Dingo"—came charging out of the bullpen and grabbed Benitez's chin before throwing a few wild punches with fellow Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson joining the fray. Benitez connected on a blow to the back of Lloyd's neck as he retreated from the mound into foul territory. As he neared the dugout, he squared off with Scott Brosius, who threw no punches but captured his attention while Darryl Strawberry rolled up behind and connected on a sucker punch to Benitez's head before pushing him into the Oriole dugout. Strawberry was restrained by multiple Orioles at the edge of the dugout, but amazingly enough, the two would square off again minutes later after Mills punched Strawberry while an irate Martinez kept making his way towards Benitez. The second time, Stawberry's blow was more glancing, and his momentum carried him into the dugout where Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken tried to calm him down. Ultimately, it took around 15 minutes before order was restored and play resumed.

"This is like one of those hockey brawls where the umpires have to figure out who stays and who goes," said Yankees broadcaster (and former Oriole) Ken Singleton. "To a man, the Orioles refused to muster even feigned support for Benitez," wrote Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci. "The action of 'I'll hurt you if I can't beat you' totally misrepresents the Baltimore Orioles' tradition of good play and sportsmanship," said manager Ray Miller in apologizing to the Yankees. Benitez drew an eight-game suspension while Strawberry and Lloyd (three games) and Mills and Nelson (two games) received suspensions as well. The Yankees went on to win 114 regular season games and the World Series while the Orioles were swept by the Yankees en route to a nine-game losing streak. They haven't had a winning season since. —Jay Jaffe

2) Jonny Gomes vs. Shelly Duncan, Jonny Gomes vs. Coco Crisp
Not often is a player involved in two basebrawls in the same season, but then again, not too many players have Jonny Gomes’s personality. Perhaps the only thing you need to know about Gomes’s psyche is that he once willingly sipped champagne from Dioner Navarro’s protective cup. Any person willing to go that far is not someone with whom you want to tango, yet Shelley Duncan and Coco Crisp found themselves in Gomes’ crosshairs during the 2008 season.

The first incident came in spring training. After another Ray had smashed into Francisco Cervelli and broke his wrist, Duncan decided to retaliate with a high, aggressive slide into the Rays second baseman. Gomes, never one willing to wait for an invitation, flew in from his right field perch and attempted to tackle Duncan before the pair was separated.

Crisp wasn’t as lucky as he charged the mound after being plunked by a pitch, only to find Gomes straddling and pummeling his upper body for a few seconds. Those incidents became inspiration for what Rays’ fans labeled “brawlfense”. —R.J. Anderson

3) Rick Porcello vs. Kevin Youkilis (Watch)
In August 2009, Detroit Tigers’ 20-year-old right-hander Rick Porcello took the mound against the Boston Red Sox with one thing on his mind: to pick up his 11th win of the season as the Tigers made their Playoff push. What he would leave with was his first career ejection, a no-decision, and a takedown of Kevin Youkilis. The young Tigers phenom may not have won the game, but with his takedown of Youkilis that day, Rick Porcello cemented himself in Tigers lore and earned the unwavering trust and respect of his veteran teammates. Porcello had hit Youkilis with a breaking ball in the back, clearly unintentional considering that intentional bean-balls are generally fastballs in the ribs, not soft stuff in the back.

Once the ball made contact with Youkilis’s back, Porcello turned towards first in dismay having put a man on in a game he was winning 3-0 at the time. Fortunately (for the love of the brawl, at least), Youkilis did not appreciate or understand Porcello’s dismay. What transpired next was straight out of Looney Tunes as Youkilis charged like a bull seeing red and Porcello took him down with the ease of a Bugs Bunny matador dance. As the rookie right-hander put his arms out as if to ask in surprise, “What?” the helmet flew and the two engaged. When the diamond dust settled, the Tigers’ 20-year-old phenom from New Jersey had thrown the Red Sox slugger to the ground and was raining haymakers on him.

