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No Brawl Is Really Worth It

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No sooner do they open the new baseball season than Kevin Mitchell, San Francisco batsman struck on the foot by a fastball, sprints to the mound to adjudicate the case with San Diego pitcher Bruce Hurst.

It then transpires that Eric Yelding of Houston takes a pitch behind his back from Rob Dibble of Cincinnati.

Mr. Yelding doesn’t pause to deliver a lecture on public safety. He removes his helmet, runs with it to the mound and throws it at Dibble.

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What follows is a large fight, not only between Dibble and Yelding, but among people throwing neither the ball nor the helmet.

Same thing happens in the wake of Mitchell’s getting nicked on the foot by Hurst.

So persons of reason draw back and they ask themselves quizzically, as they have for years, whether anything is accomplished by hitters taking their grievances to the mound.

Hitters insist this is where court should be held. Forever the gentle sportsman, reminding us fighting is loathed at the Marylebone Cricket Club, Tom Lasorda demurs.

He submits: “If the umpire considers the pitch suspect, the pitcher should be kicked out on the spot. If the umpire doesn’t consider the pitch suspect, the hitter has no right to go the mound.”

“Then you don’t believe in frontier justice?” Lasorda is asked.

“Look, let’s not kid ourselves. When a fight starts, it isn’t the hitter or the pitcher who gets hurt. It is always the guy who comes rushing in, yelling, ‘Break it up!’ ”

From his vantage point, 60 feet 6 inches removed from the plate, Bruce Hurst viewed with interest the charge of Kevin Mitchell, who is built like Mike Tyson.

“I just stood there,” recalls Hurst. “I wasn’t sure he really would hit me.”

Mitchell didn’t. He lowered a shoulder and knocked over Hurst like a bowling ball picking off the 10-pin.

“In my 16 years in baseball,” Hurst says, “this was my first experience of anyone’s coming to the mound, except my manager to take me out.”

In everyday affairs, an aroused Mitchell is one who might require six sheriffs to neutralize him. Fred McGriff of the Padres does it single-handed. Flying over from first base, he nails Mitchell with a game-saving tackle.

Naturally, the mass fight follows, after which Mitchell is kicked out, jeopardizing his standing in church, not to mention his credit rating.

“Why are guys coming to the mound with such frequency?” Hurst is asked.

“I’m not sure they are coming out more than they used to,” he answers. “It may seem that way to the public because it is watching more and more games on television. But the closest I ever came to a confrontation before was when I was at Boston and Reggie Jackson didn’t like a pitch. Luckily for me, he gets into an argument with my catcher. Even throws a punch at him.”

We ask Mike Scioscia, sterling catcher of the Dodgers, how he proceeds with ruffians who would attack his pitcher?

“Ideally, you defuse the situation by having a talk with the hitter,” Scioscia says. “You try to calm him down.”

Scioscia is trained to react fast, catching most hitters by the time they get halfway to the mound.

In the case of Hurst, attacked by Mitchell, Bruce’s catcher, Benito Santiago, got left in the blocks. If Santiago didn’t plan it that way, he will need work on his starts.

“Would big fines discourage hitters from going to the mound?” Scioscia is asked.

“Not in the least,” he answers. “In basketball, some players have been fined $15,000 for fighting. But there are still fights. The reason is, when guys get into a certain frame of mind, rational thought goes out the window. They don’t think of money. They don’t think of safety.”

Even Scioscia ignored both one day, taking after Pascual Perez, who threw dangerously close to Mike’s head. Noting the approach of Scioscia, Perez fled to center field, avoiding the pileup that would ensue when everyone started fighting in the infield.

Rejecting such savagery, Manager Lasorda reminds us there is no disagreement that can’t be settled over an order of manicotti.


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