I always find that beef between players is always a lot of fun to watch, both for avid fans and casual watchers alike. “Go get it out of the ocean” is an absolute classic. Fernando Tatis Jr. admiring his grand slam against the Rangers was beautiful. I want to see some emotion and drama in my games, unwritten rules be darned!
But when those emotions start to boil over, we get a rare but beautiful occurrence: the bench brawl. A good ol’ punch to the opposing player—followed by a whole bunch of pushing and shoving by every player, manager, and trainer on both teams—is a good way to break up the sometimes monotonous procession of strikeouts, home runs, and walks.
Unfortunately, with the 2020 rules discouraging players from spending too much time with opposing players (for good reason), the brawls were taken from us fans, much to my dismay. I hope that as we return to a mostly COVID-free world, players will be more encouraged to throw a haymaker or two at their rival when the time is right.
For now, though, here is my completely and undeniably official ranking of the top five fights in MLB history.
1. Bert Campaneris uses his bat creatively
Good god, Bert, don’t you know that throwing your bat can really hurt someone? This “fight” was unfortunately short-lived (it’s not really a fight at all), but very entertaining nonetheless, which is why it was included. Campy did this during the 1972 ALCS, so he had to have been really mad to throw his bat in such an important game. Bonus: Campaneris threw his bat at RHP Lerrin LaGrow, who was making the only postseason appearance of his career. LaGrow was ejected following this play and then would never pitch in the playoffs again. However, LaGrow was part of the 1980 World Series champion Phillies squad, so he would get his ring later.
2. It is NOT a Pirate’s life for the Reds
The Pirates and Reds actually “threw down” twice in the 2019 season. The first incident was in April 2019, with Garrett’s teammate Yasiel Puig doing most of the heavy lifting in the fight department. In the April incident, Derek Dietrich took his time to admire a HR off of Chris Archer and Archer took exception. Archer threw at Dietrich and the benches cleared. But Puig took special exception and tried to fight the Pirates by himself:
Hang this in the Louvre. pic.twitter.com/2ArAXSEOqf
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 7, 2019
The second incident took place on July 30, 2019. Puig had been traded in the middle of the game. The Pirates were blowing out the Reds and Amir Garrett had just given up a couple of runs in a bad outing. So, we had ourselves another Pirates/Reds tussle. You have to admire Garrett’s gall (or don’t, I’m not your mother), as he walked by himself to the Pirates’ dugout after discussing strategy with his catcher and pitching coach on the mound. Garrett landed a heck of a punch at the start, too. There are a couple of problems I have with this fight, the first being that the announcer says “this is not a good scene,” as Garrett gets into the mass of Pirates players, as if the audience doesn’t want to see something fun happen during an 11-3 blowout. That, and there is just too much shoving and standing around by people not named Garrett, Puig, or Bell. We need action, not shoving!
3. Chan Ho Park with an all-time great kick
Holy cow, Chan Ho Park! Have some mercy on Tim Belcher. Most baseball players choose to use their fists, and probably for good reason, since one kick like Park’s takes you out of the running. I mean, he’s leaving himself defenseless after that beauty of a kick. And, after Belcher shakes off nearly being kicked in the face, it’s open season on Park, who has fallen on the ground and is defenseless against Belcher’s punches. The only reason this didn’t make the list is that Belcher didn’t have a chance to throw any real retaliatory punches. A fight has to have some action from both sides to be a real fight. A little bit of irony: if you look in the background, you will see an advertisement on the wall with Mike Scioscia’s face on it, who would become the Angels’ manager the following year.
4. Bryce Harper is on the Hunt for Strickland
This one just missed out on the list, if only because the fight between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland lasted for only a few punches. I really wish they would let the players go at it and throw as many punches as they can handle, like the referees do in the NHL.
I remember this fight not for the commotion or the punches thrown, but for Harper’s errant helmet throw prior to the brawl. I have always wondered, “Did Bryce Harper mean to throw the helmet at Hunter Strickland and miss?” He’s a professional baseball player; it is literally his job to throw things at a target, so maybe not. But, I also wonder whether Harper could have lightly tossed the helmet off to the side of the mound or something before attacking Strickland. He seems to be wasting valuable rage and energy by throwing the helmet off to the side. He could have saved energy (and even punching time!) by simply tossing the helmet, instead of winding up to throw it. Or, maybe it was a form of purposeful intimidation? Strickland definitely starts to flinch when he sees Harper wind his arm up, so maybe Harper held onto the helmet for dramatic effect.
