- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Flailing fists. Bumping beer bellies. Frenzied milling about. To the untrained eye, the typical bench-clearing, bullpen-emptying baseball brawl such as the recent double-dip tete-a-tete between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox appears anything but organized.

But beneath the standard elements the pushing, the pulling, the inevitable dogpiling lies a hidden order. It's an unwritten code of conduct as rigidly mannered as one of the dutiful, repressed English butlers in a Merchant-Ivory film.

At dinner, there is a proper way to chew (mouth closed). At sea, there is proper way to abandon ship (women and children first). And in baseball, there is proper way to pummel your opponent:

Rule No. 1: Everybody brawls …

From 1965's legendary Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants melee to 1998's New York Yankees-Baltimore Orioles scrap, all basebrawls have at least one thing in common: Everyone gets involved. This means both dugouts, both bullpens, all of the coaches and just about anyone and everyone else (save the PA announcer). Consider:

• In the Detroit-Chicago dustup, Tigers infielder Dean Palmer was ejected after attacking White Sox pitcher Jim Parque only to re-enter the field during a follow-up brawl in the ninth inning. Meanwhile, Tigers pitcher Jeff Weaver, out of the game and in street clothes, also participated in the second fight.

• During a 1984 Atlanta Braves-San Diego Padres scuffle, injured Brave Bob Horner who was watching the game from the press box raced down to the clubhouse, put on his uniform and ended up in the middle of the fracas.

• After Anaheim Angels reliever Troy Percival beaned Cleveland Indians outfielder David Justice and triggered a melee last season, the pitcher complained that some of his teammates didn't show sufficient support including slugger Mo Vaughn, who was already in the team clubhouse when the fight broke out.

"You have to go out and back your teammates," Orioles catcher Charles Johnson said. "If we're going to win, we've got to play together. So we've got to help each other when fights break out."

Musketeerish as it sounds, quarrel camaraderie has a decidedly practical purpose: By taking to the field en masse, ballplayers actually reduce the chance of anyone getting seriously hurt.

For example, after Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez plunked Cleveland's Roberto Alomar on April 30, Alomar's teammates restrained him from charging Martinez and probably reaping a serious, nine-on-one beating from Martinez and his teammates.

Contrast that to former White Sox infielder Robin Ventura, whose lone-wolf charge of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan some years ago ended up with Ventura in a Ryan headlock, absorbing blow after blow in a humiliating, full-contact noogie.

"If we don't go out there, who's going to break it up?" Johnson said. "It's going to be like a hockey match, with two guys fighting on the mound."

Rule No. 2: … Or at least acts like it

Of course, "fighting" doesn't always mean knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs. More often than not, it means a little pushing, a little shoving and a whole lot of posturing enough to show you mean business, but not enough to risk serious physical (or financial) injury.

"Most guys are out there to be peacemakers," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Unless there's some real bad blood between the teams."

Moreover, said Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo, not all fights are created equal.

"When one of your pitchers is getting beat around so darn much that he hits somebody, you feel like that was stupid," he said. "You don't feel like you need to go out there like a crazy man and hit somebody.

"You're going to go out there, because that's the way the game is. But I'm the littlest guy (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) on the field all the time. So if there's somebody on the other team that I know, I'll go over and say, 'Hey, I got you.' And we'll just kind of laugh at each other. We know that nothing is going to happen."

That "nothing" can go double for opposing players who happen to be friends. In his legendary book "Ball Four," former pitcher Jim Bouton describes a Seattle Pilots-Yankees fight in which he and a buddy Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson put on a phantom throwdown:

"How's your wife?" I said. "Give me a fake punch to the ribs."

"She's fine," he said. "You can punch me in the stomach. Not too hard."

Why pretend? Ask Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. In the waning stages of a Yankees-Seattle Mariners donnybrook last season, Jeter appeared to be yukking it up with friend and Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

That, in turn, infuriated Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis, who gave Jeter an earful as they returned to the dugout. The two began to argue, and eventually had to be separated by Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer meaning Jeter came closer to fighting Curtis than any of the Mariners.

"Everyone in a bench-clearing brawl isn't fighting," Jeter told New York's Newsday after the fight. "You have guys trying to break things up, guys talking, guys trying to control the situation. That's how it goes sometimes."

Rule No. 3: Keep it clean

For those who decide to mix it up, however, a few maxims apply. No sucker punches, no cleats, and never, ever bring a bat into the fray.

"The unwritten rule is no cheap shots from behind," Orioles bench coach Jeff Newman said. "If you're going to fight, do it face-to-face. But that's not to say there's not some thrown. It's dog-eat-dog."

