Baseball Notes for June 17, 2013: MLB and Its Hypocritical Stance on Brawls

MacWilliams

Although a major brawl last week between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks resulted in eight suspensions and a dozen fines, the incident is yet another reminder of what a joke on-field fights and the subsequent reaction of Major League Baseball have become.

Tempers flared after Dodgers’ rookie sensation Yasiel Puig was hit in the face by a pitch, followed by a back-and-forth retaliatory actions by both sides.

Managers Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson were banned for one game each, while Dodgers’ hitting coach Mark McGwire earned two games because of behavior which resembled an enraged rhinoceros. The punishments are more of a show than punitive in nature. It seems that MLB’s reaction to such incidents is really an unsaid acceptance that brawls are good for business because of the attention they draw. If baseball truly wanted to crack down on on-field fighting, they could do so very easily. Their insistence in staying with the status quo indicates a sanctioning of loosely-controlled violence that spices up games. No matter how egregious brawls are, suspensions and fines are generally light and often reduced upon appeal (although it is rare that an explanation is given in such cases).

Players and coaches will typically say brawls are the result of trying to protect themselves on the field. That’s hogwash. They are momentary flashes of anger that have no impact on future events. MLB should be the ones protecting the players by having stiffer penalties. Taking a page from the NBA would be a great start, with automatic punishments being meted out for players or coaches leaving their positions or the dugout, and escalating depending upon individual actions.

Brawls have as much place in baseball as they do in any workplace environment. People don’t put their co-workers in headlocks at the photocopier, and they shouldn’t do it on a baseball diamond.

In particular, coaching staffs should be held to a higher standard, as they are paid to lead by example. If they are part of any brawls, they should be dealt with in the strictest of ways. Instead, baseball puts up a veneer of frowning upon on-field violence, while silently benefiting from each fight being the lead story on SportsCenter.

***No brawl in recent memory did more to impact MLB marketing than Game 3 of the 2003 American League ALCS, when Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez famously threw New York Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground. Despite some ugly and unnecessary aggression, MLB only issued a few fines and reaped the benefit of the spat escalating the teams’ rivalry to a fevered pitch, which generated huge interest from the public.

***MLB games still draw impressive crowds but fan enthusiasm isn’t nearly what it was when the sport was at the height of its popularity. This picture of fans streaming into a New York Giants game at the old Polo Grounds in the early 20th century reflects the pageantry of attending a baseball game. Not only is that mostly gone, but so is this stadium, which was once one of the sport’s architectural shrines.

***Another example of fan enthusiasm is shown in the story of the steamship, the Frank E. Kirby, vessel that trolled the waters of the Great Lakes during the early 20th century. Some fantastic photographs show how some people used the transportation to travel to Detroit Tigers games, with huge numbers of passengers crowding the decks for the occasions.

***The 1939 World Series between the Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds occurred nearly a decade before the first Fall Classic was broadcast on televisions for the first time in 1947. No matter, this stunning color footage has surfaced showing some highlights from the Yankees’ four-game sweep. Of note are the overflow crowds, which seem to practically loom over the action on the field at a distance much closer than what is customary today.

***The Dodgers of the 1970s fielded some of the most entertaining teams of the decade. Unfortunately, their success didn’t prevent internal strife from happening in their clubhouse. This article details an ugly physical locker room altercation between Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton and first baseman Steve Garvey in full view of teammates and press.

The fight stemmed from public comments Sutton made insinuating he thought Garvey was fake and took too much credit away from other players like outfielder Reggie Smith. After Garvey confronted him, Sutton jumped his teammate and engaged in a general scuffle. The fight was broken up by other players, and reporters never wrote whether or not the blood drawn by Sutton proved to him that at least some part of Garvey was real.

***In 1966, the longest uninterrupted game in professional baseball history was played between the Miami Marlins and St. Petersburg Cardinals in the Class-A level Florida State League.

The Marlins beat St. Petersburg, who was led by future Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

Only 740 fans turned out for the game, with many fewer remaining when it ended after five hours.

Charlie Sands, the Marlins’ catcher, caught all 29 innings and lost 15 pounds that night. His hard-working attitude no doubt contributed to him going on to play parts of six major league seasons.

***And finally, this week’s moment of Zen. Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith regularly dazzled in the field, whether he was making his patented back flip or executing a breath-taking play. This clip has the “Wizard of Oz” talking about a jaw-dropping play he made against Jeff Burroughs and the Atlanta Braves when he was a member of the San Diego Padres. This has been called the greatest defensive play in history by some, which is quite the compliment given his impressive resume with the leather.

You can check out more of Andrew Martin’s work at The Baseball Historian and be sure to follow him on twitter @HistorianAndrew.

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