Bonus: In the ensuing “brawl,” Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija was charging the mound but Giants teammate Michael Morse stepped in to keep him from ripping Harper’s head off. Samardzija threw a punch, but Morse got in the way, causing Morse to get a concussion, which would end his career.
Now, onto the top five!
#5: Don’t Hit Tino Martinez
I’m not sure Armando Benítez really knew what he and his team were about to get into when he drilled Tino Martinez in May of 1998. The benches clear slowly, which gives off the impression that it’s just going to be a stand-off until the umpires step in. Finally, as both teams gather at the mound, hot tempers prevail and the beautiful panic ensues. This series of fights (as part of a larger brawl) is so long that it simply will not fit in GIF form. For me, the sheer number of fights that break out make this one an instant classic. Some of the highlights of this fight (found here in its full glory on YouTube):
- A younger Joe Girardi getting ready to throw hands (1:04).
- The umpires giving up on breaking the fight (2:09). They do not get paid enough to stop full-on brawls.
- Graeme Lloyd running out from the bullpen (0:32, but a better angle is at 4:57) to start the fracas.
#4: A-Rod Takes Offense
Alex Rodriguez had some choice words for Bronson Arroyo and the Red Sox in July of 2004. I wonder what he was saying when Jason Varitek was trying to keep him from charging at Arroyo? The thing that makes this brawl so good is that—in addition to Rodriguez’s tirade before the fight—there really are punches being thrown here, as opposed to mostly pushing and shoving. A lot of the “fights” in MLB just have a lot of pushing and shoving and in my mind, that disqualifies them from being considered true “brawls.”
My one question is… why did Varitek keep his mask on at the beginning? If he had taken the mask off, it would have been a fairer fight. Instead, Rodriguez has to try to not break his fingers punching Varitek’s gear. The mask eventually comes off, but it starts out as an uneven fight between Rodriguez and Varitek. There were legitimate injuries as a result of this brawl (not seen in the GIF), too. Tanyon Sturtze and Gabe Kapler (yep, that Gabe Kapler) squared off – with the help of Trot Nixon – and Sturtze ended up bleeding from his forehead. Additionally, some attribute this brawl and the game’s dramatic ending to be the spark that eventually drove the Red Sox to close the gap in the American League East race. And, Varitek and Co. were able to get a little bit of revenge a few months later in October, which added some significance to this classic fight for me.
#3: Robin Ventura Gets a Noogie
You should know better than to challenge Nolan Ryan to a fight, even if it’s 46 year-old Nolan Ryan. The “Ryan Express” threw so hard that his pitches would sometimes break his catchers’ bones. So, why in the world would you want to charge at him?
Ironically, Ventura had apparently given a speech that very same day to the U.S. Junior Olympic baseball team about the importance of sportsmanship. Yet, Ventura had also told his teammates before the game that if he was hit by a ball, he would charge the mound in retaliation no matter who was pitching. Prior to Ventura’s second at-bat, he had driven in a run to put the White Sox up 1-0. Then, White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez hit Rangers player Juan González, so Ryan was looking to get a little vengeance on the Sox.
Unfortunately for Ventura, Ryan got a little vengeance and then some. Ryan gets six punches right to Ventura’s head before Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez is able to pull the two of them apart. Ventura was ejected following the fight, but Ryan was curiously allowed to continue pitching because he “did not move much from his spot on the mound.” White Sox manager Gene Lamont smelled some bologna in the umpire’s decision and argued with the blue, leading to his own ejection as well. And, Ryan was able to continue pitching, holding the Sox hitless after the incident.
One of the fans in attendance during this game was young Paul Konerko, who apparently found himself respecting Ventura even more after the brawl.
#2: Bautista Smells an Odor Most Foul
This is my favorite MLBeef of the last decade. This fairly short-lived rivalry opened with Odor scoring the go-ahead run on a suspect call from the home plate umpire and essentially concluded with some very intriguing suspension terms, but in between those, there were a few haymakers landed, a comedy of errors, the loudest crowd reaction I have ever heard, the greatest bat flip of all time, and a killer quote: “I’d rather be punched in May than knocked out in October.”
