Melee in the Motor City

Eight ejections. Four bean-balls. Three bench-clearings. And one embarrassingly unprofessional street fight that broke out on a baseball diamond. Yes, Rob Manfred and his crack-team of MLB officials are going to have a fun time at the office today.

For those of you who somehow missed the surprise undercard to the Mayweather-McGregor fight yesterday, here’s how it happened:

If you don’t have time to watch a video, here’s a recap:

  1. In the top of the 4th inning Gary Sanchez took Tigers’ stud Michael Fulmer deep to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. It was his fourth home run of the series, and the Tigers were clearly getting sick of it.
  2. The next inning, Sanchez returned to the plate. Fulmer hit him with a pitch that ran inside. Sanchez glared for a moment, then took first base. No warnings were issued.
  3. Bottom of the sixth now. Tommy Kahnle comes on in relief for Jaime Garcia, Miguel Cabrera at the plate with two outs and nobody on. Kahnle throws well behind Cabrera, and without hesitation home plate umpire Carlos Torres throws him out. Yanks manager Joe Girardi storms the field, and is tossed as well.
  4. Acting Yankees manager Rob Thompson calls for Aroldis Chapman to relieve the ejected Kahnle. As he finishes his warm up pitches, Miguel Cabrera exchanges words with Yankees catcher Austin Romine. Romine takes off his helmet. Cabrera shoves him. Romine shoves back. Cabrera throws a haymaker, and the benches clear. This wasn’t one of those bench-clearings where everyone stands around on the field; no, both Yankee and Tigers players got into a scrum right by home plate. At the end of the carnage Cabrera and Romine are both sent off.
  5. Bottom of the seventh, and Dellin Betances on to face James McCann. Betances fires up and in and cracks James McCann right in the helmet. McCann crumples to the ground, but would stay in the game. Ausmus and McCann plead with Torres to eject Betances; after a moment, he does. Acting Yankees manager Rob Thompson comes out to argue, and follows Betances into the locker room. Players start wandering on to the field again, with a few sides pushing and shoving.
  6. Top of the 8th. Alex Wilson pitching for the Tigers, Todd Frazier up to bat. Wilson hits Frazier in the knee; Wilson is ejected. Benches clear, again. Brad Ausmus comes out to argue, and he too gets to hit the showers early.

Oh, yeah. There was a baseball game too. The Tigers won, 10-6.

It doesn’t take a clinical psychologist to see what happened here. Fulmer and the Tigers got angry and beaned Sanchez. Kahnle and the Yankees retaliated against beaning their best player. Soon, you had a constantly-escalating feud where everyone needs to “get even” for the last beanball.

Image result for gary sanchez brawl
Baseball brawl expert Pedro Martinez claimed “Sanchez is going to wear it,” after watching the Yankees catcher land a series of cheap shots against Miguel Cabrera.

“Nobody wants to get hit,” Gary Sanchez said after the game. And he’s absolutely right. Players feel defenseless, like they have no recourse for retaliation or justice if a pitcher starts to act like a child ala Hunter Strickland earlier this year with Bryce Harper. Either charge the mound, or tell your pitcher to plunk one of their guys. Those are the rules, right?

But the “rules” that we have aren’t real rules at all. They’re guidelines, catchy slogans generated ipso facto to justify the actions they’ve committed. “I had to bean him,” we say. Not because “I got angry, and I let my emotions get the better of me.” Because “those are the unwritten rules. Eye for an eye.”

At least that’s a better excuse than the old “the ball slipped out of my hand” rag. Funny how that ball gets real slippery every time someone gets angry.

I even get why some fans love the brawls too. Unlike football, hockey, or even basketball, baseball is not a physically competitive game; you aren’t tackling the other guy, or checking him into the boards, or boxing him out from the basket. You’re trying to hit his fastball. At most, you’re trying to avoid a tag. It has the least physical contact between players of any major sport in America, besides golf.

With less physical contact, it can be harder to genuinely see a player fighting for his team. In football, we say a player showed grit and heart when he shrugs off three tacklers to make it into the endzone. That’s a “physical” play. We don’t get the same thrill from seeing a batter make a great defensive swing, keeping the bat in the zone to pull a ball through a gap in the infield.

That’s of course not to say baseball players aren’t playing hard every game; they are. Sometimes the fans don’t see it. Brawls like this energize the teams and the fanbases, giving them concrete proof that yes, these players are fighting with everything they have for the ball club.

I get it all. The emotion, the adrenaline, the camaraderie, the passion. All of it can add up to a war of retaliation.

But here’s the big question: how does this help you win the game?

That’s your job, right? As a player, you want to win. As a manager, you want to win. As a fan, you want your team to win.

“Just win, baby.” That’s all it is. And beanballs don’t help.

Because of the fights and the beanballs, the Yankees lost two of their better relievers in Kahnle and Betances. They lost their DH for the game in Gary Sanchez, when he had to come in to catch for the ejected Austin Romine. They lost their top two managers. Most of all, the winning run was James McCann, who only got on base because Betances slugged him in the head with a 98 mph fastball.

And while the Tigers won the game, and are well out of contention for the postseason, what could have happened here? What if Fulmer had been ejected, and suspended? What if Miguel Cabrera had gotten seriously hurt? What if the dugout argument between Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, and Nicholas Castellanos isn’t just a “heat of the moment” spat?

Image result for justin verlander victor martinez brawl
There’s been no conclusive word on the spat between V-Mart and JV, but tensions seemed hot in the dugout yesterday.

Beanballs, retaliations, and brawls may make a team feel better. They may help a player feel that he stood up for himself, or that the unwritten rules have been adequately served. But they don’t help a team win games.

How do you retaliate the right way? Do what James McCann did in the ninth inning. After getting hit in the head with a fastball in the seventh, McCann came to the plate in the ninth, and jacked a home run off Caleb Smith. How you like them apples?

The decision over who to suspend, and for how long, rests with Rob Manfred and his team. But whatever punishments they hand out (and I’m sure they will be too lenient), the onus on ending this scourge of the game rests with the players and the managers. Only once they remember that victory, not retaliation, is the goal of baseball, then hopefully this nonsense will end.

The joy and pride of the Little League World Series this week has showed what baseball can be. The brawl yesterday showed the occasionally ugly reality of what baseball still is.

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