At the end of the day, the Red Sox came back to win the game, but without a doubt, that brawl cemented Rick Porcello in baseball lore.—Adam Tower

4) Engel Beltre vs. The Visalia Rawhide (Watch)
The video is fantastic. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Texas Rangers’ prospect Engel Beltre launched a home run over the right field wall in Bakersfield. Whatever he did at the plate must not have gone over well with Visalia pitcher Billy Spottiswood, however, because soon Spottiswood was jawing at Beltre and walking towards him as he continued his home run trot. There was a brief encounter as Beltre passed the shortstop position, but he continued on his trot. Finally, after passing third base, Beltre had had enough and started challenging Spottiswood. The Visalia catcher, who was much closer, pushed Beltre and the benches cleared. Beltre didn't acquit himself well in the brawl; in fact, he seemed to disappear off camera while two other players went at it, but I give him credit here for instigating the brawl (with a whole lot of help from Spottiswood) while in the middle of his home run trot! It's not very often, after all, that one can be the main player in a walkoff brawl. And if you don't think I timed Beltre's trot for the Tater Trot Tracker, you're crazy. —Larry Granillo

5) Kevin Goldstein vs. Bill
I'm pretty sure his name was Bill, but I'm not 100 percent sure. I have no clue what his last name was as it was more than 30 years ago, but I do remember his face. Then again, maybe even that is a flawed recall, blurred by pop culture as I must admit a strange resemblance to both Chucky and Damien. I'm certain I remember the sneer, and I'm certain I remember stepping up to the plate with Bill on the mound, knowing exactly what was about to happen. This was the third, maybe fourth grade—I'm not sure which—but the one marker I have in my memory is that my parents were still together (at least technically), so it was before fifth. I have no idea what the impetuous was, but Bill hated me, and the feelings were mutual. I was on the Giants, and while I don't remember what Bill's team was called, I do remember they wore green uniforms.

I don't remember the score, and I don't remember the win-loss record, but I do remember that when I stepped into the box, I knew Bill was going to throw at me, and he did just that, missing wildly with his first offering and nailing me in the back with his second shot. I knew it was coming. Every kid at the game knew it was coming. But it was Little League, where command and control are rarely virtues, so the adults didn't see it coming, nor did they see any malice, and I was in no position to rush the mound and get my revenge in a game where the umpires are three times the size of the players, but I sure wanted to. Bill moved away shortly thereafter, and the thud of that fastball hitting me ended up being the peak of our feud, but I remember how I felt at that moment, and while I don't support fighting in baseball, I certainly understand it. —Kevin Goldstein

The Greenville Drive vs. The Charleston River Dogs (Watch)
It's probably not appreciated how young and inexperienced kids are when they're drafted and sent to pro ball. Coaches have to teach them everything, not just how to make the turn at first or throw a cutter. It's like boot camp in more ways than one, and it's not uncommon for minor leaguers to describe their teams the same way military veterans describe their platoons. In Matt McCarthy's minor-league memoir Odd Man Out, McCarthy recounts manager Tom Kotchman's introduction to the team. "Last thing," McCarthy quotes Kotchman as saying, "It's against league rules to leave the bench in the event of a fight. That said, I expect all of you to be in the thick of things if a brawl ever breaks out. You've got to protect one another." Kotchman began to leave, then stopped at the door and raised his arm. "And for you city guys, this is how you make a fist." When video of the Slade Heathcott brawl went viral this spring, my favorite moment was when I identified the first man into the scrum: not the pitcher, or the first baseman, or the guy on deck, or any of the players in the dugout. It was manager Billy McMillon. —Sam Miller

7) The Padres vs. Pascual Perez
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on August, 12 1984 in the booming metropolis of Ohioville, Pennsylvania, and three childhood friends and I planned to play a round of golf in the third-to-last weekend before I would embark on my senior year of college, with real life soon to follow. While three of us waited at my friend's house for the final member of our foursome to arrive, we watched on television as the Padres and Braves began playing their game in Atlanta. This was back in the day when what is now TBS was known as SuperStation WTBS, and it carried the vast majority of the Braves' games to a national cable audience.

Braves pitcher Pascual Perez hit the Padres' Alan Wiggins with the first pitch of the game. Knowing of the zany and mercurial Perez from his days as a rookie with the Pirates, the three of us were sure that good theatre was likely ahead. Sure enough, when Perez came to bat in the bottom of the second, Padres pitcher Ed Whitson threw a pitch behind his head. Perez started waving his bat and both benches emptied. That, however, would be just the beginning of one of the most bizarre games in major league history. Every time Perez came to the plate, the Padres kept throwing at him. Three more fights broke out in the fifth, eighth and ninth innings, and even the spectators got involved as five fans were arrested in addition to the ejections of 14 players and coaches. After the game, Braves manager Joe Torre accused Padres manager and future Hall of Famer Dick Williams of "Hitler-like action" for continuing to have his pitchers throw at Perez. We never did make it to the golf course that day, but none of us complained. Instead, we watched a baseball game unlike any other. —John Perrotto

8) Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura
The family phone rang in the evening hours of August 4th, 1993. The hour was late enough to suggest only two possible outcomes: 1) A family member was in trouble, or 2) One of my idiot friends called the main house line by mistake after 10 PM CT. Neither eventuality looked promising for me, so with an ear towards the phone conversation, I listened with great anticipation. The voice on the other end of the phone was a close family friend, but the news being delivered wasn’t full of sorrow or sadness; rather, the family friend called to make sure we had our eyes on the evening news, which was replaying and detailing local hero, Nolan Ryan, engaging in a baseball brawl for all the world to see. This was a big moment.

