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Baseball Brawls: Are They Necessary?

(Photo courtesy of Barry Chin, boston.com)

Coming off of their series win in Baltimore, the Red Sox faced the possibility of a repeated controversy from their last series with the Orioles. Before the All-Star Break, David Ortiz received a four-game suspension for his dispute with pitcher Kevin Gregg.

Incidents involving fighting in baseball have been happening for years, and Boston fans have witnessed plenty of brawls involving high-profile Red Sox players. Fighting generates conversation, with the discipline of suspensions and fines from Major League Baseball as the key aftermath in every brawl.

Past Brawls

Years ago, two significant melees took place at Fenway during the heightened rivalry between the Sox and Yankees. In the 2003 ALCS, Pedro Martinez threw down then 72-year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, and in 2004, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez clashed with Sox catcher Jason Varitek after getting hit by a pitch by Bronson Arroyo.

The majority the rest of the American League East has also found itself sparring with the Sox. In 2008, James Shields of the Rays threw at outfielder Coco Crisp, prompting Crisp to charge the mound amidst a bench-clearing brawl. And just a couple weeks ago, Ortiz engaged in the fight with Gregg after Gregg expressed frustration with Ortiz for swinging at a 3-0 pitch and admiring his fly out to center field instead of running down the line.

Are They Necessary?

Fighting always creates story lines and rivalries and manages to fire up a fan base, but its purpose and place in baseball are certainly questionable at best.

As a sport in general, physicality is lost in baseball. The competitive firepower of pure strength between athletes is much more common in hockey and football, and even basketball, whereas baseball features far more mental match-ups and strategical maneuvers. Even the famed pitcher vs hitter battle is not a purely physical one, in fact, the only time player on player contact is seen in baseball is on close plays at home plate. The other sports are also better prepared for physical play, with padded players and guards to protect from injuries. However, the lack of preparedness for in-game physicality does not mean fighting should be excluded from the sport altogether.

As a fan of the game, fights between players escalates the meaning and importance of games in the middle of a the long baseball summer. Baseball may be a slow sport, but anyone is willing to rush to the screen to see a brawl.

Ways to Fix Brawls in Baseball

While I do think that fights can be great, I also see a couple of major flaws that need to be worked upon. Every time conflict arrises in baseball, each team rushes to the field to support their teammates, including each bullpen, who often have to make a long painful jog to the playing field, which is often quite meaningless. The idea is that these players are showing their support by being there in the heat of battle, but it’s kind of ridiculous considering the majority of the time they arrive and the issue has already been quieted.

My other problem is the umpires’ roles in fights. As soon as something breaks out on the field, the umpires instantly make every attempt to separate players and put an end to the chaos. I think that a better system would be to let individual players on the field sort out their differences for up to a minute or so, similarly to how NHL referees control fights, and then eject the players involved.

It seems too obvious later in series when pitchers throw at players from previous conflicts due to a lack of retribution at the time that it could be more effective to let the players just get it out of their system in the heat of the moment and try and move on. As for suspensions, MLB needs to do away with the appeal process in which players reduce their suspensions to three games, nearly every four-game suspension gets knocked down to three anyways. Make the suspensions an indisputable number of games like three and don’t waste players’ time by having them tell their side of a story.

I like fighting in baseball and in sports because of the boost it gives to rivalries and story lines, but I believe baseball has a flaw in its system with dealing with the conflicts.

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