High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the Biggest Ballpark Brawls
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?
Name: Steve Earle
Position: Vocals, Guitar
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.
Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals
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.