In the top of the third inning on that steamy August night, 25-year-old Robin Ventura decided to take physical exception to a purposeful pitch to his back, courtesy of a then 46-year-old Nolan Ryan. The famous gunslinger was in the twilight of his 27th season in the majors, only a few starts away from packing up the iron and walking away from the mound. The big Texan was already a legend, but what transpired on this fateful night would stand alongside the rest of the pieces of his lore, painting him as the physical embodiment of Texas pride in accepting the challenge of a younger pistoleer and shooting him down in front of the eyes of his brethren.

After being alerted to the incident and having clicked on the local news, my family sat wide-eyed at the television, watching replay after replay of our hero taking his famous right-hand to the top of Robin Ventura’s skull numerous times before landing an upper-cut (or two) to the face. Ventura’s decision to charge the mound was justifiable as he felt he was thrown at intentionally, which, of course, he was. However, you don’t stand on the street with the legend if you don’t have the skill to put the legend down. After being hit, Ventura started towards first but quickly changed his course and exploded towards the mound, where he met an aging (yet willing) adversary with his glove already removed and his pistol drawn. Before Ventura could execute his anger, the John Wayne of Texas baseball stepped toward Ventura in front of the mound, grabbed him like a rogue steer, and beat reality into his head before the scrum could form and force them to the ground.

When the dust settled, the rifleman emerged from the pile to the cheers of thousands of fans—and not just the people in the seats. Ventura was tossed from the game while Ryan remained on the mound, pouring salt on the wounds of the White Sox while pumping even more Texas pride into the veins of those with eyes on the event. My family celebrated that night like the first people celebrated the sunrise, with a nationalistic euphoria that is often quite unattractive to outsiders. Nolan Ryan beating Robin Ventura was one of the highlights of my youth, which doesn’t say much about my youth. On that night, Nolan Ryan’s fist belonged to all Texans, and despite being silly to celebrate the public humiliation of another human, the state rejoiced when our legend was still able to live up to his name. Come and take it. —Jason Parks

George Brett v. Graig Nettles
From 1976 to 1980, the Yankees and Royals squared off for the American League pennant in four of five seasons. The rivalry produced some of the best—and hardest-fought—October drama of the era. Two plays from those playoffs sum up the dislike each team had for the other.

One was Hal McRae’s takeout slide—more accurately described as a body block—that sent Willie Randolph flying, broke up a potential double play, and allowed a run to score. (McRae famously “fell” on top of Randolph and waved the runner ahead of him to the plate. Randolph responded in kind by picking up the ball and firing it toward McRae in the Royals’ dugout.)

The other play came in the first inning of the fifth and deciding game of the 1977 ALCS in Kansas City. With McRae at first base, George Brett drove a ball into the gap and set sail for third base, where Graig Nettles of the Yankees waited for a relay throw. Brett slid hard and came up swinging when, he later explained, Nettles kicked him in the face. Nettles, for his part, thought Brett had pushed or elbowed him. Suddenly, both players were throwing haymakers. Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry—who had been backing up third—joined the fracas, and the three wrestled to the ground as the benches emptied. Brett later revealed that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had protected him at the bottom of the dog-pile. Remarkably, neither Brett nor Nettles was ejected. A ninth-inning rally eventually sent the Yankees to the World Series, and the best rivalry of the era intensified. —Jeff Euston

10) Izzy Alcantara vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons (Watch)
Izzy Alcantara was a fringe third base prospect in the Expos system in the mid-1990s. After bouncing around various organizations, he ended up with the Red Sox in 1999 and hit 29 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. Alcantara duplicated the feat a year later and in 2001 pounded a career-high 36 home runs. By now, though, he was a 28-year-old corner outfielder with limited defensive skills.

When you miss your shot at stardom, you can accept your fate gracefully and move on with life, or you can come out with guns-a-blazin' and put on a show they'll never forget. Alcantara chose the latter.

On July 3, 2001, after being buzzed by a fastball from Red Barons’ right-hander Blas Cedeno, Alcantara pulled a move worthy of Ray Austin's finest choreography in The Avengers, karate kicking catcher Jeremy Salazar in the facemask. Alcantara, known more for his power than his ability to make contact, then bolted toward the mound where he swung at and missed Cedeno.

