Fights, Intra-Team Fights

Mariners Confrontation Nothing New In Clubhouse Annals

Reggie 'n Billy

Given the clubhouse confrontation between teammates Dee Gordon and Jean Segura in Seattle earlier this week—apparently over a dropped flyball in a game the Mariners eventually won—it’s only appropriate to reference the greatest group of brawlers that baseball has ever seen, for whom I hold a particular affinity (and for which this post is in no way related to the fact that the paperback was just released on Monday).

I’ve already disseminated, via Deadspin, the passage from Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic detailing Reggie Jackson’s 1972 fight with Mike Epstein. So here’s a different fight story about the Swingin’ A’s, from the book, about the culmination of a weeks-long feud between Jackson and outfielder Billy North in 1974:

Jackson spent the afternoon of June 5 at a hotel in downtown Detroit with NBA players Archie Clark, Charlie Scott and Lucius Allen. There are at least two versions of what happened next. In one, a lady called for one of the basketball players, and when she found out that Reggie was there, asked to speak to him. She was North’s girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), who may or may not have been an airline stewardess, and, having heard that he and Reggie weren’t getting along, took the opportunity to prod Jackson for details. In another version the girl came on to Reggie at a bar some weeks earlier when North was not around, only to be rebuffed by the ballplayer. Both versions were told by Jackson at different times.

The way North reacted, there may well have been a third option. He arrived at Tiger Stadium a bit later than the rest of the team, already afire. At that point, the clubhouse—a tiny space, with lockers consisting of mesh metal frames sticking out at right angles from the white-tiled wall every three feet or so—was sedate. The scant area in the middle of the room contained a table where the team’s regular bridge players—Holtzman, Fingers, Green and Knowles—were mid-game. Ray Fosse sat nearby, looking on. Reggie, naked save for a towel, entered the clubhouse from the adjacent trainer’s room just as North arrived. The center fielder started in on him as soon as he walked through the doorway. “Superstar, my ass!” he shouted, striding toward Jackson. “You’re a fucking jerk, you know that?” When North got close enough, he reared back and punched Reggie in the face, twice. Jackson was stunned, but absorbed the blows without falling. Then he lowered his shoulder and charged. “It was surreal, like, ‘Is this shit really happening?’ ” said Herb Washington, who, having spent the afternoon with an increasingly irritated North, had a good idea of what was about to go down.

North and Jackson scuffled up one side of the room and down the other, ultimately falling hard to the concrete floor. The men playing bridge in the center of the room looked up disinterestedly and returned to their card game. “I had a slam bid I wanted to play, and damned if people were fighting,” said Green. “I still played it.” Fingers was even more blasé, saying, “They’re just going to fight later anyway if we break it up now.”

That meant that the only peacemakers on the scene were Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue (the same Odom and Blue who nearly fought each other in the same clubhouse following a playoff game two seasons earlier). With Blue scheduled to pitch that night, collateral damage became a real concern, so Fosse jumped up to help. By that time North was on top of Jackson. Blue pulled on North, Fosse pulled on Blue, and everybody fell backward, Fosse crashing into a locker divider on his way down.

Everything stopped. Fosse shakily picked himself up. Jackson and North scrambled to their feet, took some deep breaths, and eyed each other warily. The peace lasted about three minutes, until North began shouting (according to Reggie), “You know damn well what this is about! You’re trying to steal my girl from me is what this is about!”

Reggie did his best to settle his teammate. “Hey man, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said. “I talked to a girl … that’s all. I didn’t ask her for a date. I didn’t ask for anything. I don’t want anything from her. I don’t want your girl. I don’t want anything from you.”

The only reason Reggie didn’t want her, taunted North, was because his sexual proclivities did not lean toward her gender. Jackson flashed and, still naked, went after him again. Again the pair stumbled across the floor. Reggie clipped a locker with his shoulder and fell awkwardly, and North leapt atop him and began swinging.

Across the room, Bando looked at Tenace. “What are you doing?” he said.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” asked Tenace.

“Why are we letting it go on like this?” asked Bando.

“Did you see what happened to the last guy who tried to break it up?” said Tenace, referring to the still-woozy Fosse. “I ain’t going to be a stinking statistic.”