Bautista’s bat flip made all kinds of baseball purists/traditionalists mad (an instant win, in my book), plus it became a “celebration” in EA’s NHL 17, a win for hockey/baseball enthusiasts like myself. But most importantly, it made Odor really mad. And, it set the stage for a heck of a brawl:
Odor landed one of the best punches in MLBrawl history right there. It was so good there were T-shirts made out of Odor’s fist connecting with Bautista’s face. The punch would have gotten this brawl on the top five list alone because it is so rare to land such a good punch in such good view of the camera. But the reason it’s slotted above the Ventura/Ryan “classic” was the history behind the brawl. There are no other fights with such a combination of such emotion, beef history, and good punches.
#1: The Game That Wouldn’t End
This is the brawl-iest of the brawls. The Big Kahuna. Why?
17 players and managers were ejected. Players were sent to their clubhouses and were not allowed to sit in their respective dugouts for the rest of the game. Policemen were positioned at both dugouts. Five fans were arrested, too. Why were so many players and managers ejected? Because there were multiple brawls over the course of the game.
It began on August 11, 1984, as the San Diego Padres were visiting Atlanta. On the 11th, Padres second baseman Alan Wiggins had attempted to bunt for a hit multiple times. Atlanta’s Pascual Pérez was sitting in the first-base dugout, charting pitches, when he began yelling at Wiggins to “swing the bat” instead of trying to bunt. It started a yelling match, but ended before any serious shenanigans could take place.
On August 12th, in the final game of the series, Wiggins was the leadoff hitter and squared off against Pérez in the first inning. Pérez drilled Wiggins in retaliation for their verbal sparring match the day before. Wiggins took the HBP and there were still no shenanigans. Pérez came up to bat in the bottom of the second inning, with Atlanta leading 2-0, and San Diego’s Ed Whitson tried to hit Pérez but missed. Both teams were given a warning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Whitson tried to hit Pérez three different times. Whitson was ejected. Padres manager Dick Williams was ejected. Taking over on the mound for San Diego was Greg Booker and in the dugout, Ozzie Virgil Sr., became acting manager for Williams.
In the top of the sixth, with the Padres batting, Booker and Virgil were both ejected. Jack Krol took over as acting manager of the Padres for Krol. Greg Harris took over as the third pitcher of the game for the Padres. For two more innings, everything went smoothly. The running total, after seven and a half innings, was four ejections.
In the bottom of the eighth, pitcher Craig Lefferts took over for Harris. The second batter of the inning was none other than Pascual Pérez. Lefferts beaned Pérez and the benches cleared.
Lefferts, Krol, and Padres first baseman Champ Summers were all ejected. Summers was not playing in the game but had left the team’s bench to attack Pérez on the field during the ensuing scrum. After the brawl was over, Padres left fielder Bobby Brown was ejected, as were three Braves pitchers (Gerald Perry, Rick Mahler, and Steve Bedrosian (father of current major leaguer Cam Bedrosian)) who had run from the dugout and the bullpen to take part in the melee. After the brawl, Atlanta led 5-1 on the scoreboard and San Diego led 8-3 in ejections.
Donnie Moore took over as pitcher for Atlanta in the top of the ninth. Moore needed just three outs, but he hit the first batter he faced, Graig Nettles—and so it began again. Moore was ejected. Atlanta manager Joe Torre—who had been warned way back in the second inning by the umpires—was ejected.
Nettles was ejected for charging the mound after being hit. Tim Flannery was thrown out for leaving the bench to join the fray. Ironically, Flannery could not re-enter the game anyways, as he had been taken out of the game earlier after pinch hitting. Goose Gossage, who was likely not going to pitch again after retiring Atlanta’s hitters in the bottom of the eighth but had joined the brawl, was ejected.
Elsewhere, San Diego’s Kurt Bevacqua, who was standing in the dugout prior to the donnybrook, was hit by a fan’s beer in the ensuing chaos and charged into the stands to exact revenge. Bevacqua was ejected, too. If you are keeping score, that brought the ejections up to 12 for San Diego and five for Atlanta. The umpire curiously decided to have the rest of the game play out instead of having San Diego forfeit, because it would “reward Atlanta, who had been the instigators of the fight.”
The Padres appointed their fourth manager of the day, bullpen coach Harry Dunlop, who ended the game as the acting manager. Pascual Pérez and Alan Wiggins were never tossed from the game, despite creating the feud that would spark the ensuing brawls.
Nothing will ever live up to this set of brawls. No other game will ever come close in the amount of drama or volume of punches thrown by San Diego and Atlanta players. Nice try, Odor and Bautista.