There are many things in life that I don’t understand. I don’t understand decorative pillows on the bed. I don’t understand putting your name on a vanity plate. I don’t understand why people struggle so much with four way stops and I’ll never understand why someone likes their own Facebook posts. Of course you like it, you posted it you douchenozzle.
But I do understand sport fights. Sports brawls are fascinating. I totally understand how they happen. You get super competitive, testosterone pumped athletes, mix in some trash talking and some unnecessary roughness and pretty soon the fists start flying. Some sports, like hockey, have embraced fighting in the past. The NHL has tried to discourage fighting, but it still occurs. Hockey players are without a doubt the best sports fighters. The best brawl I ever witnessed was in a Junior League hockey game. The brawl took place at the end of the second period. At one point there were six or seven multiple player fights going on at the same time. Understand, Juniors are 16 to 19 years old. And there are only three referees to break things up. It took about ten minutes to separate all the combatants. Then the home team waited by the tunnel for the visitors to leave the ice, and off we went again. The crowd was going nuts. If I recall correctly, each team had seven ejections. During the third period, I went into the tunnel. There were a handful of young men standing there, clean cut, choir boy types. Then I realized these were the ejected players, who had been so viciously fighting just moments earlier. Crazy. If you want to see hockey fights that are humorous, watch YouTube fights where the goalies go after each other. That stuff is gold.
Basketball players, despite their massive size, are typically bad fighters. There are exceptions. The Malice in the Palace was a memorable brawl, and it still chills my blood when I see a replay of Kermit Washington decking Rudy Tomjanovich. The funniest NBA brawl had to be the Knicks and Heat in 1998, where Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy looked like a lap dog humping Alonzo Mourning’s leg.
Over the years, baseball has had it’s share of brawls. Who can forget the 1993 fight between Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura? Ventura was a two-time loser in that deal, first taking a Ryan heater off the back before making his ill-fated Pickett’s charge to the mound. Ryan promptly put Ventura in a headlock and took to pummeling his face. Ryan was 46 when he took Ventura to the woodshed. Ventura was 25.
The crème de la crème of baseball fights occurred on August 12, 1984, when the Padres and Braves had it out at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. The festivities started when the Braves Pascual Perez, no stranger to controversy, hit Alan Wiggins with the first pitch of the game. Padres manager Dick Williams, a former Kansas City Athletic, wasn’t about to let the Braves intimidate his team. When Perez came to bat in the second inning, Ed Whitson threw his first pitch behind Perez. Dugouts emptied, warnings were issued, and play resumed. In the 4th inning, Whitson threw three consecutive pitches at Perez, missing him each time, which earned Whitson and Williams an ejection. Perez came up again in the 6th and once again the Padres threw at him. And missed him for the third time. Pitcher Greg Booker was sent to the showers on this one. Perez came to bat in the 8th and Padre’s reliever Craig Lefferts finally connected, drilling Perez in the left elbow. Benches emptied and players locked up. Perez tried to hide in the Braves dugout. The Padre’s Champ Summers, a beefy fellow who served in Vietnam, went looking for Perez. Summers was intercepted by Bob Horner, another beefy dude, who had been watching the game from the press box, with a cast on his broken arm. Horner sensed trouble brewing, went into the clubhouse and changed into his uniform in the middle innings. A fan hurled a beer at Summers while another jumped on his back. Then all hell broke loose. Police and stadium security had their hands full and arrested five people before order was restored. In the top of the 9th, Brave’s reliever Donne Moore plunked Graig Nettles and the boys were off to the races again. It took security several minutes to separate the combatants. Two former Royals, Gene Garber and Kurt Bevacqua got their licks in. The umpires, desperate to maintain order, sent both teams to their respective clubhouses and only allowed the current batter onto the field.
Fourteen players, managers and coaches were ejected. Five fans were cuffed and did the perp walk. National League President Chub Feeney fined and suspended twelve Padres and six Braves for their role in the fracas. The strangest thing about this brawl? How did Pascual Perez, a pitcher, get four at bats in a game where his manager knew that he was going to be thrown at? You gotta love baseball.
