Street fightin' men

by Chris Haffenreffer | 4/25/00 5:00am

Saturday evening, several friends and I were sitting in my dorm room watching a muted "Sportscenter" on ESPN (yes, I have cable in my room) as the stereo was turned up, and probably irritating the guy next door. Some of us were paying attention to the TV while others were off doing something else. Stanley Cup highlights came on. Nobody stirred. Recaps of NBA games didn't grab anyone's attention. Highlights of the Cards-Rockies game caught my attention because I'm from St. Louis, but no one else really cared.

Finally, highlights of the Detroit Tigers " Chicago White Sox game came on "Sportscenter," and the music was turned down while all eyes were on the TV. Why? Well, it's rather simple -- there were two significant brawls in that game, and unlike most bench clearing brawls in baseball, punches were actually landed in these fights.

ESPN paused one scene where both benches were completely cleared, and there was absolute chaos on the field. They put a spot shadow on one of the Tigers (I forget exactly who it was), played the tape, and the player decked White Sox reliever Keith Foulke, who was escorted off the field while his face is covered with blood. All of us in my room could not believe what we were seeing.

In the sixth inning Detroit pitcher Jeff Weaver hit Carlos Lee with a pitch, and Lee began yelling at Weaver as he made his way to first base. White Sox pitcher Jim Parque then hit Dean Palmer in the arm with his first pitch. Palmer charged the mound and threw his helmet at Parque. The benches cleared, and the violent brawl moved into shallow right field.

"Whoever did something we felt was not normal pushing and shoving," said crew chief Jerry Crawford, "We decided to do something."

Magglio Ordonez was ejected for kicking. Rob Fick taunted fans who then doused him with beer.

In the ninth, Sox reliever Tanyon Sturtze was tossed after hitting Deivi Cruz with a pitch, but the benches managed to stay calm. However, later in the inning, White Sox pitcher Bobby Howry hit Shane Halter, and the benches cleared again. The brawl lasted five minutes, and after emotions calmed eleven players were ejected. Five Tigers and six White Sox were sent to the dressing room.

After watching this, my common sense tells me that brawls such as these are a travesty to the refined sport of baseball. These are grown men acting like children, and there is absolutely no place for violence in sports. While the rest of our society and the rest of our professional athletes are castigated for retaliation, baseball players are cheered on as they race towards the mound. As a human being this is what I should be thinking.

However, I am going to have to overrule my common sense in this case and think as an athlete. The bench-clearing brawl is a significant and important facet of the game of baseball.

Umpire Jerry Crawford said after the Tigers - White Sox brawl,"[The fight] was a good one. It was what you'd expect from two competing ballclubs who were protecting their territories."

The brawl reaffirms the team as a single unit, and to know that there are 25-plus other players who will stand behind you in a confrontation is significantly positive. The single act of charging from home plate to the pitcher's mound where six members of the opposing team immediately surround you is in itself an act of dependence on the rest of your team. In an era of sports when the focus of the game is on the individual rather than the team, the brawl is one of the few unifying aspects of baseball.

If that is what it takes to reaffirm the team -- even temporarily --over the individual, then I'll take it any day over common sense, because common sense in sports has been abandoned for years.