“Get over here,” said Bando, pulling his teammate toward the players. Bando grabbed North, Tenace grabbed Reggie. Alou, Campaneris and Washington raced in for damage control.

Once the fisticuffs ended, Jackson decamped to find ice for his aching shoulder and North stomped off to change into his uniform. Bando looked around and clapped his hands in mock satisfaction. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “We’re definitely going to win big tonight.”

The A’s did win that night, 9-1 over the Tigers, but Jackson hurt his shoulder in the scuffle, precipitating a protracted slump. Hurt even worse was catcher Ray Fosse, who in an effort to break things up injured two vertebrae and ended up missing most of the rest of the season.

By all accounts, things weren’t that bad between Gordon and Segura in Seattle (or between broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen in Detroit).

Then again, the A’s went on to win the World Series that year, something that seems decidedly unlikely for the Mariners or Tigers.

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Fights, Johnny Cueto, Retaliation

Hot-Headed Ways For Hot-Headed Men to Behave Like Hotheads

Cueto-DeJesusJohnny Cueto believes in responding should an opposing player disrespect him.

The guy also possesses the unfortunate combination of thin skin and anger-management issues. The same man who kicked Jason LaRue into retirement with a ridiculous display during a fight in 2010 was at it again on Sunday. Apparently irked in the first inning by David DeJesus’ decision to step out of the batter’s box during an at-bat, Cueto responded by flinging a fastball over the outfielder’s head—like, three feet over his head—when he came to the plate five frames later. (Watch it here.)

Plate ump Bob Davidson quickly warned both benches, curtailing retaliatory activity for the rest of the game, but the discussion was just getting started. And most of it centered on baseball’s unwritten rules.

Start with Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who lasted just four innings. His postgame diatribe to reporters was long and pointed. Excerpts, from a CSNChicago report:

  • “I think that’s kind of immature on his part and totally uncalled for. He’s lucky that retaliation isn’t in our vocabulary here.”
  • “That’s kind of BS on his part. Just totally immature. If he has something to say about it, he knows where to find my locker and definitely I’ll find his.”
  • “If Cueto has any problem, he can throw at me and I’ll definitely return the favor. I didn’t like that one bit.”
  • “I hope he hears this, because I really don’t care. If we want to retaliate, we could have and lost a bullpen guy, but we don’t need that. We play the game the right way.”
  • “He needs to cut it out, because I’ll stop it.”

This from a guy who claims to have no personal history with Cueto. The message was, essentially, play the game the right way, or we’ll take care of it—the right way, via the Code. Problem was, Garza’s use of the media to address Cueto was itself against the Code, and served to puzzle one of the unwritten rules’ greatest practitioners, Cueto’s manager on the Reds, Dusty Baker.

Cueto hasn’t spoken to reporters since the incident, but Baker quickly picked up the slack. Rather than limit the scope of his conversation to on-field retaliation (perhaps spurred by Garza’s “find my locker” comment), he took things straight to the back alley.

“Take care of it then,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I mean, [Cueto] couldn’t hit Wilt Chamberlain with that pitch. … You got something to say, you go over there and tell him. Johnny ain’t running. Know what I mean? A guy can say what he wants to say, but it’s better if you go over and say it to his face.”

The most interesting part of the situation was when Baker recalled how, during his own playing days, situations were resolved a bit more directly.

“I just wish, just put them in a room, let them box and let it be over with, know what I mean?” he said. “I always said this. Let it be like hockey. Let them fight, somebody hits the ground and then it’ll be over with. I’m serious about that. I come from a different school. Guys didn’t talk as much. You just did it.”

He wasn’t just talking, either. As a player, was at the center of just such a situation. During a game against Pittsburgh in 1981, his Dodgers teammate, Reggie Smith, grew increasingly riled over the inside pitching of rookie Pascual Perez (despite the fact that Smith wasn’t even playing, due to a shoulder injury). When Perez hit Bill Russell with a pitch in the sixth inning, then hit Baker four batters later, Smith really started barking.

Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock motioned to Smith as if to say that he’d have to get through him to reach the pitcher, but Perez was not looking for protection. After striking out Steve Garvey to end the inning, Perez pointed first at Smith, then toward the grandstand. The two quickly retreated to the tunnels of Three Rivers Stadium to settle things, followed closely by teammates and managers.

As the 16,000 fans in attendance watched a vacant ballfield, puzzled, and umpires raced in an effort to intervene, a baseball fight broke out. Which is to say that, for all the dramatic build-up, tempers quickly cooled and peacemakers in the crowd broke it up before a punch, apparently, could be thrown.

The ultimate point, however, said Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, was that there was no carry-over. “It was taken care of,” he said.

If that incident somehow did not meet Baker’s criteria of guys not talking as much, another of his teams was involved in an off-field fight—this one in which fighting actually occurred, with punches and everything. Except instead of involving opposing teams, it featured only participants from his own roster. It was 1973, and Baker played for the Atlanta Braves, under manager Eddie Matthews. From The Baseball Codes:

The way Davey Johnson, then a star second baseman for the Braves, tells it, after an initial verbal disagreement with Matthews, the manager invited him into his room and challenged him to a fight. Johnson, reluctant at first, changed his mind when Matthews wound up for a roundhouse punch, then knocked the older man down. Matthews charged back, and as the sounds of the scrape flooded the hallway, players converged on the scene. In the process of breaking things up, several peacemakers were soon bearing welts of their own.

“The next day at the ballpark we looked like we had just returned from the Revolutionary War,” wrote Tom House (a member of the team, who, true to the code of silence, left all names out of his published account). “Every­body had at least one black eye, puffed-up lips, scraped elbows, and sore hands. It had been a real knockdown battle.”

This was something that couldn’t be hidden from the press. Matthews called the team together, and as a unit they came up with a story about a game that got carried away, in which guys took good-natured beatings. Flimsy? Maybe. Accepted? Absolutely.

“You can ask Hank Aaron and others on that team,” Johnson said, laughing. “Eddie said his biggest regret [in his baseball career] was not having it out with me again. That one never got out. It never made the papers.”

The Cueto-Garza-DeJesus situation will probably never come close to that. But that’s kind of the point. The call-and-response nature of baseball’s unwritten rules—taking care of things on the field, as it were—exists to prevent this sort of thing. And, save for the occasional below-decks brawl every few decades or so, it works pretty well in that regard.

Carlos Quentin, Carlos Quentin, Fights, Retaliation, Zack Greinke

Know Thy Situation, Vol. 219: Quentin Charges Greinke for Reasons That Nobody Else can Quite Fathom, Yet

Quentin-Greinke IIIThe primary question after Carlos Quentin charged Zack Greinke yesterday was one of situational awareness: Was it incumbent upon Quentin to take action in response to a circumstance in which no right-thinking pitcher would intentionally drill an opponent?

Unless the primary question had to do with motivation: Was there something in the history between hitter and pitcher to inspire action in a situation which did not otherwise appear to call for it?

That is, unless the question we’re asking was one of provocation: Was it Greinke’s post-drilling stance—glove tossed, epithets hurled—that actually served as Quentin’s impetus?

In the end, because Greinke’s broken collarbone will extend the ramifications of this brawl for months, all these questions—and more—will continue to be asked for the forseeable future.

Pertinent details: Quentin, leading off the sixth inning of yesterday’s game in San Diego, was hit in the bicep with a Greinke pitch, dropped his bat, had a brief word with the pitcher, then charged. He threw Greinke to the ground; once the ensuing dogpile broke up, Greinke emerged with a broken collarbone. (Watch it here.)

More details: It was a full-count pitch, with the Dodgers holding a one-run lead, and, had Greinke not left the game, would have forced him to face San Diego’s four-five-six hitters from the stretch. Under no circumstances was this an appropriate situation for vendetta enforcement. (The closest thing to a response-worthy situation earlier in the game was the 0-2 pitch Padres starter Jason Marquis sent toward the head of Matt Kemp in the first inning, but it was easily avoided and tempers did not appear to flare.)

“We’re in a 2-1 game and on a 3-2 pitch to a guy that I see on the [score]board set a record for the Padres by getting hit, a guy who basically dives into the plate,” said irate Dodgers manager Don Mattingly after the game, in an MLB.com report. “In a 2-1 game, we’re trying to hit him, 3-2? It’s just stupid is what it is.”

Another pertinent detail pertains to what Greinke said between his pitch connecting and the batter charging. Quentin did not appear ready to head toward the mound until the pitcher responded to his bristling with what appears to be, based on the video, a solid “fuck you.” Regardless of Greinke’s innocence when it comes to the pitch itself, verbally provoking a guy who outweighs you by 45 lbs. is rarely somebody’s best option.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Quentin. “Myself and Greinke have a history. It dates back a few years. You guys can look it up. It’s documented. It could have been avoided. You can ask Zack about that. For me, I’ve been hit by many pitches in my career. I think you guys know that. I can tell you I’ve never responded in that fashion, so you guys can do your homework on that.”

Because Quentin left the details vague, we can only assume that he’s talking about opening day in 2009, when Greinke, then with Kansas City, hit Quentin, then with the White Sox, in the back. Combined with a pitch earlier in the game that nearly hit Quentin in the head, it inspired the batter to step toward the mound, though not much came of it—until yesterday.

Greinke has hit Quentin three times, more than any other player, but Quentin is generally hit more than any other player—he led the National League in HBPs each of the last two seasons, with six top-5 finishes in his career. (From ESPN: Quentin has also been hit four times by Nick Blackburn, and three times each by Erik Bedard and Jon Lester. He’s also been hit twice by 18 guys. ) He didn’t quite lean into Greinke’s pitch, the topic should be well within his comfort zone.

“I’ve never hit him on purpose,” Greinke said. “I never thought of hitting him on purpose. He always seems to think that I’m hitting him on purpose, but, I mean, that’s not the case. I actually thought it was just a ploy to get people to not throw inside to him. I just feel like he’s trying to intimidate people to throw away. But I don’t know anyone who has hit him on purpose. I know I haven’t. Like I said, I hadn’t even thought about hitting him on purpose before.”

This isn’t the first time a pitcher has been injured in such a fashion. Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee was seriously injured after Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles dropped him on his shoulder during a brawl in 1976. (Lee didn’t even spark the fight—Lou Piniella did, by attempting to kick the ball out of Carlton Fisk’s glove in a play at the plate. Fisk responded by tagging the runner again, this time hard on the head, and things escalated from there.) Nettles picked up the pitcher on the outside of the scrum, but unlike Greinke’s injury it was Lee’s pitching shoulder that was injured; it took him years to recover fully. (Nettles was drilled by the Red Sox two days later, but because he was leading off the 10th inning of a scoreless game, it’d hard to think it was intentional.)

Tommy John suffered a similar injury while trying to fend off a charging Dick McAuliffe in 1968. John’s tweaked shoulder forced an alteration in his delivery that eventually led to an elbow blowout—which resulted in the pioneering surgery that still informally bears his name.

Details from Thursday’s fight—Quentin’s body slam, the Dodgers’ drawn-out anger, Kemp going after Quentin in the players’ parking lot after the game—are incidental.

What matters most to the Dodgers is the amount of time they’ll be without one of the game’s best pitchers, signed in the off-season to a six-year, $147 million contract. Mattingly suggested that Quentin be suspended for the duration of Greinke’s DL stay, but that almost certainly won’t happen. (A six-game suspension is likely, especially considering that Greinke’s injury could just as well have been triggered by the scrum of Padres on top of him in the aftermath as by Quentin’s initial throw-down).

The other question is how long this will linger, and to what extent. Quentin said that “for me, the situation is done,” but MLB is bound to have something to say on the matter.

So will the Dodgers. “There probably is [bad blood] now,” said Greinke. “I don’t know if there was before.” This despite the fact that numerous Padres players reportedly apologized to their Dodgers counterparts as the field cleared.

Also in the crosshair is San Diego’s backup catcher, John Baker, whose verbal delight following Greinke’s injury helped cause the skirmish to re-flare before all the players had even left the field.

San Diego visits the Dodgers on Monday for the first of what will be 15 more games between the teams this season.

Update (4-13): Quentin has drawn an eight-game suspension for his inability to read a game situation, or some such.