The Royals have been involved in their share of brawls. This is not a comprehensive list or even one that ranks the fights. You don’t want to read that much of me. One of the early brawls occurred on July 9th, 1973. I wasn’t even aware of this fight until reading a piece by Matt Starr, who runs the Kansas City Sports History site on Facebook. The Royals, in their 4th season were sitting at 47-41 for this game in Milwaukee. In the 5th, with Kansas City leading 4 to 1, my favorite Royal Kurt Bevacqua came to the plate as a pinch hitter and stroked a grand slam home run off Jerry Bell. Fran Healy was the next batter and Bell threw the first three pitches at Healy, which cleared the benches. One of the great pictures of this fight shows former Royal Ellie Rodriguez trying to maintain the peace, holding back former teammates Amos Otis, Paul Splittorff and Cookie Rojas. I don’t think anyone wanted to tangle with Ellie. He was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth and I’m guessing he could have handled just about anyone on the field. Healy and Bell were ejected. Bevacqua, who came on as a pinch hitter in the fifth, ended up going 2 for 4 with a career high six RBI.
Bevacqua always did well on fight night. For a good laugh, read about his 1982 dispute with Dodger manager Tommy LaSorda. Hilarious stuff. And Bevacqua was almost certainly right when he accused LaSorda of ordering his pitcher to throw at players.
Some brawls don’t happen immediately. On May 8th, 1979, the Texas Rangers hosted the Royals at old Arlington Stadium. Frank White led off the game and was hit by an Ed Farmer pitch, breaking his wrist. White was lost to the Royals until June 12th. In the top of the 5th, a Farmer fastball sailed inside and hit Royals rightfielder Al Cowens in the face, breaking his jaw. Cowens was out until May 30th and when he came back, played with a protective plate on his batting helmet. Now look at the bigger picture. Everyone on this site knows who Frank White is and how valuable he was to the Royals. Al Cowens, in his time, was a very solid player for the Royals. His career slash over his six-year Kansas City career was: .282/.329/.404. He finished second in the 1977 MVP voting and won a Gold Glove, while putting up a career best 5.3 WAR. You think the 2013-2016 Royals would have liked to have had a guy like Cowens in right? You better believe it.
The 1979 Royals finished three games back of the division winning California Angels, breaking their three-year reign as Western Division champs. It didn’t help losing White and Cowens. Cowens, a proud man, never forgot the incident. Kansas City traded him (and shortstop Todd Cruz) to California in the offseason for Willie Mays Aikens and Rance Mulliniks. The trade itself could have ended being one of the better swaps in Royals history, as Cowens never reclaimed his 1977 glory and Cruz was a replacement level player. Aikens solidified the Royals first base position, which had been in flux since the team banished John Mayberry to Toronto, before losing his way due to drug addiction. The real miss was Mulliniks. The Royals only gave him 60 games before giving him to Toronto for a pitcher named Phil Huffman, who never appeared in a game for the Royals. Mulliniks meanwhile, put up 17 WAR in his 16 year career.
Anyway, back to the fight. The Angels only gave Cowens 34 games before shipping him to the Tigers for Jason Thompson, who was a very fine first baseman. On June 20th, 1980, the Tigers and Chicago White Sox met and, in the 11th inning, Cowens led off against, you guessed it, Ed Farmer. Cowens hit a routine groundball to short to his former teammate Todd Cruz, now a member of the Pale Hose. The video is hilarious. Cruz triple pumps before making the throw to first. Instead of running out the grounder, Cowens headed straight for Farmer, which is what caused the confusion for Cruz. A massive brawl ensues. Champ Summers (remember him from Atlanta?) can be seen landing a solid left to the face of a White Sox player. Richie Hebner, who dug graves in the off-season, got in a few blows and after the fight was over was still hotter than a Chicago pawn shop watch. American League President Lee McPhail was not amused. He suspended Cowens for seven games and fined him an undisclosed amount. Farmer filed assault charges in Cook County Circuit Court and an arrest warrant was issued for Cowens. Cowens, who had no desire to spend a night in a Chicago hoosegow, did not make an early August trip back to Chicago in an effort to avoid arrest. Cowens and Farmer eventually kissed and made up when the Sox traveled to Detroit in September. They met at home plate, exchanged lineup cards and Cowens apologized to Farmer for charging the mound. Farmer accepted the apology and dropped the assault charge.
