An anniversary passed a few days ago — June 6, 1993 — and I would have forgotten all about it if not for Manny Machado and Yordano Ventura.
On that sunny Sunday afternoon, 23 years ago, I saw my first bench-clearing brawl in person. The Orioles and Mariners met each other near the mound and commenced in a doozy of a donnybrook, a nasty fight that involved clusters of players duking it out after Mike Mussina beaned Bill Haselman in the seventh inning with Baltimore leading 5-1.
It's something you don't see very often — grown men, playing a game, who can't control their emotions and decide to use their fists instead of bats or gloves — in baseball.
I knew why Mussina aimed for Haselman. In the previous inning Seattle pitcher Chris Bosio threw inside on Harold Reynolds. Chirping likely ensued. And so, in keeping with baseball's unwritten rules, the Orioles had to follow protocol.
You throw at one of our guys, we're going to throw at one of yours. If a fastball, by chance, happens to get a little too close, so be it.
Mussina was in his second full season with the Orioles, on his way to the second of five All-Star appearances. Young, yes, but not lacking very good command — Mussina walked 44 batters in 167 2/3 innings with five wild pitches that season. But his high hard one plunked Haselman on his right shoulder, which is rather close to his face in case you were wondering.
Haselman charged the mound, tossing his helmet aside. Mussina dropped his glove (Stanley Cup fans?) and braced for impact, adding a stutter-step before absorbing Haselman's tackle.
Players from both teams spilled onto the field. Mariners reliever Norm Charlton didn't make any friends. Same goes for O's pitcher Alan Mills, who always seemed prepared for a on-field fight.
Umpires did little to jump in. Baltimore policemen came onto the field, according to a wire story I found online, but the umps encouraged them to focus on keeping the fans in the stands.
Bosio, Seattle's starter that day, left the fracas with a broken collarbone. Charlton was bloodied after a few different scuffles. Orioles pitcher Mark Williamson dealt with a busted nose.
I was 17 at the time, and I loved it.
But it didn't take long for me to realize how ridiculous the whole thing was from start to finish.
(Watching it again thanks to YouTube, and other baseball brawls like it, is enough to make you wonder what's wrong with us as a society.)
Let's say Haselman runs out and lands a punch to Mussina's jaw. Maybe the Orioles are without one of their top starters for 6-8 weeks, or the rest of the season.
Or perhaps other players get hurt during the melee.
Think Orioles fans would have been pleased had Cal Ripken's wrenched knee suffered during the brawl ended his consecutive games played streak? What if Baltimore, which finished 85-77 that year, had played better down the stretch and just missed winning the AL East?
No doubt players missing because of suspensions stemming from the fight could have been looked upon as a big reason why.
Which brings us to Tuesday night's rumble between Machado and Ventura. Kansas City's pitcher didn't take kindly to Machado's admiring what he thought was a home run in the second inning. The fly ball got caught up in a gust of wind and came down for an out, but words and glances were exchanged between the players. This after Ventura forced Machado off the plate with a few inside pitches just before the long fly.
So, naturally, Ventura sought revenge. A 99 mph fastball in Machado's ribs next time up, that should do.
Never mind that was Ventura's hardest-thrown pitch on a night where he allowed no walks in 4 1/3 innings. His command was there; the Orioles were just making contact.
His career flashing before his eyes, Machado did what most young players with a wealth of talent and multi-millions ahead of them would do — he raced (limped, really) toward the mound and delivered a right hand to the side of Ventura's face, then took him to the ground as a pile of people soon joined in.
(Bonus points to Chris Davis for his WWE-style dive into the heap.)
Suspensions will likely be swift, and the Orioles will take a hit without their star player on the field for several games. They're lucky he escaped without getting hurt, and he's not the only one.
Ventura is culpable here and has history of throwing at batters. That alone should be grounds for a stiff penalty — pitchers are the ones with the ball in their hands, after all, and the chance of putting someone in the hospital, or worse, is forever present.
Missing Machado for a week is bad enough; being without an MVP candidate for months would certainly derail a playoff chance, which is legitimate in 2016.
Bench-clearing brawls aren't going away. They're part of baseball's unofficial policy, silly as that might sound. Like the one I was able to witness first-hand in 1993, and the one that went down Tuesday night.
But until steep fines are leveed, or the league somehow makes a statement in dealing with head-hunter pitchers and sluggers pimping home runs, the fights will go on.
Just hope your team's favorite players walk away unscathed.
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