Chris Volstad, Fights, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation, Running Into the Catcher

It Really Hasn’t Been a Good Week for Nyjer Morgan

There has to be a wager involved with this, somehow. Why else would a major league player attempt to go from zero-to-Alex Rodriguez in a bizarre and misguided weeklong quest to become baseball’s Most Hated Player?

World, meet Nyjer Morgan. You might not have known him in mid-August, but you certainly do now.

Over the last seven days, he’s gotten into it with fans, his own manager and various members of the opposition, both as the player delivering punishment and the one receiving it.

Had he paid a lick of attention to baseball’s unwritten rules along the way, virtually all of it could have been avoided.

He’s in today’s news for yesterday’s fight, but Morgan’s slide began on Aug. 25, when he threw a ball into the stands in Philadelphia. Some say he threw it to the fans, some say he threw it at the fans. Morgan claims it was a big misunderstanding (a tack corroborated by at least one member of the crowd), but the league quickly levied a suspension for his actions, which is currently under appeal. (The piece of Code he ignored: Never engage with hecklers. It rarely ends well.)

On Aug. 27, Morgan got picked off base in the eighth inning of a close game against St. Louis, which proved particularly costly when the batter, Willie Harris, subsequently hit a home run. The Nationals lost, 4-2. Morgan was confronted after the game by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, and dropped from leadoff to eighth in the batting order.

His response: The following day, he attempted to level Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a play at the plate, despite the fact that Anderson had his back to the play and was moving in the opposite direction. Morgan was so focused on his target that he veered away from the plate to make contact, and in fact never scored. (Code: Run into catchers only when a slide would lead to a likely out. Even more importantly, never let personal vendettas get in the way of your team’s success.)

Riggleman was angry enough about it to call his player out in public, after apologizing to both Anderson and Tony La Russa. Morgan, he said, as reported by Nationals Daily News, did an “unprofessional thing,” and, indicating that lessons would be learned, “you’ll never see it again” from him. (The manager wasn’t quite accurate on this point.)

Riggleman then benched Morgan for the series finale, under the auspices that he had become too prominent a target to safely take the field.

On Aug. 30, Morgan responded to Riggleman. “I guess he perceived it as some nasty play with the intentions of trying to hurt somebody before coming to me and asking me about the situation, which was very unacceptable,” he told the Washington Post. “But on my half, I’m not going to go ahead and throw fuel on the fire. I’m going to try to be as professional as I can about the situation.”

It’s frequently the case, of course, that when players feel the need to proclaim the fact that they’re being “professional,” they’re actually anything but. (Code violation: Never call out your manager in public.)

In fact, Morgan cited the unwritten rules in his own defense, saying that Riggleman “just basically did a cardinal sin. You don’t blast your player in the papers.” (This is true, unless the player’s behavior has deteriorated to the point where the manager feels he has few other options. )

It didn’t take long for Morgan to stir further controversy. In the 10th inning of a scoreless game on Aug. 31, he ran into Marlins catcher Brett Hayes with enough force to place him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with an injured shoulder. While Morgan didn’t go out of his way to reach his target this time, consensus held that he would have been safe—with the winning run, no less—had he slid. (See previous Code citation about running into catchers. The Marlins won it with a run in the bottom of the frame.)

In light of Morgan’s previous indiscretion with a catcher, the play seemed like the act of a guy hoping for someone to try to knock the chip off his shoulder. (Watch it here.)

When he took the field for the bottom of the inning, Morgan again got into it with fans, this time being caught on tape cussing them out. (See previous unwritten-rule citation regarding fan interactions.)

Any one of these things can constitute a distraction in the clubhouse. The sum of them, especially coming as they did in the span of a week, reads like the linescore of a borderline sociopath.

Which brings us to yesterday’s firestorm.

Morgan was hit in the fourth inning by Marlins starter Chris Volstad—clear retaliation for his treatment of Hayes the day before. Not content to let it end there, Morgan subsequently stole second and third on the next two pitches, while his team trailed by 11 runs in the fourth inning.