Sometimes a harsh word or two can prevent a brawl. By 1974, John Mayberry was a bona fide star, a slugging first baseman who was feared by American League pitchers. On August 4th of 1974, the Angels Frank Tanana hit Big John with a pitch, breaking his hand. Mayberry didn’t forget. The next time Mayberry saw Tanana, prior to a game, he grabbed the lefty and slammed him against the outfield wall and told him that if he ever hit him again, that violence would be done. Big John faced Tanana 36 more times in his career, blistering him with a .387 average. Tanana never hit Mayberry with another pitch. It’s funny reading the box score from that game. Mickey Rivers, Ellie Rodriguez, Kurt Bevacqua, George Brett, Fran Healy and Al Cowens, all prominent figures in other brawls, played in that game. Another name that jumps out is Hal McRae, who made his name with some bone crushing slides into second base.
In my opinion, the greatest fight in Royal’s history occurred in Game Five of the 1977 American League Championship Series. The Royals and Yankees were tied at two games apiece. The winner would go to the World Series. The loser goes home. Remember, these two teams hated each other. I’m not talking about how you hate your obnoxious neighbor who lets his dog crap in your yard. The Royals and Yankees truly, 100%, disliked each other. In the bottom of the first, with Hal McRae on first, George Brett ripped a long drive to center field that Mickey Rivers took a bad line on and Brett, running full tilt, steamed into third with a triple. Brett, as he was wont to do, came in full speed and slid hard. Nettles, who had a reputation as an instigator, gave Brett a little kick to the ribs. Brett came off the bag like a Bezos rocket and hurled a haymaker at Nettles and the boys were off and running. If you like fights, there was so much beauty in this fight. The left-field umpire can be seen standing with his arms crossed, watching the festivities. Billy Martin, a notorious fighter in his own right, put his arm around Freddie Patek and encouraged him to stay out of it. Yankee catcher Thurman Munson charged into the pile and threw his body on top of Brett to protect him. Who could have seen that coming? Respect to Munson. The best part? No one got ejected. Think about that for a moment. A wild, out of control brawl in the deciding game of the series, and when it was over, the players dusted themselves off and play resumed.
Mike Sweeney provided many highlights in his Royal career, but one that will be remembered forever is his August 10, 2001, takedown of Detroit pitcher Jeff Weaver. Sweeney was one of the nicest players to ever play the game. In fact, the Royals bestow “The Mike Sweeney award” to the player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Yikes!
The fracas had its roots in a game a few days earlier, when Sweeney drilled a double off Weaver. That triggered Weaver, who shouted some obscenities at Sweeney as he chugged into second base.
In the 6th inning, Sweeney came to the plate. Prior to the at-bat he told teammate Joe Randa that is Weaver drilled him with a pitch, that he was going to get him, so be ready. It never got that far. Before stepping into the box, Sweeney asked home plate umpire Mike Fichter to have Weaver move the rosin bag, which Sweeney thought was too close to the rubber and was distracting him.
Weaver, who had a reputation as having a big mouth, dropped a few F bombs, then came back with this line, “F**king p***y”.
Weaver turned and walked off the mound and Sweeney, fully engaged, broke into a sprint for Weaver. Sweeney deftly sidestepped Fichter. Weaver started retreating like a bitch as Sweeney closed in on him. Sweeney threw his helmet at Weaver then slammed into him like a linebacker making a tackle. Weaver collapsed like a cheap folding chair as Sweeney delivered some justice to Weavers big mouth.
Once order was restored, Tiger catcher Robert Fick took a cheap shot at Sweeney, which triggered another round of WWE. The fisticuffs fired up the Royals, who rebounded for a 7 to 3 victory. Sweeney was ejected of course; the only ejection is his storied career. He was also hit with a ten-game suspension. But it was worth it.