The pitcher threw his glove at Alcantara, who danced around looking for someone to fight before realizing that Alcantara’s teammates had not yet come out to support him. Eventually, both benches emptied (“no punches, fortunately, were landed,” intones the announcer), and Alcantara was tackled by former Cubs’ third baseman Kevin Orie.

Alcantara was suspended six games for his actions, Orie was suspended three games, and Cedeno drew a one-game suspension.

Alcantara retired in 2007, the owner of 287 minor-league home runs, six big-league home runs, and one spectacular meltdown captured on video. History may forget his minor-league power-hitting exploits, but the story of his karate kick will survive generations. —Geoff Young

11) Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer
Imagine you’re Pedro Martinez, wandering the infield during a standard-issue baseball non-fight. It’s Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, and you know you had personally toppled the first domino by throwing at Karim Garcia’s head in the top of the fourth, and when a frustrated Garcia later slid through Todd Walker in an attempt to break up the double play your beanball had set up, words had been exchanged—between Walker and Garcia and between you and the Yankees bench, notably Don Zimmer, Roger Clemens and Jorge Posada. You had pointed at your head while shouting at Posada, a gesture perhaps meant to convey that you’d remember his words when you next faced him but which the Yankees had taken as a threat to give Posada exactly the medicine you had just force-fed Garcia. Benches and pitchers were warned, but with Roger Clemens (the hurler most likely to up the testosterone ante) facing Manny Ramirez (the batter most likely to take offense) to lead off the bottom of the inning, no one had been surprised that a high-and-tight fastball had led to a staredown, angry words, and now empty benches. You’ve gone onto the field to support your teammate (since that’s what the baseball code requires), but right now you’re nowhere near the heart of the action.

Suddenly, out of the milling fog, a man rushes towards you, arms extended. To most people, and to you in a different context, the man looks like this:

Right now, however, he looks much different. He’s charging straight at you, bug-eyed and cursing, wearing the uniform of the team you will soon call your “Daddy.” He’s an older man but clearly spry, with a well-known prejudice against beanball pitchers, having spent months in the hospital after a Triple-A pitch resulted in a two-week coma and a skull that had to be screwed back together before re-learning how to walk and talk. Moments ago you didn’t see him, but now he’s lunging at you, looking for all the world like this:

What do you do? You may think you would have side-stepped him, or held him at arm’s length, or just stood there and taken whatever he was there to dish, but I’m here to tell you that in that context, in real-time, that’s not what you would have done. Martinez was in a no-win situation (albeit one of his own making), and as sad as it was to see, grabbing Zimmer’s melon and pushing him aside and down was about the best response we could have expected and a perfect illustration of the monumental stupidity of baseball fights. —Ken Funck

12) Bill Dickey vs. Carl Reynolds
In the early 1930s, there was a lot of hostility between the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators, the latter of which was actually a good team at the time. At Washington on July 4, 1932, the Yankees took a 3-2 lead to the bottom of the seventh. Senators outfielder Carl Reynolds tried to score the tying run on a close play at the plate, colliding with Yankees catcher Bill Dickey and knocking him down. This put Dickey in a surly frame of mind—he had been knocked unconscious on a play at the plate the previous day and was starting to think the Senators were making him their personal punching bag.

Nothing else might have happened, but in the tangle of bodies, Reynolds hadn’t actually touched home plate. Dickey, hearing him coming back, jumped up and punched the defenseless Reynolds in the jaw, breaking it in two places. Dickey was at first suspended indefinitely before the American League president settled on a one-month suspension without pay and a $1,000 fine, both a significant chunk of Dickey's earnings for the year. Reynolds spent the next month with his jaw wired shut, and at one point nearly choked to death when some insufficiently-liquefied food made it past the wires holding his mouth together. You often see it written that Reynolds was never the same, but he hit well enough upon returning as well as during the next season before fading abruptly in his early thirties. The Yankees won the 1932 pennant and World Series despite Dickey’s long absence, while the Senators would win the AL pennant in 1933, though without Reynolds, who was traded to the St. Louis Browns as part of a package for the infinitely better Goose Goslin. That April, the Yankees and Senators would have an even more celebrated brawl, a full-on riot which involved players, fans, and police before it was all over.—Steven Goldman

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Taking Ce... (08/10)
<< Previous Column
The Lineup Card: 12 Fa... (08/03)
Next Column >>
The Lineup Card: 11 Me... (08/18)
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Painting the Black: Wh... (08/10)

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