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Baseball can no longer accept that fighting is a part of the game

After the destructive brawl between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks on Tuesday, major league officials need to make the penalties much harsher on those involved.

June 12, 2013|Bill Plaschke
  • Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire escorts right fielder Yasiel Puig away from the fighting after a bench-clearing brawl erupted after pitcher Zack Greinke was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning on Tuesday.
Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire escorts right fielder Yasiel Puig away… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

In the wake of Tuesday night's street fight at Chavez Ravine, longtime fan Janet Ochoa sent the Dodgers an email.

"You should be ashamed of yourself for your bench-clearing brawls," it read. "Thanks for ruining what used to be fun family time."

Her message was given a prompt response from Brett A. Searson, Dodgers coordinator of fan services.

"While we wish what had transpired on the field last night had not occurred, it has always been a part of the game," he wrote.

That answer is not good enough anymore. It's been a common excuse offered by baseball executives to explain the game's increasing violence, but it's simply not good enough anymore.

In an era of high salaries and impossible ticket prices, athletes interrupting play to engage in bench-clearing brawls over perceived slights and ambiguous rules is selfish, dangerous and dumb. Teams should apologize to fans who have to witness it. Baseball should join other leagues in creating rules to prevent it.

You liked how the Dodgers showed teamwork and fight in pounding the Diamondbacks along their dugout rail? Then you could not complain when Wednesday's lineup did not include sensation Yasiel Puig. He went into a rage during the fracas and was sidelined with what the team described as a sore shoulder.

On Tuesday, a cool fight! On Wednesday, Jerry Hairston Jr. batting cleanup!

You also liked how the Dodgers were "protecting" Puig from what everyone agrees was a slipped pitch from the Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy? Then you won't mind that this protection will cost them suspensions that could — and probably should — include the same guy they were trying to protect.

"It's stupid," Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said Wednesday. "Can we just play ball?"

Howell was in the center of the mess when he punched Diamondbacks coach Turner Ward and nearly flipped him into the camera well next to the dugout. A day later, he seemed to realize how awful he looked, sprinting in from the bullpen to fight a stranger over a bad toss.

"It's silly, you know?" he said. "It's a bunch of grown men doing silly things. It's too bad, really."

What's really silly is that, if the same sequence of pitches occurred next week, or next month, it appears the Dodgers would clear their dugout again. After participating in two of baseball's most destructive brawls this season, they seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between fighting and fight.

The irony of Tuesday's brawl is that it was precipitated by the same basic play that started their fight two months ago in San Diego. Yet against the Padres, the Dodgers claimed innocence while against the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers charged guilt.

In both cases, a pitcher unintentionally lost a pitch. In San Diego, Greinke hit Carlos Quentin in the shoulder, while here, Kennedy hit Puig in the face.

The Dodgers claimed that Quentin was wrong to charge the mound but steadfastly defended their right to retaliate against the Diamondbacks.

"Do I think Kennedy hit Puig on purpose? No, I don't," said the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. "But the fact that he's a professional pitcher and throwing at faces? ... You can't throw by the face, you can't go there."

But if Kennedy just lost the pitch, where does it matter how he lost it?

And surely Kennedy can't be faulted for pitching inside to a batter who has reached base one out of every two times in his young career.

In earlier times, a hot kid like Puig would expect to be dusted back, and if the ball veered into his face, it was bad luck, not evil intentions. His teammates wouldn't have ordered retaliation, but welcomed him to the big leagues.

"Kirk Gibson said they were making a statement going in on him ... but going in on his face is a whole other statement," Howell said of the manager of the Diamondbacks.

If you can accept that Greinke felt he had to retaliate or lose the respect of the clubhouse — a sadly understandable notion — then the ruckus should have been over in the next inning when Greinke hit Miguel Montero in the back.

But — get this — the Diamondbacks were mad because Greinke required four pitches to hit him when one is considered acceptable.

"That's being upset with the umpire," said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly about the Diamondbacks' anger. "If you're mad at the umpire, go throw at the umpire."

This whole thing is ridiculous. The questioning appropriately ended Tuesday with the biggest figure in the brawl — who can forget the sight of an angry Mark McGwire grabbing Gibson and Matt Williams? — running off the field after batting practice refusing to explain his actions.

"I believe Donnie's pretty much covered all that," said McGwire. "We don't have to talk about that."

Oh yes, we do. There needs to be a discussion about why baseball is the only sport that allows players to leave the bench to brawl.

The NBA issues immediate suspensions. Even hockey imposes strict penalties.

If a hitter and a pitcher have a problem, then the two men should fight and everyone else who dares interrupt should be suspended for a week. That would stop the brawling like, right now.

"This is not something we should sit here and say we're proud of," said Mattingly. "I'm sure the rules are eventually going to change, I'm sure [baseball officials] don't want to see this."

Yet Mattingly also warned that there is more bad blood here yet to be spilled.

"Obviously, anything like that is going to leave a lot of tastes in people's mouths," said Mattingly. "If you really want to be technical about it, in baseball terms, it really shouldn't be over."

Please. In common-sense terms, it never should have started.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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