Thirty-six years ago this week, Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee – a free-spirited and outspoken cat dubbed “The Spaceman” for his out-there ways – found himself in a bizarre predicament, even by his own inimitable standards. Lying on the floor of the visitor’s dugout at Yankee Stadium, immobilized by the searing pain he felt from a torn ligament in his left shoulder, Lee was attacked by an angry Yankee fan and forced to fend him off with his cleats while waiting for security to come to his aid.
Though much has been made in recent years of the continuing animosity between the Yankees and Red Sox, fights these days involving the two teams generally exude all the gripping intensity of two multi-millionaires slapping each other with checkbooks because one of them has scratched the paintjob on the other’s yacht. But back in the 1970s, the two teams seethed with unadulterated hatred for each other, and would take almost any opportunity to scrap. Lee’s dugout altercation with the fan came at the tail end of 1976’s most memorable baseball brawl, which began with a home plate collision between Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella and Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, and quickly escalated into a vicious, benches-clearing slug-fest that put Lee on the DL for nearly two months with an injured wing.
Unlike hockey or football, baseball isn’t a sport where violence is an intrinsic part of the equation, and fans don’t show up to the ballpark expecting (or hoping) to see a fight or three. Usually only one or two full-scale baseball brawls – or “basebrawls,” if you will – happen per season, which is why they tend to linger on in the memory. Whether it’s Nolan Ryan noogie-ing Robin Ventura into submission, Chad Kreuter (and the rest of the Dodgers bullpen) storming the stands at Wrigley Field to duke it out with the Cubs fans who stole his cap, or hundreds of drunken Indians fans engaging in a pitched battle with Rangers players and their own team during Cleveland’s infamous “Ten Cent Beer Night” promotion, these melees have a way of permanently insinuating themselves into baseball lore.
So this week, we’re asking our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: What’s the most memorable brawl you’ve ever seen – on the field or in the stands?
Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura, 1993. Ventura gets plunked – in the back – starts to take his base, and then suddenly charges the mound. Ryan drops his glove, waits for Ventura, and then wraps him up in a headlock and pummels him repeatedly, until both benches empty and he sinks beneath a sea of arms and legs. The brawl continues for over six minutes before order is restored and play resumes. Yee haw! Welcome to Texas!
Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar
For me, it’s the Don Zimmer/Pedro Martinez Brawl from the 2003 AL playoffs. Has anyone ever looked more like a bench coach than Don, by the way? Anyway… being a Yankee fan in those years, you just couldn’t stand Pedro; and to watch him throw a 72 year-old man to the ground is something I’ll remember forever.
On August 22nd, 1965, my Dad and I drove up to Candlestick to see a marquee match-up between the Giants and the Dodgers. Not only were the bitter rivals locked in a late season battle atop the NL, but the game featured baseball’s top aces, Sandy Koufax (who was 21-4 at the time with a 2.10 ERA) and Juan Marichal (19-9, and an ERA of 1.73). Tensions were apparently high, because in the third inning, with Juan at the plate, he used his bat to clock Dodger backstop John Roseboro over the head. And then all mayhem broke loose. I could see bats raised menacingly all the way from our seats behind the centerfield fence, though it was difficult to tell what was really going on. I remember the next week seeing a photo in Life magazine of Willie Mays crouched next to the stricken and bloodied Roseboro. To my knowledge, this is one of the few on-field brawls where bats were used as weapons (my keg leagues excluded). Eventually order was restored, Marichal was ejected, and in the bottom of the inning, Mays took Koufax deep with a three-run bomb that landed a scant few rows away from us, and that was the difference in the Giants win. An unbelievable game that certainly lives in infamy more for the blood spilled than its dramatic conclusion (MLB’s first Japanese player Masanori Murikami nailed down the precarious save). And indeed, the Dodgers avenged the assault by taking the pennant and the World Series.
Number one for me, personally, took place at Candlestick Park, August 22nd, 1965. Giants vs, Dodgers. SF vs. LA, Manhattan vs. Brooklyn. However you slice it, a rivalry! This was one etched in my brain, when I was 11 years old and baseball was everything! (Well, tied with the Beatles and Stones for first!) Koufax, the greatest pitcher I ever saw, vs. Marichal, one of the greatest pitchers I ever saw. Marichal gave up some hits, and proceeded to hit some Dodgers. Koufax “retaliated” and threw a symbolic brushback pitch over Willie Mays’ head. Soon, it was Marichal’s turn to bat, and Johnny Roseboro decided to whiz the ball past Marichal’s ear on the throwback to Koufax. By some accounts, it hit Marichal’s ear. Roseboro moved toward Marichal, and Marichal hit him on the head with his baseball bat. Nasty gash. Stitches. Deadly weapon. The incident almost stopped Marichal from getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he and Roseboro have since become friends.
Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards
I remember watching a game in 2009 and saw Rick Porcello, who was a rookie pitcher for the Tigers at the time, get charged by Kevin Youkilis. Instead of backing down, Porcello threw Youkilis down with a move Ralph Macchio would have been jealous of. The benches cleared and there was some serious vitriol in the air, but it stands out to me because the youngster stood his ground against the veteran. I always like seeing the underdog be competitive.
The most memorable brawl I ever witnessed was when hulking Cubs relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth lifted some poor angry batsman over his head and slammed him to the turf in a WWF finishing move. That poor sucker never stood a chance.
Honestly, I have never seen any really spectacular brawls in the stands. Have seen a few on the field. Have also seen plenty of two-man bouts in the bleachers at Fenway. Usually both dudes are wasted and have extremely red faces even prior to the bloodying. Nothing like watching a drunk with Bozo face escorted into the tunnel. And regardless of the weather, at least one of the dudes ends up without a shirt.
My favorite brawl was at Fenway in 2005, when Gary Sheffield (who was on the Yankees at the time) got into it with a fan in right field who spilled a beer on him, but that isn’t actually the good part. I was at the game with my friend Desi and our wives, and we were sitting in the last row of the field box seats, so our backs were to the walkway where everyone passes by. There was a drunk standing in the walkway behind our section harassing people the whole game, but you can’t just go beating people up, especially when you’re with the wives. When Sheffield had his altercation, all the security ran to right field, and all the people in the stands were looking in that direction. Desi seized the moment and hopped over the railing, knocked out the drunk who had been pestering everyone, and hopped back over the railing without anyone noticing. I think that Sheffield’s altercation was a sign from God to the guy that he shouldn’t act like an asshole at the ballpark.
My aunt bitch-slapped this drunk guy who was acting stupid at Riverfront Stadium in the mid-eighties. When he protested the slap, she took the beer out of his hand and threw it on his pants so it looked like he pissed himself. He actually started crying. She got a standing ovation in our section.
I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a full-on, bench-clearing brawl in the flesh. I seem to recall once seeing George Bell of the Blue Jays literally drop-kick a pitcher who had beaned him. That being said, I’ve never been able to find video evidence of this anywhere. It might have been one of those childhood hallucinations.
Name: Alice Cooper
I took my son Dash to see the Tigers play the Indians when he was seven years old, his first game. Cecil Fielder hit a grand slam home run early on, and when he came up to bat again he was hit by a pitch, intentionally if I remember correctly. Both benches emptied, and I looked at Dash and said, “Well, you just got to see a grand slam and a bench clearing brawl. Let’s go get a hot dog.” The Tigers won 7-0. The irony there is that the first game MY dad ever took me to was Detroit against Cleveland, where Detroit won 7-0. Synchronicity?
I can’t wait to read the replies from my esteemed co-correspondents because, truth be told, I’ve never seen a fight on the field or in the stands. Not one. Zilch. Nada. Is it because I grew up in the laid-back city of Los Angeles and then graduated to the too-cool-for-school metropolis of Manhattan? No, that can’t be it. Not on either count. So, it must just be dumb luck. On the other hand, I DO have some stories about seeing the LA Kings and lots of crimson stains on the ice in the early Seventies, but I’ll save that for another column.
They are all memorable to me, and they are all bad … The ones in the field are just as bad as the ones in the stands. If they are going to kick the fans out for fighting, they should do the same for the ball players. Suspend the players for a year without pay if they don’t stop this type of thing. One brawl I remember was when the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Atlanta Braves. A fight broke out and members of the Reds, if you can believe this, ran out to the outfield to protect the Braves’ Dale Murphy during the brawl so Dale wouldn’t get hurt. I thought that was class.
Name: Scott Ian
My dad took my brother Jason and me to the 1977 World Series. We went to games one and six at Yankee Stadium, and had great seats just about 25-30 rows behind the dugout. The tickets were only $10!! I can’t imagine what they’d cost now. Game six was the game where Reggie Jackson hit three home runs and the Yankees won their first championship since 1962. When the game ended and the fans rushed the field (as they used to do back in those days) my brother and I headed for the railing just off of third base. We were about to jump on the field when we saw a guy trying to pull third base out of the ground; he was immediately surrounded by nightstick wielding cops who proceeded to pummel him into baseball oblivion. I was 13 and my brother was 10. The innocent kid versions of ourselves looked at each other and silently made the decision to not run on the field. Too bad I didn’t remember that when I got busted in Tampa back in 1997.