Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
There's no denying the tribal rush of the spectacle.
The mixture of dirt, grass, chalk, cleats and tangled limbs - creating one giant cloud of athletic chaos and emotion.
The storm of diamond testosterone can last seconds merely with combative words and threats or become prolonged segments of nashed teeth and thrown punches - each raising the goosebumps on the collective masses that often consider the scuffle a rare treat.
But regardless of the unspoken enjoyment of this spontaneous activity, it's long past the time for Major League Baseball to clean up the classic baseball brawl. In a sport where a finger blister, creaky shoulder or violent sneeze can put a million-dollar athlete out of the lineup, it's quite ironic that these slugfests still continue in 2004.
"It doesn't bother me, you just don't want to see anybody get hurt," said New York Yankees manager Jor Torre, referring to Saturday's latest incident of the sport within the sport when the Yankees and rival Boston Red Sox grappled at Fenway Park. "The game has to be important enough for you to feel like doing something like that."
Well, the games are "always" important - at least that is what they tell the ticket-buying public. Apparently the risk is not. If you wish to consider possible disabled dollars, the Yankees/Red Sox fight was the volatile mixture of the top two payrolls in the league - each already with an array of injured players that has kept both clubs from operating at full strength for much of this year.
The Sox, fielding one of the most fragile rosters in the majors, had to sit catcher Jason Varitek in Sunday's important division game due to a sore right wrist that was sustained in the melee the day before.
Not exactly what a desperate team needs, considering Manny Ramirez's hamstrings, Curt Schilling's ankle, Nomar Garciaparra's Achilles and Trot Nixon's strained left quad that just placed him back on the disabled list.
But when the in-game conflicts ensue, the first reaction is to go and help your comrads at a time of utter confusion, regardless of the ramifications that may follow.
"You're trying to protect your teammates right there," Schilling told reporters of his decision to run onto the field despite nursing a bruised right ankle. "Make sure no one gets hurt in a dumb situation. Strange things happen. You don't want guys going down to the ground and having people fall on them, getting broken hands, broken fingers, things like that."
Most injury situations are not dire, because these tussles are more comical than dangerous. Whether the players bear hug each other, push and shove or just flat out miss the target on flailing swings, there are more verbal threats than harm in these posturing endeavors.
Yet to a very young and impressionable faction of the MLB audience, the damage can be much more severe. Similar to the emulation of chewing tobacco and the experimentation with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, budding baseball players have enough bad examples to negotiate without the regular sight of grown men rolling around on the diamond with bad intentions.
Baseball is supposed to be the American pastime, and the last thing that America needs right now is more acts of public violence.
Not that the other major sports in the United States don't have their unflattering moments, though in a more controlled enviroment with greater consequences. The NBA deals with it's dust-ups, but a stiff suspension policy for players leaving the bench to get involved and escalate matters often keeps the fights on the basketball court rare and brief. The NHL has similar bench-staying rules in place to keep their nightly hockey fights localized to the ice, while watching two NFL football players throw down fully protected by helmets and shoulder pads is as ridiculous as it is pointless.
In an effort to help baseball regain its popularity, allowing these aged practices to continue is likely the unspoken way to go in the entertainment era of special effects movies, gory video games and reality television.
But if the MLB truly wants to be reborn as the prized game of the present and the future, this particular barn door will have to be closed at some point in that process.
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.