This is a clear violation of the unwritten rules, although under ordinary circumstances, a player’s own teammates care more about him staying put in that type of situation than does the opposition. Morgan’s steals, however, were an unequivocal message to the Marlins, conveying that he neither appreciated their treatment of him, nor respected their right to do what they did. (Code: If you send a message to the other team, expect one in return.)

“That was garbage,” he told reporters after the game. “That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s bit a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of things.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that “the kid” essentially gave the Marlins little choice but to reinforce their point. Which they did, when Volstad threw a pitch behind him two innings later.

“I think that’s the only reason we tried to go after him a second time,” said Marlins third baseman Wes Helms in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Since he stole the bases, I think it pumped us up a little more and got to Volstad a little bit. . . . I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up or show the integrity of the game up to the fans or whatever. There’s just no place in baseball for that. In my opinion, you’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, it was time we had to show him we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us, but also with the way he was trying to take bases down 10 runs. After he got hit, you know why he did it. . . . I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game.”

It’s not like Morgan needed to further prove a willingness to put his personal agenda ahead of the integrity of the game, but he did. After Volstad’s pitch sailed behind him, Morgan charged the mound, and a rarity in baseball occurred—a fight that involved actual fighting.

The Marlins—particularly first baseman Gaby Sanchez—couldn’t wait to get their hands on Morgan, and players quickly piled up near the mound. (Watch it here.)

Other accounts offer copious details of the fight. One pertinent example doesn’t even involve Morgan, but third base coach Pat Listach, who was among the first people in the scrum. Baseball’s Code mandates that fighting is left to the players, with coaches and managers serving to fill the role of peacemakers. That was clearly not Listach’s intent, and he may well be disciplined by the league for his actions.

Should Morgan be given any sort of pass in this situation, it’s for the fact that his response to being drilled—the stealing of back-to-back bases—fell within the boundaries of reason; as he said, it was only the fourth inning and the Marlins were holding him on, which is frequently taken as a tacit green light for eager baserunners.

Also, even more importantly, the Marlins took their shot earlier in the game. Between Morgan’s steals and the injury to his catcher, Volstad can hardly be blamed for wanting to get in another blow—but Morgan’s assumption that it was one too many is not unreasonable. In the middle of the fight, Riggleman could be seen mouthing the words “one time” to Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez, indicating the number of retaliatory attempts to which he felt the Marlins were entitled. (“We decide when we run,” said Riggleman in the Sun-Sentinel. “The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run.”)

“I understand they had to get me back a little bit,” said Morgan in the Post. “It’s part of the game. . . . I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys?” (Volstad did indeed hit three batters on the day.) “Alright, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Doing what he had to do, of course, is up for interpretation. Saying that there’s a case to be made for Morgan’s viewpoint on the incidents leading up to the fight does nothing to discourage the sentiment that the guy has been wildly, unassailably, dangerously out of line for the better part of a week.

Guys like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez can flaunt the unwritten rules at their discretion; their jobs are safe, so long as they continue to produce.

When it’s a leadoff hitter with a .317 OBP, who led the league in being caught stealing last year and is on the way to doing it again, the margins are considerably tighter.

Watch out, Nyjer Morgan. There aren’t many people in your corner right about now.

– Jason

Update: Gaby Sanchez now says that the Marlins were not “really holding (Morgan) on,” prior to his fourth-inning stolen bases. For what it’s worth.

Update (9-03-10): MLB has ruled. Morgan will be suspended for eight games, in addition to the seven that had already been handed out (which is currently under appeal). Also suspended were, from the Marlins, Volstad (six games), pitcher Alex Sanabia (who must have done some heavy and unnecessary hitting in the scrum, for five), Sanchez (three), Edwin Rodriguez (one). Pitcher Jose Veras was fined.

Suspended from the Nationals were pitcher Doug Slaten (probably for furthering tensions by hitting Sanchez in response to the first baseman’s clothesline tackle of Morgan to begin the fight) and Listach (three games each), and Jim Riggleman (two games). Riggleman and Listach also were fined.

Update (9-16-10): Morgan’s suspension was reduced to eight games.

Brandon Phillips, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Fights, Johnny Cueto

A Dark Day for Baseball Etiquette in Cincinnati, Pretty Much All Around

This is what can happen when a player utters even a syllable too many about his opponent. (Though to be fair to the Cardinals, “little bitches” is a full four syllables.)