One of the ugliest, and scariest, sports fight I’ve ever seen wasn’t even between two teams. If you’re a sensitive type, you might not want to read this because of the strong language I use. On the night of September 19th, 2002, in a late season game between two losing teams playing out the string, two pieces of human garbage, who shall not be named, charged the field and attacked Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. Gamboa, an accomplished baseball lifer, had his back turned when the moronic fans, a father and son no less, attacked him from behind. Gamboa suffered a stab wound from a pocketknife before the Royals bench emptied onto the two syphilitic imbeciles. Unfortunately, no members of the Royals brought a bat to this knife fight, the better to give these two pieces of human paraquat the head bashing they so badly deserved. The two-white trash inbreds said they were provoked when Gamboa allegedly gave them the finger earlier in the game, a charge that Gamboa vehemently denied. The father, age 34, was sentenced to 30 months’ probation, which sounds kind of light to me. The son, age 15, was given five years of probation. The father was later arrested in April of 2004, on a different charge, which triggered his probation. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison. The son went to prison in 2010 on a drug charge. No surprise for either of these two floating turds.
Gamboa was treated at a local hospital and released. The game? Kansas City took the 2 to 1 victory behind a two-run 6th inning home run off the bat of Carlos Beltran. Paul Byrd picked up the win to move to 17-11 on the season. In a classy gesture, the crowd of 10,354 gave Gamboa a standing ovation as he was taken from the field.
After nearly winning the 2014 World Series, the Royals came into 2015 on a mission. Being the defending American League champ, they also had a target on their back. The Oakland A’s, still smarting from their meltdown in the 2014 Wild card game, came to Kauffman for an April series. Things started getting tense during the Friday night game, when Brett Lawrie went out of his way and slid into Alcides Escobar in an effort to break up a double play. Escobar was removed from the game with an indeterminate knee injury. Lawrie, a fiery player with a mouth to match, knew he would take one in the Saturday game. You know, those unwritten baseball rules. It didn’t take long. After Josh Reddick lifted a three-run 4th inning home run to give the A’s a 5 to 0 lead, Yordano Ventura put the next pitch, a 99 MPH heater off Lawrie’s elbow. Home plate umpire Jim Joyce didn’t choke on this call and sent Ventura to the showers. Both teams met on the infield, with Billy Butler, now with Oakland, telling some of his former teammates that he still loved them. To his credit, Lawrie swallowed his medicine and went to first without any incident.
Almost 37,000 people came out on Sunday to watch the tense finale. Things started going south in the bottom of the first when Scott Kazmir bounced a fastball off Lorenzo Cain’s foot. Kazmir got by with a warning which infuriated Ned Yost. Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were both ejected for haranguing home plate ump Greg Gibson. In the 8th, Kelvin Herrera uncorked a 100-mph fastball behind Lawrie’s head which led to both benches clearing. The ball flew by Sal Perez, hit the back wall and ricocheted all the way back to Ventura. The umpires did a terrific job of keeping the two teams separated. Royals coach Don Wakamatsu, Ventura and Escobar, returned from his injury, but not playing, were all ejected during the subsequent chirping. It’s not known whether Lawrie had to go to the clubhouse to change his shorts. The Royals, properly fired up, scored three in the bottom of the 8th to pull out the 4 to 2 victory, much to the delight of a roaring crowd.
Just a few days later, April 23rd, the fighting Royals were at it again. In a Thursday night game in Chicago, Ventura started off the 4th by drilling Jose Abreu with a pitch. Chris Sale retaliated in the 5th by plunking Mike Moustakas. Both benches were warned. The Sox and Royals had been on a collision course since the season opening series, in which six batters were hit by pitches. Sale reportedly went to the Royals clubhouse after exiting the game and started banging on the door, looking for a dance partner.
The cork came out in the bottom of the 8th. Adam Eaton hit a comebacker to Ventura, with both players exchanging pleasantries before Ventura threw to first for the out. Both benches emptied and punches were thrown. Ventura picked up a seven-game suspension for his role. Edison Volquez got five games, while Lorenzo Cain and Herrera each got a two-game vacation. Herrera was already on double secret probation, appealing his five-game rip for throwing at Lawrie. For the Sox, Sale and pitcher Jeff Samardzija both picked up five game suspensions.
Fighting, in sports and in life, should be avoided at all costs, with the exception being if you are defending yourself. Or defending your mom. Then all bets are off. In researching this story, the same names kept popping up time and again: Nettles. Bevacqua. Summers. Lawrie. Ventura. All fiery players. You got to love guys like that, especially when they’re on your team.