Letting Off Steam.
I RATE FANS NO LONGER FIRE SIX-SHOOTERS at players and umpires as disgruntled hotheads did in the earliest days, but baseball always has been a game of fierce passion, endless frustration and deep despair despite the chanting of dreamy-eyed wordsmiths that it's a gentle, pastoral sport suited to the languid, lazy, hazy days of summer.
Spectators, players, managers and even umpires are always letting off steam. Sometimes the bursts are powerful enough to propel a locomotive like the one Casey drove--not Casey Stengel, or the Casey who struck out in Ernest Lawrence Thayer's poem, but Casey Jones, the heroic engineer who sacrificed his life to save that of others.
For that matter, nothing captures the depressing and agonizing effects of baseball misfortune so delightfully as Thayer's Casey at the Bat, which concludes:
"And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville--mighty Casey has struck out.
Then there's one of the other Caseys, Stengel, the future manager of the New York Yankees and Mets, who had to be protected from wrathful Yankee fans by a platoon of policemen in the 1923 World Series in which he starred for the New York Giants. His customarily mocking performance had aroused the fans to unbridled hatred.
Talk about letting off steam! The fans wanted to parboil ol' Casey.
As ever, the soon to be concluded 2000 season provided plentiful examples of letting off steam because of "no joy' all around the major leagues rather than just in Mudville.
The most deplorable incident erupted May 17 in the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field, where a "posse" of Los Angeles Dodgers surged into the grandstand after a fan swiped catcher Chad Kreuter's cap, and allegedly hit him in the back of the head. (The visitors' bullpen bench in Wrigley Field is placed smack against the low right field wall.)
The resulting skirmish resulted in severe penalties levied by major league baseball against 16 Dodger players and three coaches, though subsequently they were greatly lessened. Some of the fans involved faced unpleasant hours in police custody and later before a judge.
Such mass eruptions fortunately are rare, but there's never a shortage of individual examples of letting off steam in more limited ways. Most often the only real damage is to the surroundings.
For instance, Baltimore slugger Albert Belle, notorious for temperamental outbursts throughout his career, added another item to his "rap sheet" on July 7. Belle smashed two beer bottles against a wall in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after grounding into a double play in the Orioles' 12-6 loss to the New York Yankees. The Yankees billed Belle's team $300 to pay for repairing the wall.
A few weeks earlier, Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, after a game showing as dismal as Belle's, assaulted an innocent metal table in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. He pounded it to scrap with the bat that had failed to damage pitching opponents in a manner befitting a player who had powered 66 home runs in 1998 and 63 in 1999.
Attacks on unoffending furniture, equipment, or surroundings are so commonplace as to be hardly worth mentioning. Pitcher Jaime Navarro, however, outdid himself in 1999, a season in which he was 8-13 with a 6.09 ERA for the Chicago White Sox, by smashing a $5,000 projection TV set in the Comiskey Park locker room.
As childish, as well as expensive, as such individual tantrums are, they don't threaten physical harm to people as did the melee between the Dodgers and the fans on May 17 at Wrigley Field.
The same can't be said of a couple of equally lamentable incidents that took place in 1999.
In October, Atlanta Braves coach Frank Pultz was hit in the head by a bottle in the New York Mets' Shea Stadium. Several exceptionally boorish Mets fans also allegedly spit on the wives of several Braves players.
During Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, an umpire's call against the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning at Boston's Fenway Park touched off a flurry of bottle-throwing by fans. Since the Yankees were leading 9-2 at the time, the call--blown or otherwise--had no real beaning on the game, but the visiting players were fortunate to escape unscathed from the assault.
Yankee outfielder Chad Curtis' indignant reaction was understandable, though historically uninformed.
"People in general just don't have a lot of respect for other people anymore," Curtis said. "I'm sure some of those people throwing the bottles had their kids with them. That's what they're telling the younger generation."
Sadly, however, the throwing of bottles and other dangerous items, including flashlight batteries, coins, nails and the like by irate, boozed-up, or unthinking fans is not a recent phenomenon, but one that has plagued the game from its inception. The "younger generation" of numskulls is merely following wretched precedent set by their elders--for that matter, their ancestors of a century and more ago.
