As someone who very loosely calls themselves a baseball fan, I was shocked when I heard about a fight breaking out in game two of the Red Sox v. Yankees series. As a Yankees fan, I automatically assumed it was due to something that those silly Red Sox did. Imagine my shock when I found out it actually stemmed back to an unwritten rule in baseball, that throughout my four years of being a baseball fan, I was not made privy to.
After hearing about the fight, I obviously had to go look up videos of the fight and it was not at all what I was expecting. Instead of it just being two players duking it out, the entire team rushed the field clearing the benches and the bullpens. Which made me wonder about fights in baseball. Obviously they aren’t as common as they are in other sports (like hockey), but they do pop up from time to time. After consulting with my resident sports expert (the sports editor at the Maine Campus), I have much more respect for the reasoning behind fights in baseball.
Unwritten protocol dictates that when a player slides into the base and spikes someone, the pitcher will hit them with a fast-ball in the ribs during their next at-bat, as revenge. This looks very painful, but I’m sure it is similar to the pain of being spiked with cleats. Obviously this “rule” creates its own fair share of rifts, as does excessive celebration for home runs. If you google MLB fights, you will be inundated with plethora of clips of batters charging catchers and pitchers or people hitting a homerun and not making it to home plate due to a fight. For whatever reason they do pop up, they help the sport stay fresh and keep people from falling asleep.
Most interestingly, there’s a level of respect to these fights. Anything with bare hands is fair game, but using cleats or bats is completely forbidden. Even though they are readily available, they are not even considered due to the amount of harm they would cause. Another interesting aspect is the swarming of the field. Instead of leaving the one player at-bat out there to fend for himself, the entire bench and bullpen will come and join in on the action. Although this makes the fights much harder to split up, the showing of support from the respective teams displays the camaraderie of the sport that is not always easy to see.
As a result of the fight this week, Joe Kelly was suspended for six games and Tyler Austin was suspended for five. This brawl also reignited the rivalry between Boston and New York. However, this wasn’t the only fight of the night. On the other side of the country Nolan Arenado (Rockies) charged the mound, chasing after Luis Perdomo (Padres) after he was almost hit by a pitch thrown behind him. Both of these players were suspended for five games, but, interestingly, other members of the teams who participated in the fight were also issued suspensions. Gerardo Parra (Rockies) got a four-game suspension and Buddy Baumann (Padres) was issued a one-game suspension.
Despite these punishments, fighting is something rooted in the sport of baseball — not at the level of other sports, but at a high enough frequency that it has a place in the culture of the sport. It keeps the play honest and gives players an opportunity to express their displeasures. For the audience, it keeps the game moving. You don’t go to a baseball game to see a fight, but if one does happen to break out, it adds a bit of excitement to a typically slower-paced game. As long as the fights continue to be honest, there is no reason to change this policy, but when it starts to get out of hand the MLB may need to start issuing some stronger punishments and make those punishments more wide-reaching to everyone involved.