At least it can be. During the 1998 New York-Baltimore battle, Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry blindsided Orioles reliever Armando Benitez, who had touched off the scrum by beaning Yankees infielder Tino Martinez.

Unfortunately for Strawberry, the momentum of the blow carried him into Baltimore's dugout, where Orioles reliever Alan Mills gladly let loose with a shower of retaliatory blows.

"When a guy sneaks around and hits a guy from behind, that's as cowardly as hitting a guy with a pitch on purpose," said then-Orioles manager Ray Miller afterward. "That's why I'm so proud of Alan Mills. He defended his teammate, but he squared off against the guy instead of coming from behind. And he took care of business."

In most cases, a sucker-puncher can count on retribution from within his own organization as well. After Tigers outfielder Karim Garcia blindsided White Sox pitcher Keith Foulke last month, opening a five-stitch cut under Foulke's left eye, he was quickly demoted to the minors. How quickly? Garcia didn't even have the opportunity to serve his Major League Baseball-mandated three-game suspension.

And then there's Felix Martinez, a Kansas City Royals rookie who sucker-punched Angels infielder Frank Bolick in the face during a Royals-Angels dustup in 1998. The day following the fight, Martinez was sent down in favor of Mendy Lopez, an afterthought who was batting just .190 in Class AAA.

Martinez reportedly responded to his demotion by crying.

"There are ways to go about these things," former Angels infielder Phil Nevin told the Orange County Register. "What [Martinez] did was stupid and way out of line."

Rule No. 4: Coaches stay cool

Three things you'll never see in the next Orioles-Yankees faceoff: 1) Zimmer dropping Newman with a well-placed haymaker; 2) Perlozzo dispatching Yankees third base coach Willie Randolph with an atomic drop; 3) Yankees manager Joe Torre and Hargrove going toe-to-toe in a no-holds-barred steel cage match.

Though all Hell Rick Helling, pitcher, Rangers may be breaking loose, a coach's charge is to stay calm. Think Ghandi, in a warmup jacket.

"Managers go out there because they're upset, too," Hargrove said. "They want to take up for their players. But your job is not to go out there and throw punches. Your job is to keep it from getting worse."

Not that coaches don't occasionally lose it. After an epic 1990 Milwaukee Brewers-Mariners ruckus that lasted 20 minutes, several Mariners accused Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn of making matters worse.

"He was mouthing out there," said Mariners shortstop Jeff Schaefer, who during the fight pulled Trebelhorn off teammate Matt Young and threw the Brewers manager to the turf. "If you review the tape, you'll see [Mariners manager] Jim [Lefebvre] was pulling guys out, but Trebelhorn was diving back in."

Trebelhorn, for his part, served a five-game suspension a figure dwarfed by the whopping 15-game suspension Tigers coach Juan Samuel received for his role in the recent Tigers-White Sox brouhaha. Samuel sucker-punched White Sox pitcher Bill Simas near the end of the first brawl.

"One second [the Tigers] were saying, 'That's enough, break it up,' " White Sox infielder Paul Konerko told the Chicago Tribune. "And the next thing they turn around and throw a punch at somebody. One of them's a coach [Samuel].

"We have no problem fighting, but it's not like a street fight where anything goes. There's some ethics. At least we had ethics."

Rule No. 5: When in doubt, dogpile

It happens every time: Pitcher and hitter grapple for a split-second, only to be buried under an avalanche of caps, cleats and human flesh so vast, so gratuitous, it could almost pass for a "Caligula" outtake.

Why dogpile? Because it's actually safer. As an old joke goes, the least dangerous place to be during a baseball fight is right in the middle of it.

A burly first baseman on your back beats a burly first baseman's fist to the back of your skull.

"Usually the guys that get hit aren't the ones that started the fight," Newman said. "Because they're at the bottom of the pile. The guys that take the beating are the ones on top."

No kidding. Strawberry didn't clobber Benitez in a pile he hit him near the Orioles dugout. And former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee never was the same after being tackled by Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles and injuring his left shoulder.

"You've got to watch out on the outside," Johnson said. "You don't know who could be coming up behind you. It could be someone that doesn't like you."

Silly as it looks, the dogpile serves a higher purpose: Like the game's other unwritten rules of battle, it protects the combatants and keeps the whole ugly mess from spinning completely out of control.

"It only takes one person to really start swinging," Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina said. "And then a settled-down situation can escalate in a hurry. In one or two seconds, it can go from looking like nothing is going to happen to everything is going to happen."

Said Perlozzo: "I don't like the idea of hockey players going at it the way they do. I don't think there's any reason in sport for things to get into that sort of situation. But fights happen so you do the best you can with it, and hope no one comes out of there hurt."

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