It may be forgotten, but the basket above the ivy-clad outfield wails of Wrigley Field was installed about 30 years ago because fans were flinging projectiles from the bleachers at visiting outfielders. The basket was originally intended to keep dangerous objects from reaching the field, not to increase the incidence of home runs by reducing outfield dimensions.
Also overlooked has been the fact that for many years drinks, both soft and other, were sold in bottled form to fans by the vendors and concession stands. The conversion to paper cups in the 1950s came about partly in order to safeguard players and umpires from hooligan fans by depriving them of potential missiles.
It's instructive to recall that pop bottles once were known as "Flatbush confetti" in Brooklyn after fans early in the 20th Century hurled them at Frank Chance, Cubs manager-first baseman. Chance once angrily threw them back, and badly injured a boy in the crowd. He later apologized, but insisted he had been provoked beyond endurance.
In the 1920s, Yankees center fielder Whitey Witt was hit by a bottle in St. Louis and knocked unconscious. American League president Ban Johnson offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest of the culprit. He finally settled the matter by giving $100 cash, railroad fare, and a ticket to the World Series to an ingenious fan who alleged that Witt had stepped on the neck of a bottle and caused it to jump up and hit him in the head.
Still, a relentless if not totally successful campaign against bottle-throwers had to be waged for another thirty years before the solution pushed by paper cup salesmen--"They're very light in weight, and even if they're thrown they can't possibly injure anyone."--was generally adopted. The change has admittedly reduced, if not entirely eliminated, the hazard created by fans flinging objects at those on the field.
Physical confrontations between fans and players--or fans and umpires--like the Dodgers foray into the stands--have occurred throughout the game's history. They were particularly frequent in the days when overflow crowds were accommodated by permitting fans to occupy part of the playing field, a practice that did not end until the 1930s.
In those days, not much, sometimes not even a rope, kept players and verbally abusive fans apart, and the temptation to shut a mouth with a punch often won out.
No physical contact between fans and performers other than in the Chicago incident was recorded in the first half of the 2000 season, but a fan ran onto the field to "moon" Braves relief pitcher John Rocker, whose comments about New York fans had aroused a firestorm of public protest as well as punishment by major league baseball. But physical confrontations have happened only too often in other years.
In 1999, a fan in Milwaukee's County Stadium leaped out of the stands to tackle Houston Astros right fielder Bill Spiers. Luckily, Spiers was unhurt.
One year, first baseman Wally Joyner escaped serious injury when a spectator at Yankee Stadium flung a hunting knife at him after an Angels' victory. Joyner's arm was grazed.
In 1996, a fan rushed at Cubs closer Randy Myers on the mound at Wrigley Field after he had given up a game-tying home run. Myers coolly decked him with one punch.
In 1992, Belle, then with the Cleveland Indians, threw a foul ball at a spectator after being heckled by fans from left field, hitting him in the chest.
Such incidents occur almost every season, though actual fights between players and spectators have probably greatly diminished despite popular belief.
Cubs manager Don Baylor recalled one in an interview with Chicago Tribune writer Rick Morrissey. As a player, Baylor climbed into the stands at Yankee Stadium in 1986 to assist Boston Red Sox teammate Jim Rice, who was battling a loud-mouthed fan.
Baylor was under the impression such incidents were once rare, and believes that the boom in player salaries has triggered increased resentment on the part of fans.
"With the salaries escalating, (fans) feel like they can say what they want, do what they want," Baylor told Morrissey. "It's been an ongoing situation for a long time."
Far longer than Baylor imagines, unless he knows more of baseball history than the vast majority of managers and players.
Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Waddell certainly wasn't the first player to climb into the stands and beat up a heckler when he did it in 1903. Another old-time player, Sherwood Magee, a contemporary Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, knocked out a drunk who had followed him to the clubhouse to continue a tirade.
Ed Barrow, who later as general manager of the Yankees put together the great dynasty featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, was managing the Detroit Tigers in 1903 when he threw a bucket of water over jeering fans during an exhibition game in Nashville, Tennessee. He also got to cool off when he was escorted to jail by Nashville police.
