So, I was doing my usual morning perusal of internet stories and I see that Bryce Harper got involved in his first bench clearing affair last night. It was not a brawl. Harper struck out, there appeared to be some words exchanged with the pitcher, Bryce took a few steps toward the opposing dugout and then everyone was milling around on the field. That’s what happens in 9 out of 10 baseball dust-ups. Charge out of the dugout, lose momentum quickly, look at the other team and realize no one is going to do anything, and then get on with the game. To get a real brawl going you need a long history of incidents and bad blood, or one complete lunatic.
I’ve never been involved in a bench clearing brawl. The closest I came was probably my junior year of high school. We had a kid on the team who was a good player, but his arrogance outweighed his baseball skill set. He was an agitator, a cocky prick, the kind of guy you find amusing when he’s on your team and the kid that all the opposing players wanted to strangle. I think he fashioned himself as old school. He dipped Copenhagen and wore eye-black, but he also went overboard a few times and this was one of those occasions where he did a poor interpretation of Ty Cobb. He was on the mound, not his usual position, but we, as always, were a little short on arms. So, he’s on the hill and what I imagine was a couple of innings of junk talking culminates in a verbal confrontation with a hitter on the opposing team.
All of this is my best recollection, I don’t remember exactly how it went, but our fearless hero told the guy at bat that he was going to hit him. He may have even pointed at his head. So, he settles in for his first pitch and whizzes one up and in, in the general direction of the kid’s head. It’s not that hard to get out of the way when you know someone is going to throw at your head. And, we’re probably talking about 78 mph here. I don’t know if the kid hit the deck, but he was certainly well out of the box. The ball never had a chance to hit him, but he settles back in and yells at our pitcher, “You missed.” The reply came quickly, “I have three more chances.”
This incited some chatter amongst the teams, umpires and coaches. Tensions got pretty high, but who am I kidding? It still wasn’t anywhere close to a brawl. He never did hit the kid and later got ejected for spiking the first baseman while running out a ground ball. Such is baseball.
But say he actually rattled one off the kid’s helmet? And, a full-on brawl ensued, where would I have been during all that? Diligently taking care of the score book? Throwing hay makers? Running in late to kick someone while they were down? Tossing helmets? There are a lot of roles to be played in a good baseball fight. Some of the jobs…
Bullpen: The easiest job of them all. You run in at half-speed, get to the infield dirt and turn around. If things really get involved, maybe you shoot into the dugout to reload on seeds.
Catcher: Ton of pressure on the catcher. He’s bound by obligation to tackle the charging maniac from behind. Whether or not he gets there could change the nature of the whole fight. Also, if you know your pitcher is a glove thrower…he’s going to need some help.
Pitcher: Highest potential for embarrassment. Unless you are a seasoned hardass like Nolan Ryan, you could make a fool of yourself here. Either by running away, throwing your glove, or getting bundled. It’s got to be surreal seeing a guy charging at you, possibly bat in hand. If the pitcher ends up meeting you 1/2 way, you’ve probably charged the wrong guy.
First Guy Over the Dugout Fence: This is the guy on the team that wants to get in a fight. You have to realize that when a guy charges, for a few seconds there is a good chance he’s going to be out there in a 1 on 3 or 1 on 4 scenario. The first guy over the fence has to even out those odds. He usually comes in real hot, so watch yourself. Depending on his desire to create malice, he’s either tossing bodies off the pile or looking to blindside someone.
I’m not sure I’d want to be any of these guys. I don’t want to get hit under any circumstances. I’d be better off being the guy who had gotten rocked earlier in the game and was already in the showers. I’d come stumbling out after it was all broken up in my shower shoes. If I was on the mound, I’m not sure I would throw my glove, but I might kick. Kicks are hard to pin down. They just happen some times. I’d love to hear what role you see yourself playing in the baseball brawl, especially if you are a first man over the fence guy.