While the weather outside might indicate differently, it is still spring. Yes, I know most people say Memorial Day is the start of summer and, as I said earlier, I know that (at least where I live) it is plenty hot. But summer does not officially start until June 20, so we are in the closing days of the spring season. I don’t know why I mention this, other than it works into the title.
I am guessing you saw Washington National’s Bryce Harper fight with San Francisco Giant Hunter Strickland this past weekend. It was pretty hard to miss. The fight started after Strickland hit Harper with a pitch. Harper charged the mound and attempted to throw his helmet at Strickland before punching him. The helmet fling was a pretty miserable one. But it happened. During spring. So, there you go.
I don’t know what to make of fighting in baseball. If I’m being honest, fighting is one of my favorite parts of the NHL. Of course, it is also done in a much more orderly manner. In hockey, two guys drop their gloves and grab onto each other for a while. Sometimes one of them lands some punches. Sometimes they both do. In even rarer occasions, one of them knocks the other guy to the ice and then the referees stop the fight and send both players off to the penalty box. It does not appear anyone ever really gets hurt in a hockey fight, but it always gets the crowd worked up, and some even claim it can serve to inspire the teams to play better. At least in the short term I suppose this is true. I am sure it gets their adrenaline up anyway.
This is never the case in baseball. In a baseball fight, most of the players run onto the field. There are often two or three hot spots where guys are wrestling around, acting like they really want to kill the other guy. Often, guys like Buster Posey or Clayton Kershaw just ignore the fact the fight is happening at all and will either go back to the dugout or, in Kershaw’s case, just walk right through a scuffle so he can get back to the mound and prepare for the next inning. Baseball fights are big, ugly messes and the game is probably better off without them.
When people talk about doing away with fighting in hockey, those who oppose the idea always say it is a traditional part of the game. No one ever says that about baseball. But they would be right if they did. Ty Cobb fought other players. So did Juan Marichal, Pete Rose and Nolan Ryan. Heck, even little Pedro Martinez once engaged in a bench-clearing brawl where he famously threw Don Zimmer to the ground. So yeah, it happens. You can’t pretend it doesn’t. But does it need to?
Harper was mad because Strickland hit him in the hip. Supposedly he hit him because of bad blood from the 2014 playoffs. Ideally, Harper would have just taken his base and everyone could have gone on with their lives. That did not happen and while we got his hilariously epic fail of a helmet throw out of it, it did not really need to happen. Because, unlike hockey, there is little point to a baseball fight. Nothing ever gets settled and, in fact, it can often lead to even more guys getting hit and even more unnecessary dustups.
While it is certainly understandable that in the heat of competition a player will take exception to being hit by a pitch, MLB needs to do more to curb the chances of that player charging the mound. Harper was suspended for three games for his part in Sunday’s incident. Strickland got a six-game suspension. I would suggest these numbers need to increase. Take a guy out for 10 or 15 games and maybe he will think twice about charging the mound, or throwing at a hitter. Baseball players need to be on the field playing for the fans, not sitting in the locker room or watching the game on TV.
There is a reason there is no penalty box in baseball. It should not be necessary. Now it’s up to the league to really convey this message. Otherwise, incidents like the one that happened Sunday will become even more a part of the game and I don’t think anyone really wants that.