The most notorious battle between player and fans probably occurred in 1912--in New York, as it happens--when Ty Cobb leaped into the stands to beat up a heckler. Cobb was ejected by the umpires, and suspended by A.L. president Johnson. Though his Detroit Tigers teammates despised Cobb, they demanded his reinstatement after they played the next game without him. It showed how much they resented abuse by fans.
"If players cannot have protection," they declared, "we must protect ourselves."
When Johnson refused to restore Cobb, the players sat out the next game, in Philadelphia. That led to one of the most unusual contests ever, the Detroit management recruiting a make-shift team of coaches and semi-pros. After the next game was called off, Johnson reinstated Cobb, though he was fined and slapped with a 10-day suspension, and restored order by threatening to expel players who failed to return to work.
That may be ancient history, but the list of later battles involving fans, players, umpires, and even managers would probably fill a catalog, though they've become much less frequent in recent years despite opinion to the contrary such as Baylor's.
Scrappy Leo Durocher, both as player and manager, seldom turned down a challenge from fans or players, sometimes even his own, the most notorious incident being a Ebbets Field combat with Dodger third baseman Arky Vaughan in 1942.
More recently, Billy Martin, who managed the Yankees five times, and several other teams at least once, was notorious for his pugilistic duels with fans as well as opposing players. Martin!s bar-room brawls gained him almost as much notoriety as his 1960 assault on Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer, whom he leveled after he charged the mound following a brushback pitch. Brewer suffered a fractured bone near his eye socket.
Unlike in most such cases, this on-the-field battle ended up in court. Brewer sued Martin and won a damage settlement, leaving his assailant bitter over what he considered an injustice. After all, Martin reasoned, such retaliation is a commonplace of baseball, with brushback rhubarbs happening almost weekly every season.
"And what no one ever mentions," Martin said later, "is the weeks I spent the year before recovering from a broken face. How can you not fight back if you see that happening to you again?"
Nevertheless, the costly Brewer imbroglio didn't deter Martin. He kept on battling, even fighting his own people. As manager of the Minnesota Twins in 1969 he laid out his ace pitcher, Dave Boswell, with one punch. Earlier, as a coach, he had knocked down Twins' traveling secretary Howard Fox, during an altercation
Martin and Durocher were neither the first or last managers to exchange blows with their own players.
The Cubs' Chance was known for his readiness to enforce discipline on his players, which might have helped him lead the team to four N.L. pennants in five years (1906-08, 1910). Onetime heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan called Chance "the greatest amateur brawler in the world."
Len Blackburne, a Chicago White Sox manager (1928-29), and Frank Lucchesi, as pilot of the Texas Rangers (1975-77), fell far short of Chance's standards. Both suffered humiliating beatings by disgruntled and frustrated players.
Art Shires, a good-hitting, atrocious-fielding first baseman, resented Blackburne's criticism of his glove-work and pounded him to near jelly at least twice during their two-season association. It was hardly a fair contest because Shires fancied himself as a professional boxer and even had a brief career in the ring.
Lucchesi, who also managed the Phillies and Cubs, was severely beaten by Rangers infielder Lenny Randle before an exhibition game at Orlando, Florida, on March 28, 1977. Lucchesi and Randle had squabbled all spring because the manager had given rookie Bump Wills the second base job. Randle's frustrations finally boiled over.
Lucchesi spent a week in the hospital recovering from injuries. Randle was suspended for 30 days, fined $25,000, and eventually traded to the Mets.
Still, friction between players and managers seldom breaks out into actual physical combat. Similarly, it's very unusual for players and managers to resort to more than a war of words with umpires.
Sure, practiced umpire-balters like Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox today, and Earl Weaver, Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel, Bobby Bragan and John McGraw in the past, may stir up dust, kick base bags, or fling equipment, but seldom do they resort to physical attacks on umpires.
Admittedly, players, managers, and coaches occasionally have bumped umpires, and Durocher was once charged with kicking Jocko Conlan in the shins.
But outright physical combats involving umpires have been scarce, though a spectator in the 1930s jumped burly George Magerkurth in Ebbets Field, wrestled him to the ground, and kept pounding him. It made for one of the more memorable photographs in baseball history.
