Hayhurst: Fights happen in baseball because players want it to happen

by Apr 23, 11:27 AM
USA TODAY

While I know this isn’t going make me popular with Pittsburgh fans, the truth of the matter is, if Gerrit Cole stays on the mound and keeps his mouth shut, there is no Easter Sunday brawl.

In fact, if Cole stays on the bump with lip zipped, the baseball media would have happily gorged itself on pounds of Carlos Gomez flesh. Everyone from shock jock sports radio shows to the high-hammer that is Keith Olbermann would have made sure Gomez got his comeuppance. In this age of HD instant reply, you simply can’t avoid taking lumps for pimping a triple.

Yet, instead of playing the strong silent type, Cole took a walk to third base and, with zero awareness to how hypocritical it is to jettison one’s own sportsmanship in order to pick a fight with someone else about sportsmanship, he protested his displeasure that Gomez had the audacity to flamboyantly not hit a homer off him.

Oh, I know why Cole did it, and it wasn’t because he was angry. At least it wasn’t just because he was angry. There are lots of things in life and baseball that make a person angry and yet you can still behave in a rational manner while vexed.

No, it was that Cole felt justified, and when a player feels he is on the right side of baseball law it becomes their righteous and warranted duty to call out offenders on how they’ve failed to “play the game the right way.”

Teams trying to teach other teams how to play baseball the right way in ways other than playing baseball. Ironic, isn’t it? 

Even so, it’s constantly referenced by players, managers, and pundits as if it actually makes sense. Coles’ teammates, even some of the Brewers players, will cite "playing the game the right way" as the reason for past and future game policing.

Chalk this up to the stumbling block that is unchallenged groupthink among Major League Baseball players. Thanks to it, violence is a logical and rational way to show a player the error of his [completely unknown because the rules aren’t written anywhere] ways. Moreover, thanks to the general acceptance of reasoning like this, we have fans that genuinely think too much exuberance on the playing field is ruining the game, and that it is the reason fights and paybacks take place.

False. 

The reason fights and paybacks happen in baseball is because players want it to happen. Because they have individual and team egos that are very sensitive to violations to a code they really didn’t have any say in creating.

“Oh, he pimped it”, said the older, senior pitcher next to me in the Jays pen, after the freshly struck ball soared into the stands off Brian Tallet.

“That dirty [bad words] pimped it. Yeah,”—a fist smacked hard into a glove—“that’s not going to fly ‘round here. He just earned one of his teammates a trip to the training room.”

This was in 2009, and by this point in time I’d learned not to question the rationale behind frontier justice as a way of payback for perceived malicious exuberance. That’s because I’d questioned it multiple times in the minors and the result was always me standing on the outside of the pack.

In my first year of pro ball, 2003, I learned that paybacks and chances to brawl were like a right of passage. You weren’t really a pro until you picked up the banner of policing the game through bean balls and mound charges.

“But why do I have to hit someone for pimping a homerun?” I asked, during the first official meeting on how to handle a pimped homerun in the Eugene Emeralds bullpen.

“Because we’re a team, dude. We look out for each other.”

“I just ... Wait. A guy goes yard on one of us and struts, and so we drill him because that’s how we look out for one another? He just hit a homer off of me. Don’t I have bigger things to worry about than how he looked while he did it? Besides, why put a runner on base drilling someone else, and won't that just make their pitchers hit one of our guys?”

“It’s not only about you, dude. He was disrespecting our team. He was disrespecting the game. He’s got to be taught to play it right, or there will be consequences.”

“So is a guy supposed to act like he didn’t hit the homerun because we might get upset about that and feel disrespected and injure him. Am I the only here that thinks this makes no sense?”

A quick scan of the stone faces of the pen essentially answered the question: Yes, I was the only one.

“He can hit all the homeruns he wants, he just can’t act like an ass when he does it,” continued the pitcher repeating rookie ball.

“You mean, like enjoying the fact that he did it. Isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?”

“Not outwardly, no.”

“Look, beyond talking [expletive] to me while he does it, I don’t see why I should care — why anyone should care?”

“Because you have to respect the game.”

“And who makes the rules on this?”

“Right here,” Said the eldest pitcher, pointing to the logo on his jersey.

“That sounds stupid,” I said.

“And you sound like a pussy.”

Looking back, I have to wonder what we were actually talking about. Considering most of the rhetoric is the same today, I still have to wonder what we’re actually talking about.

When frontier justice oratory flows from players and pundits around the game, a general lethargy seems to fall on the baseball consuming public. The fans don’t know what’s being said, and, if you broke it all down, the people talking don’t really know what they’re saying either.

Instead of understanding that some players are more demonstrative than others, or that some players come from different cultures with a different sense of decorum, or that being a grown man actually means keeping your frustration in check and not justifying a need for payback under "being a man," the prevailing thought Major League Baseball players operate under is: verbal confrontations, brawls, and high velocity projectiles aren’t just punishments, but teaching tools. Coincidentally, such actions also happen to serve as ego soothing forms of payback.

It’s like saying that the next time some one cuts you off in traffic, you can and should ram your car into theirs because, “that will teach them to drive the right way.”

I suppose this would be different if it solved anything, but it doesn’t. Since there are no rules on why the fire starts, there are none on how to put it out. Travis Snider, god help him, is going to get drilled by a Brewers pitcher. And, for that, a Brewers hitter will probably get drilled by a Pirates pitcher. An eye for an eye makes the whole world end up on the DL.

But, at this point, why not call a spade a spade: Baseball has embraced a process through which competitive egos and million dollar investments can fight about the very ideals that winning play was meant to uphold. 

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY