Today is the 35th anniversary of the Greatest Brawl in Big League History, a donnybrook on Aug. 12, 1984, between the Padres and the Braves that resulted in six brushback pitches, three hit batters, four bench-clearing incidents, two full-on brawls that nearly spiraled out of control when fans rushed the field, 19 ejections, five arrests and a nearly unprecedented clearing of the benches by the umpires. Padres infielder Kurt Bevacqua later called it “the Desert Storm of baseball fights.”
The fight merited five full pages in The Baseball Codes. Rather than excerpt all 2,000 words here, I offer some highlights:
- It all started before the game even began, said Padres pitcher Ed Whitson, when Atlanta starter Pascual Perez looked toward San Diego’s leadoff hitter, Alan Wiggins, standing in the on-deck circle, and promised to hit him with his ﬁrst pitch. “Everybody on our bench heard it,” said Whitson. Sure enough, Perez sent his initial offering into the small of Wiggins’s back, landing the ﬁrst blow in what would be a long afternoon of retaliatory strikes, and setting San Diego’s dugout abuzz. Said Whitson: “By the time Dick Williams looked around at me, just as he started to speak, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it—we’ll get him.’ ”
- Whitson went after Perez multiple times, during two different at-bats, missing him every time but leading to one benches-clearing dustup and ejections for both himself and Williams. The manager was prepared for this eventuality, and had already prepped his line of succession. “Until Pascual Perez got hit, it wasn’t going be ﬁnished,” said Padres infielder Tim Flannery. “Dick said to [coach] Ozzie Virgil, ‘When I get thrown out, you’re going to be the manager, and, Greg Booker, you’re going to hit Perez. And if you don’t get it done, Jack Krol, you’ll be the manager because those two will have gotten thrown out, and, Greg Harris, you’re going to be the pitcher.”
- Booker ended up walking Perez, and then, after missing him with two more pitches in the sixth, was, as expected, ejected. San Diego’s next reliever, Harris, who had been acquired from the Expos less than a month earlier, inexplicably didn’t stick to the game plan, throwing a series of breaking balls to Perez, not at him, and getting him to ground out, at which point backup inﬁelder Kurt Bevacqua started to berate his own pitcher at top volume from the dugout.
“It got nutty,” said Flannery. “I volunteered to pinch-hit because nobody else was getting [Perez]. I told [Williams], ‘If I ground out or ﬂy out, I’ll blindside him and hook him on the mound.’ We became crazy. We became nuts.”
Craig Lefferts finally drilled Perez during his fourth at-bat of the day, in the eighth inning. With that, players streamed from both dugouts, and the ﬁrst real ﬁght of the afternoon broke out. From The Baseball Codes:
Atlanta’s Gerald Perry charged Lefferts and landed several blows. Padres outﬁelder Champ Summers tried to hunt down Perez, who was lying low in the Braves dugout. The highlight came when Braves third baseman Bob Horner, watching the game with the broadcast crew while on the disabled list, sensed trouble, predicted the fracas on the air, raced to the clubhouse to pull on his uniform, and rushed out—cast on his arm—to intercept Summers near the top of the dugout steps. (He was later suspended for ﬁghting while on the DL.) “It was the wildest thing I had ever seen . . . ,” Horner said. “It seemed like it never stopped. It was like a nine-inning brawl.” When this round ended, Lefferts and Krol, San Diego’s replacement replacement manager, were tossed, as were Perry and Braves relievers Rick Mahler and Steve Bedrosian.
When the Padres came to bat in the ninth, Braves manager Joe Torre went so far as to speciﬁcally instruct his new pitcher, Donnie Moore—on the mound in relief of Perez—to avoid further escalation. “I said, ‘Let’s not continue this bullshit, let’s just win this game,’ ” said Torre. “Then I looked him in the eye and I said to myself, ‘I have no chance. I’m talking to a deaf man here.’ I walked back to the dugout and he hit Graig Nettles. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it’s guys defending each other. That’s what it’s about.”
Again from The Baseball Codes:
As soon as Moore’s fastball touched Nettles’s ribs, it was as if the previous ﬁght had never ended. Nettles charged the mound. Reliever Goose Gossage sprinted in from the bullpen and tried to get to Moore, but ended up ﬁghting with Atlanta’s Bob Watson (who, incidentally, later served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of discipline). Five fans ran onto the ﬁeld to join the fray, one of whom was tackled near third base by Atlanta players Chris Chambliss and Jerry Royster. Long-since ejected Gerald Perry, accompanied by the similarly tossed Bedrosian and Mahler, raced from the clubhouse to participate.
During the ﬁght, Flannery, one of the smallest men on the ﬁeld, was caught in a bear hug by Braves coach Bob Gibson, and pleaded desperately for his release so he could go after Gerald Perry, with whom he had already fought twice that afternoon. When Gibson ﬁnally complied, Perry quickly split Flannery’s lip open. As a coda to the entire event, when things ﬁnally appeared to be settling down and the Padres were returning to their dugout, a fan hit Bevacqua in the head with a plastic cup of beer, spurring the player to jump atop the dugout and go after him.
“The donnybrook . . . was the best, most intense baseball ﬁght I’ve ever seen or been involved with,” wrote Gossage in his autobiography, The Goose Is Loose. “I realize it was the Sabbath, but guys were taking the Lord’s name in vain. Fists ﬂew and skulls rattled. Unlike most baseball ﬁghts, which are more like hugging contests than real ﬁsticuffs, guys on both teams got pasted. Ed Whitson came running out from the clubhouse completely deranged. He and Kurt Bevacqua went into the stands and duked it out with some hecklers. Stadium ofﬁcials had to send out for the riot squad to settle things down.”
“Whitson was icing his elbow in the clubhouse without a shirt on, watching it on TV,” said Flannery. “Later, Dick [Williams] says, ‘The next thing I see, Whitson’s on TV, no shirt, he’s got a bat and screaming at the season-ticket holders, and Bevacqua was in the stands beating on them.”
Ejections included Gossage and Bobby Brown from the Padres, and Atlanta’s Moore, Watson, and Torre. To stem further damage, umpire John McSherry cleared the benches, sending all nonparticipating players into their respective clubhouses to await the game’s ﬁnal outs. (“They locked us in there with big wooden beams before they would ﬁnish the game,” said Flannery.)
After Atlanta ﬁnally closed out the 5–3 victory, a disgusted Torre took the unusual baseball tack of comparing Dick Williams to Hitler, then called him an idiot—“with a capital ‘I’ and small ‘w.’ ” Padres catcher Terry Kennedy was a bit more clear-headed. “It would’ve been a lot simpler,” he said, “if we’d hit Perez his ﬁrst time up.”
To commemorate the moment, The Sporting News just published a piece on the event from the perspective of some batboys. Also, you can buy a truly spectacular t-shirt commemorating the moment:
[H/T @Beauty of A Game]