Typical with any brawl in a baseball game, there’s discussion about what can be done to end the fighting or at least control it. The Brawl by the Bay between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants on Monday has sparked the conversation yet again. With no set rules or regulations for on-field fights, the MLB could take a page from the books of the other American professional sports leagues to get things somewhat under control.
After Monday’s melee, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper was given a four-game suspension (since reduced to three games) and the Giants’ Hunter Strickland was given a six-game ban. This looks to me like a parent saying, “You did something that looks bad, so you’re grounded because you’re supposed to be.” Clearly, the MLB doesn’t care too much about fighting, which is fine. It’s fun to watch a baseball fight every now and again, but it does need to get under control.
The NHL is a great place to turn for set rules on fighting. Fighting is as much a part of hockey as jelly doughnuts are a part of Canada. You can’t have one without the other. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky mentioned the NHL’s “third man in” rule in a piece about how San Francisco’s Jeff Samardzija concussed Michael Morse with friendly fire in the same fracas. Hockey referees allow only the two original fighters to duke it out until they hit the ice, then break up the fight. Imagine a world where a pitcher and a hitter are squared off in front of the mound with four umpires and seven other players circling them until they hit the turf. It would have a solid playground fight feel.
The NBA has developed a zero-tolerance policy with fighting after it allowed it for a long time. Any player leaving the immediate bench area during an NBA fight is automatically suspended. This would be a complete culture change in the MLB, especially for the bullpen. (Just once, I want to see the bullpens start jawing at each other as they run in, then start a separate skirmish in the outfield.) Of course, it’s not fair to keep the offense on the bench while the defense gangs up on the hitter, but it might make a guy think twice before he charges the mound. (Then we’ll have more retaliatory bean balls, so this might not work.) However, if a scuffle breaks out in the NBA, the players on the floor can always step in and help break it up. Let’s limit basebrawling to any of the other eight players in the batting order as eligible to come off the bench to defend his teammate.
Until the MLB decides to make changes, we’re going to continue to see bench-clearing brawls. The bullpens will run in from the outfield to join the fray, wild punches will be thrown in a crowd and pitchers will throw 72-year-old legends to the ground by the back of their head. It’s all part of the game, right?
Photo by Brigham Berthold