Who doesn’t love a good baseball fight? It’s one of the last vestiges of masculinity in sports. Unlike basketball or football, where jawing and chest-puffing rarely leads to actual physical confrontation, baseball provides a unique platform for players to settle their differences on the field of play. The only sport that has it beat in terms of allowing matters to be settled by violence is hockey, where they actually let you throw down one-on-one with no interference.
Whether it’s a pitcher headhunting after a sign of disrespect or a baserunner going in spikes up to avenge a perceived injustice, baseball players can – and often do – take things into their own hands to administer old-timey, unwritten rule-justice.
In light of recent events surrounding two NL West teams (looking at you Carlos Quentin), we’ve decided to take a look back at some of the best altercations in Major League Baseball’s history. While this is harder than it seems because of Bud Selig’s inability to realize that YouTube exists and people would like to be able to view videos of baseball on it, we’ve ranked the top five brawls available over the internet for your entertainment.
A lot of these videos are fun to watch because their representative of a different era, as players these days are much more conscious of fines and image and everything else that has changed the nature of the game over the last 20 years. While the it’s hard to fault the commissioner’s office for adapting with the culture of the day and cracking down on brawls, there’s still something endearing about a time when a pitcher wouldn’t think twice about sticking one in your ear if you took to long to round the bases after taking one deep. Enjoy.
Who says nobody cares about the World Baseball Classic?
Team Mexico and Team Canada obviously do, and the brawl involving the two teams at Chase Field during WBC pool play had a nice dash of nationalism mixed in to give it some extra flare.
With Canada leading 9-3 in the top of the ninth with no outs, Chris Robinson bunted to reach first base in an effort to run up the score (WBC tiebreakers are decided by run differential). Mexico’s reliever Arnold Leon didn’t appreciate this very much, and he responded by plunking Rene Tesoni in the next at-bat, which incited a benches-clearing ruckus that got seven players ejected.
Even the fans got in on the action, as someone threw a baseball that nearly hit first base coach Larry Walker in the head. Overall it was a nice throwback brawl. The fact that Leon threw at Tesoni three straight times – and that Tesoni knew exactly what he was doing after the second pitch – added to the entertainment value.
If you’ve never seen old-man strength in action, let me present Exhibit A: Nolan Ryan getting Robin Ventura in a headlock and putting the beatdown on a man 20 years his junior (Ryan was 46-years-old to Ventura’s 26).
People have mocked Ventura for years after this fight, and all this incident really did was add to the legend that Ryan had long-since established in his other 27 years in the Majors. According to his Wikipedia page, “Ryan stated afterwards it was the same maneuver he used on steers he had to brand on his Texas ranch.” Awesome. Robin Ventura, consider yourself branded.
Another interesting tidbit from this fight: Ryan was allowed to stay in the game while Ventura got tossed! Think about that for a minute. Ryan beaned Ventura, got to smack him around a bit, and then got to keep pitching. Oh, and he didn’t allow a hit the rest of the game.
While apparently they’ve buried the hatchet since Ventura became the manager of the Chicago White Sox and Ryan welcomed him back to Texas as the CEO of the Rangers, I prefer to think if the White Sox call up Ryan for a trade, he tells them to send over Ventura to “negotiate.”
While this isn’t the best example of a Yankees-Red Sox brawl, it is without a doubt the most memorable.
In Game 3 of the American League Championship in Boston, Pedro Martinez had hit New York’s Karim Garcia in the back with a fastball early in the game. Tempers flared when Garcia slid hard into second basemen Todd Walker, and when Roger Clemens threw inside to Manny Ramirez in the bottom half of the inning, benches cleared and it looked like there would be a fight.
That fight never happened, however, as Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer charged at Pedro Martinez, who responded by grabbing Zimmer’s head and tossing him on the ground. Everyone was genuinely shocked at the scene, to the point that the umpire crew was able to calm everyone down and break the teams up as everyone contemplated exactly how to react to a 73-year-old coach getting (deservedly) thrown to the field.
While the confrontation between Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez one season later was a better fight, the fracas between Zimmer and Martinez will always be remembered as one of the more unusual fights in baseball history.
When Armando Benitez nailed Tino Martinez in the back in this 1998 matchup, I don’t think he knew that he’d be in for a tussle with the entire Yankees lineup.
After Benitez gave up a three-run jack to Bernie Williams, he decided he’d take out his frustration on Martinez. That obviously didn’t sit well with the Yankees, and just about everyone on the team came out of the dugout to get a piece of the Dominican reliever. Darryl Strawberry got the best shot in on video, and if you jump to the six-minute mark, you’ll see a nice clip of him going upside Benitez’s head with a haymaker.
In short, this is everything a baseball fight should be, and it’s a great memory for those late-90’s Yankees teams that left a huge imprint on the game, in no small part because they were a true team. Nowhere is that more apparent than this brawl, where they stand up for one of their leaders.
One thing that’s almost as good as the fight itself is getting the dirt from the guys involved, and I was delighted to find this clip of Juan Marichal recounting his brawl against John Roseboro, Sandy Koufax and the rest of the Dodgers in 1965.
The seeds of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry were planted when the teams were still in New York, and when they moved out west the high level of play between the two clubs in the 1960’s ensured that the animosity would continue despite the change of scenery.
As Costas points out in the video, the whole series took on a chippy tone beginning in the first game on a Friday night. By the time Marichal took the mound Sunday, the ill will was ripe on both sides. When Marichal threw inside to Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, and followed it up by doing the same to Ron Fairley.
When Marichal came up to bat, Koufax had already talked with Roseboro about allowing the catcher to retaliate so that Koufax didn’t get kicked out of the game. Roseboro responded by throwing a ball back to Koufax that went right by Marichal’s head and grazed his ear. The two had words, and Marichal ended up tagging Roseboro’s head with his bat, opening up a gash and causing a brawl that would be broken up by none other than Willy Mays.
For as much as we like to romanticize fights from this era, the video shows that this was just another case of bad blood leading to a good old-fashioned brawl. The fact that it involves two Hall of Fame pitchers makes it better, though, and Bay Area sports fans will appreciate the fact that it involved the Dodgers.
In honor of the Padres fighting the Dodgers last week, the infamous dust up between the Padres and the Braves in 1984 earned the No. 1 spot on this list. Well, that and the fact that it was a ridiculous game that was more of a wrestling match with some baseball played in between.
When a game leads off with the starting pitcher beaning the first batter he faces, you know you’re going to be in for an interesting day at the ballpark, and that’s exactly what Braves starter Pascual Perez did when he hit San Diego’s Alan Wiggins to start things off.
When Perez came up in his first plate appearance, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d be thrown at, and Ed Whitson didn’t disappoint when he threw behind Perez, prompting the latter to wave his bat and bring out his teammates as the teams decided if they wanted to get into it or save it for later.
They decided to hold off for a bit, but Whitson threw at Perez again in his next at-bat and got ejected. Then in the eighth, Perez got thrown at AGAIN, this time getting hit in the elbow, and it was on as both teams came out and went at it. Things settled down, they made it to the ninth, and of course Braves reliever Donnie Moore beaned San Diego’s Greg Nettles, and then things really got going, with players coming out of the bullpen to get in on the action.
For the commitment displayed by both sides in continuing the tussle, this brawl gets the top ranking in my book.
Disagree? Have a link to a video that I missed? Let me know in the comments.