Former big leaguer Doug Glanville had an another installment in his New York Times series about life in baseball. His latest subject was retaliation in baseball and fights.
The major leagues also had its share of comedy. Take the fight I was in with the Atlanta Braves, when I was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the course of a week, my teammate Paul Byrd, a pitcher, had unintentionally hit Braves catcher Eddie Perez not once but twice in the back.
Perez and Byrd had once been teammates (and Bible study partners), but Perez had apparently left forgiveness at the door. When Byrd stepped up to the plate for his next at-bat, Perez hit him and then jumped him. Since I was on-deck and the closest player to the fray, I ran over to pry them apart.
The next thing I knew, I was at the bottom of a pile of players, my legs trapped, spikes barely missing my various body parts. The Braves’ Ozzie Guillen evidently decided that the best way to get out of the pile was to pull me out by the head. I had a stiff neck for three days.
What I found interesting was that instead of Perez and Byrd ripping each other’s hair out, they were locked together in a protective embrace, apologizing and praying to get out of this mass of humanity. Everyone within earshot was wondering why we all risked physical harm for a séance.
There are a lot of unwritten rules in the game of baseball that you tacitly accept when you put on the uniform. When one of those is broken, there is yet another unwritten rule of retaliation. If you steal a base when you’re ahead by a lot of runs late in the game, one of your teammates will get drilled by a pitch in the back. If you take too much time to enjoy a home run you hit, either you or a teammate will get drilled by a pitch in the back. If you make too hard a slide into a base and almost hurt your opponent, a teammate may get drilled by a pitch in the back. If you dare do anything to hurt the opposing team’s pitcher, with or without intent, you might as well break out the boxing gloves. And if he is “the ace” of their team — Armageddon. Because the pitcher has the right to act as instigator, enforcer or retaliator, he is the key to how the sentencing is brought down. Therefore the little, stitched white ball in his hand delivers the verdict on behalf of judge, jury and executioner.
These rules, and others (they too numerous to list), when broken, eventually result in a brawl. It may not happen that same day, because the grudge-holding nature of the game has no statute of limitations. According to my unfinished business archive, I still owe Hideki Irabu for hitting me in the back with the first pitch of the game in Yankee Stadium nine years ago. Since we are both retired I may have to exact revenge in some Best Buy parking lot.
Actually Irabu hit Glanville in the back close to 10 years ago.