March 28, 2002

Ending Monotony On the Diamond

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Baseball is an excellent way to spend a Saturday night. For many, a professional diamond may be a bit far away, so a television is adequate enough to enjoy nine innings.

For the calculating types out there, that is 27 outs and about three hours. This may seem lengthy, and it is. The monotony can be deadening, even for the most devoted fans.

Of the monotony, I can relate. In my high school years, I attended many Braves games with my dad, my sister, my friends, and most of all, myself.

There were few people who would go to a baseball game alone, which is not surprising because baseball is indeed boring. Sometimes you can fool yourself, and often times I did. But as my sister pointed out, no one really cares what happens until the ninth inning. While I beg to differ, the final frame is the only one guaranteed to have suspense, action, and people cheering.

This past off-season, commissioner Bud Selig went before Congress because too many franchises were under budget and unable to compete with teams like the Yankees in terms of revenue. Some organizations just aren’t bringing in enough money to support the wages that players are demanding these days.

Ultimately, if you don’t have the marquee player, you won’t have butts in the seats, and you won’t have money in the bank. If you don’t have money in the bank, you won’t have the marquee player, and that vicious cycle continues round and round.

To get more fans in the stands, you must make the game less boring. I see only one way to achieve this end.

Think about any contest you have attended. Was there a fight? Were punches thrown? Were benches cleared? For a game to be truly memorable, a brawl must have occurred (postseason games will be an exception to this rule).

On any given day, up to 15 games can take place in the Major Leagues. ESPN’s Sportscenter then has to sort through these games and pick which clips it will use for that night’s broadcast. The big name teams get immediate priority, but should a fight occur, it is always shown during the opening segment, regardless of which teams partook in it.

Unfortunately for the front office, fights are relatively rare and costly as the instigators often face fines and suspensions.

In hockey, football and basketball, however, pushing, tripping, checking, and tackling are commonplace. Tension rises and tempers flare, leading to additional violent acts. And the refs just look the other way! As long as a teammate is coming over to break up the mini-skirmish or someone looks concerned, no one is given the boot.

In baseball, you can’t even give someone on the other team the evil eye without receiving a warning.

I’m not advocating for mandatory fights, however, the fuss that has been made over aggression on the diamond is overrated.

There is one form of hostility that is fairly commonplace and can escape the umps’ radar. Pitcher retaliation can happen for any number of reasons, but often the hurler will purposely throw at the batter and hit him because of something that took place during the pair’s last meeting or because of something that the other team’s pitcher did to one of his teammates.

“If they hit one of my players, I have to knock one down,” then Chicago White Sox pitcher Jesus Pena commented after retaliating in a 2000 game.

If you step up to the plate at the beginning of an inning and someone on the other team had been hit earlier in the game, words had been exchanged, a lot of runs had been scored, or a player trotted too happily around the bases after a home run, you may be going home with a bruise.

Many people argue that retaliation tarnishes the integrity of America’s national pastime. It teaches kids bad sportsmanship and is dangerous.

As for the danger, please recall July of 2000 when Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens hit Met Mike Piazza in the head and erased his name from the All Star Game roster. While the CY Young award winner argued that the ball just “got away from him,” others noted the success that Piazza had against Clemens. He was 7 for 12 (.583 AVG) with three homers and nine RBI. The third homer had been a grand slam in Yankee stadium that resulted in Clemens getting booed off the mound.

Clemens might have been aiming for Piazza, or maybe just trying to deliver a brush-back, but he most certainly was not targeting the catcher’s head. No one aims for the head when delivering a retaliatory pitch because it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize that a mid-90’s fastball will do some damage.

If getting hit with a baseball is considered dangerous, so is getting tackled by a 300 pound lineman, getting slammed in to the boards during a hockey game, and getting elbowed as you go up to block a shot. As for sportsmanship, I think that concept exited the fields, rinks, and arenas long before it left the stadiums.

We often forget that baseball players are subject to the same raw emotions as the rest of us. They get mad when things don’t go their way and need an outlet for those feelings. That is why players exchange words, get hit while up to bat, and charge the mound. Sports are physical, and you would expect that most actions directed towards the other team would be the same.

If you watch a clip from a bench-clearing brawl, you’ll notice that the punches that are thrown hardly ever land on their targets, and most of the fighting consists of two or three players pushing and the rest of the mass trying to break them up. These scuffles are not slugfests, but mere instances of players venting their frustration. And its pretty damn entertaining, isn’t it?

What should be emphasized is that the anger is left on the field. These players are not going out back and continuing their arguments. They do not meet in the tunnels and begin shoving each other.

So, instead of cracking down on retaliation and other forms of aggression, let’s focus on the fact that the fights never escalate into anything requiring a hospital visit and never follow the players into the dugout.

Keep those Sportscenter moments coming.

Archived article by Katherine Granish