The Anatomy of a Baseball Brawl

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Baseball brawls are like bad porn: They all begin in similar fashion, they all tend to escalate identically, and they typically climax in exactly the same way. And if you've seen one, you've seen them all.

On the totem pole of tough athletes, baseball players, fair or not, are stereotypically near the bottom. They're simply not known to play through horrific injuries like broken bones and debilitating cases of the flu. They have been known to miss games for less-than-rugged injuries — Wade Boggs once missed a week when he pulled his back out putting on a pair of cowboy boots, and Ken Griffey Jr. sat out one game after one getting a testicle pinched by his protective cup. Rickey Henderson supposedly missed a few games because of frostbite. In August.

So when a baseball brawl breaks out, it gets our attention. For that matter, two guys beef at a bar, or even a scrap on the playground has the ability to stop traffic. But when MLB players clash, it is a memorable event, first, because it doesn't really happen that often, and second, because Americans are attracted to violence the same way mosquitos can't resist the allure of a bug zapper.


The Kansas City Royals fought the Chicago White Sox this week in the first major skirmish of the 2015 season and the bench-clearing brawl had all the hallmarks of a garden-variety baseball fight. Here, then, are the seven signature elements of a baseball brawl:

1. The incident
World Wars have boiled down to a singular infraction, and baseball brawls are no different. Typically one player or team violates one of the many unwritten rules of baseball, such as showing up the opposing team, excessively celebrating a home run, sliding too hard into a base, or throwing dangerously high and tight against an opposing batter. There is street justice in baseball, and if you don't act right, there's a good chance you'll get nailed by a vigilante pitcher. In the 1960s, Stan Williams reportedly kept a hit list in his cap of guys he planned to drill.

2. The retaliation
Virtually all baseball brawls escalate when said incident is answered with retaliation, which usually comes in the form of a beanball. Sometimes, like last week's game between the A's and Royals, rather than a brawl, a beanball war will break out with each team harnessing their inner Chris Kyle to pick off opponents one-by-one. Often though, plunking players quickly leads to a flat-out brawl.

3. The reaction
Getting hit by a pitch hurts. A lot. Most guys shake it off. Sometimes it happens by accident. Sometimes, when it's on purpose, a skilled pitcher will aim for a safe spot to drill an opposing batter. This is in recognition of the laws of baseball justice they expect to be meted out. But when a payback pitch is misplaced, or comes dangerously close to getting a guy in the head, or maybe in his back, which really stings, tempers have a tendency to flare up. When this happens, you can expect an exchange of words, some animated talk between the batter's box and the mound, an occasional gesture (often involving the crotch), and then men spilling out of the dugouts. When a guy is really ticked, either for the placement of the plunking or the logic behind it, you have the ingredients of a basic baseball brawl.

4. The charge
Virtually every baseball brawl in the game's history will begin when the batter charges the mound. Sometimes he takes his time. Other times he'll sprint wildly. Sometimes he'll take out the catcher first. Included in this opening attack is the trademark batting helmet throw, or sometimes the pitcher will toss his glove at the approaching combatant. If you've seen one of these, you've seen them all. Occasionally the pitcher will be a tough guy and will wave on his attacker, welcoming him into a world of pain. Perhaps the best example of charging the mound gone wrong is when Robin Ventura made the horrible mistake of going after Nolan Ryan, who was tougher than most baseball players. Ryan once missed a game for reportedly getting bitten by a coyote. Ryan ultimately kicked Ventura's ass and has spent the decades since signing autographs on the iconic picture of his triumph.

5. Here comes the cavalry
Unlike hockey fights, baseball brawls tend to involve entire teams. This always happens. While coming off the bench to get involved in a fracas comes with an automatic ejection and suspension in every other sport, clearing benches is a staple of baseball fights.

6. Ultimately, baseball brawls tend to be a safe place
Rarely are baseball brawls actual fist-flying fight situations. Most of the time there is a great deal of wrestling, pushing, and shoving. Haymakers? Knockout punches? Not so much (which is part of the reason Ryan's beating of Ventura stands out). Occasionally, though, a baseball brawl will feature actual punches thrown, and when that happens, you’ve got yourself something special.

7. "Play ball!"
Eventually the men go back to their corners, people are thrown out, line-up cards are shuffled, the beat goes on, and all is right with the world. Until, of course, the two teams meet again in July and the one reliever who didn't get his punches in decides to plunk the next batter. Then we're back to square one.