Coincidentally, Magerkurth had been a heavyweight fighter before turning to umpiring so the battle wasn't really all that uneven.
In fact, when Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges spit into his face during an argument, Magerkurth decked him with a single punch, touching off a wild melee.
Jurges was fined for spitting at the umpire (shades of the Roberto Alomar incident of several years ago), and Magerkurth was fined $250 and suspended for 10 days for losing his dignity as an umpire.
Another combat between an umpire and players took place in 1932 when four White Sox players erupted over a call and assaulted George Moriarty in Cleveland. They knocked the umpire down after he broke his hand landing a punch on one of them. Fellow umpire Bill Dinneen rushed over to help Moriarty,
"You stay out of this, Bill," Moriarty yelled despite his broken hand. "This is my fight."
Nevertheless, Dinneen helped Moriarty to his feet. Once erect, Moriarty, ignoring a bleeding mouth, battered head, and broken hand, put up his dukes and snarled, "Now who else is there who thinks I'm yellow."
While umpiring calls, friction between players and managers, and unruly spectators all have led to undue violence in the game, the most frequent disturbances have been triggered by "brushback' pitches or to put it more bluntly, "knockdown pitches."
The 2000 season saw several such outbursts, though heavy penalties levied against the White Sox and Detroit Tigers after an incident early in the season put an apparent damper on similar proceedings.
Somewhat surprisingly, no hostilities erupted after Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens hit Mets slugger Mike Piazza in the head with a pitch on July 8. Piazza suffered a mild concussion, and accused Clemens of intentionally throwing at his head.
"I don't want to say he intentionally hit me in the head," Piazza said, "but I think he intentionally threw at my head."
Clemens denied Piazza's charge, insisting the pitch got away.
Be that as it may, at least half, if not more, of all baseball physical confrontations are the result of "beanball" or "brushback" pitches.
Among the most notorious have been the incidents involving such stars as Joe Adcock and Juan Marichal, as well as the one between Billy Martin and Jim Brewer.
Adcock, who once hit four home runs and a double in a game, was a frequent target for pitchers during his Milwaukee Braves days (1953-62). Coincidentally or not, he was beaned the day after his record-setting production of 18 total bases by Clem Labine of the Dodgers.
One of Adcock's more memorable eruptions after a brushback pitch was to chase a terrified pitcher Ruben Gomez of the San Francisco Giants off the field. Luckily for the much smaller Gomez, big Joe failed to catch him.
Blows, however, were exchanged in another notable Adcock incident. He exploded when after hearing Cincinnati Reds manager Birdie Tebbets shout to his pitcher, Hal Jeffcoat, "Burn him down! Bury it in his ear!" he was grazed on the ear by a pitch.
Ignoring Jeffcoat, Adcock charged Tebbets, the instigator, but was forced to settle for landing blows on several Reds players who protected their manager by interposing their bodies in front of him.
The incident featuring Marichal of the Giants and Dodger catcher John Roseboro took place during a hot pennant race in 1965 at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Unusually, it was touched off by virulent bench-jockeying.
When Manichal was at bat, he claimed Roseboro threw the ball close to his face in returning it to the pitcher, Sandy Koufax. According to Marichal, Roseboro made as if to leap on him. Marichal reacted by swatting the catcher on the head with his bat, raising a huge lump. Both benches cleared, the inflamed Dodgers allegedly attempting to wrest the bat away from Marichal and retaliate by beating him with it.
With Willie Mays taking the lead, cooler heads prevailed, averting what might have been the ugliest incident in the game's history, a duel between teams with swinging baseball bats. The league fined Marichal $1,500 and suspended him for a few days.
Another instance of trash talk leading to what could have become tragedy.
Sure, in many ways, baseball certainly is a much more peaceful game than football, ice hockey, boxing or that charade, pro wrestling, but it has its fiery moments when passions get out of hand and fists--or bottles--start flying.
It may not be mayhem on the grass, but it's no picnic for the faint-hearted either.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||confrontations between players, fans and umpires|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2000|
|Previous Article:||Magglio Ordonez A Major League Star on the Rise.|
|Next Article:||BASEBALL PROFILE JAY BELL.|