A day after forgetting to use his inside-the-clubhouse voice when discussing feelings about the St. Louis ballclub with the press—which included referring to them by the above epithet—Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate yesterday as the Reds’s first hitter of the game.

Upon entering the batter’s box, he tapped his bat on the shin guards of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and plate ump Mark Wegner as a means of greeting.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s standard practice for Phillips, meant as nothing but a friendly hello.

At least until he encountered a short-fused catcher who clearly prefers that his team be referred to in terms more genteel than “little bitches.”

“Why are you touching me?” he asked Phillips, as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You are not my friend, so don’t touch me.”

Phillips had thrown down the gauntlet with his comments, and Molina was only too happy to pick it up. Both teams flooded the field, and the scrum quickly turned into a baseball rarity—a fight in which actual blows were thrown. Managers Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa were ejected. (Watch it here.)

The appropriate response to Phillips and Molina: Grow up a little.

The unwritten rules mandate on-field retaliation only for on-field breaches of etiquette, and nothing more. Phillips ran his mouth, and the Cardinals responded in the best way possible, holding him to a combined 1-for-10 over the ensuing two games, while winning both to move into a tie with Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Molina should have let his comments go, and concentrated on the game, not a silly schoolyard spat. (He did use the confrontation as a bit of personal motivation, hitting a second-inning homer off Johnny Cueto.)

Now, what had been an unendorsed bit of foolishness from a single player has turned into genuine bad blood. It certainly helps make things interesting as the teams battle for the division lead, but these matchups are loaded with motivation based on baseball alone. Watching players act like testosterone-fueled kids does nothing for the purity of a good stretch drive.

* * *

During the course of the festivities, Baker and La Russa got into it, bringing quickly to mind the fact that they haven’t had the smoothest relationship over the years.

When Baker was with the Cubs in 2005, La Russa went public about concerns over Kerry Wood’s inside pitches, which was followed by Cards pitcher Dan Haren hitting his counterpart on the Cubs, Matt Clement.

Baker took it as an attempt at “selling wolf tickets,” or overtly trying to intimidate his team, saying in the Chicago Tribune that “no one intimidates me but my dad and Bob Gibson—and this bully I had in elementary school. But I grew bigger than him, and he stopped bullying me.”

The two eventually met and settled things, but it didn’t take long for their history to bubble to the surface yesterday.

* * *

Another unwritten rule was broken in the middle of the crowd of players, when Cueto, backed up against the backstop by a pile of humanity, opted to kick his way free.

There are rules to any fight; in the Code-driven world of professional baseball, this is especially true. It’s why Izzy Alcantara has gained such notoriety, and why Chan Ho Park’s attempted drop kick of Tim Belcher in 1999 continues to be replayed.

Square up and hit a guy, if you must, but the unwritten rules stipulate that kicking a player as means of attack is less than manly; something even for little bitches, if you will.

Cueto’s spikes landed, apparently repeatedly, on the face of St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue, who suffered a concussion and bruised ribs, and has been ruled out of playing today—and possibly much longer.

“He could have done some real damage (on LaRue),” said Chris Carpenter in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He got him in the side of his eye, he got him in his nose, he got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that. He got kicked square in the side of the face with spikes. C’mon, give me a break.”

Cueto was on the mound for the Reds yesterday, but batted first with two runners on, and later during a 2-2 game. Neither situation was appropriate for retaliation.

The teams meet again in early September. This time, on-field payback—should that be the route the Cardinals choose to take, and with La Russa at the helm, it’s a good bet—will be entirely appropriate.

Buckle in.

Update (Aug. 12): Cuteo has been suspended for seven games—effectively, two starts—for his part in the brawl. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll appeal in an effort to delay his punishment until just before the Reds visit St. Louis on Sept. 3.

– Jason

Fights

Interesting Foreign Codes

Just ran across this on YouTube. Seems that in Korea they have their own methods of settling scores.

(One of the comments on the YouTube page targets this as a celebrity game, and says this was done strictly for its entertainment value. Still, might we all not have something to learn?)

– Jason