Are You Ready to Rumble?

This is an article that was originally published on

In light of the skirmish in Seattle, HardRock Sports columnist Scott A. Ham takes a look at the ethics of baseball and the sometimes harrowing results.

Friday night saw yet another Major League Base-brawl break out, this time between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners.   The fight was billed as Yanks-Mariners III: The Battle in Seattle, with Don King over-looking the umpires and cable revenues.  The proceedings took on a bit of a festive demeanor when it was realized this was the first brawl in Safeco Field’s history, prompting a mid-inning ceremony and the distribution of little patches for the player’s uniforms.
In all seriousness, the fight that broke out in the eighth inning was as ridiculous as it was familiar.  The scuffle started when Yankee pitcher Jason Grimsley gave up a three-run tater to ARod, cutting the Yankees’ lead to three, 11 – 8.  Edgar Martinez stepped to the plate and Grimley immediately let one fly under his chin.  Martinez backed out of the way and was promptly plunked on the left bicep with the next pitch. Home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, the senior umpire on duty with a whopping 3 years service under his belt, wasted no time in ejecting Grimsley from the game without a warning. Standard procedure for this situation says that Cederstrom should have then issued a warning to both teams, stating any intentional beanings would result in an automatic ejection. Cederstrom didn’t do that.
Cut to the top of the ninth.  Chuck Knoblauch steps to the plate with Frankie Rodriguez on the mound.  Rodriguez, the pitcher that started another bench-clearing brawl in L.A. on July 11th, hits Knoblauch on the hip.  Knobby walked off to first as Cederstrom approached the mound, asking Rodriguez if he was throwing at Knoblauch.  Frankie obviously answered no, prompting the Yankee bench to yell at the ump for not taking the proper steps and ejecting Rodriguez for the obvious retaliation.  Frankie didn’t appreciate this, charged Joe Girardi who stood on the on-deck circle, and Friday Night at the Fights kicked into high gear.
Does any of this sound familiar?  This same exact scenario has spurred hundreds of brawls, most of them violent looking and later coined “bad for baseball” by some late night sports anchor.  There’s no doubting these incidents are ugly, but you have to wonder just how bad they are for baseball.  Fans love the big brawl, players actively participate in them, and pitchers constantly put themselves in the position to start them. If bench-clearing brawls are so bad for baseball, why does everyone seem to be such willing participants? Are people worried that the mass of messy, uncontrolled, and often ineffective violence witnessed on a ball field during one of these impromptu Wrestlemanias is going to have an adverse effect on the young viewer at home?  
Baseball is rather unique in the realm of team sports in that it is truly “no contact.” Basketball isn’t supposed to be a contact sport in the way football is, but it is very physical and features such interesting terms as “flagrant fouls.”  Hockey is a sport that allows two individuals to openly fight until someone either hits the ice or is incapable of defending themselves. Your punishment?  You get to sit in a box and lick your wounds for five minutes then go out and pay the guy back who decked you.  Football is just football, a sport designed on physical clashes where the main goal of the defense is to put people on the ground.
Not baseball. In baseball, it’s possible to play a complete game without two players ever coming into contact with each other. The entire interaction revolves around a little leather and thread ball that’s thrown, caught, and beaten with long pieces of lumber.  Since it is the only connection between a pitcher and batter, the ball also serves as a weapon that can be wielded unexpectedly and with very dangerous results.  The ethics of baseball have been so refined that there are times when it is actually acceptable to strike a player with a baseball and they have to accept it.
Does this make any sense?  Can you truly call it “baseball ethics” when it involves striking someone with a hard ball thrown at 90 miles per hour?  For a sport that has built itself on the lack of contact and violence between it’s participants, baseball has found a strange and dangerous method to invoke the social ethics that underlie the game, so much so that to violate these ethics can lead to bench-clearing brawls between teams.  
Ballplayers will tell you that these “ethics” are necessary to the game.  After all, the possibility is there for a pitcher to take a shot at injuring anyone on the opposing team and with the designated hitter in the American League, that same pitcher is guaranteed to never receive the same treatment.  Oftentimes, as in the Mariners game detailed above, when a pitcher retaliates against the other team, he is said to be protecting his players.  If a pitcher doesn’t stand up and retaliate, players become irate and claim they’re not being defended and are somehow weaker to the other team.  To take abuse from an opposing pitcher without retaliation denotes a lack of respect from the opposition and a frail, less competitive attitude from the victims.  This in turn, I assume, leads to more losses or else nobody would care, right?
Who knows. These ethics do have their place in baseball but there are instances when the dangerous nature of their implementation have to make you wonder.  
Take the case of Ben Christensen, the Wichita State pitcher who was chosen first in the draft this year by the Chicago Cubs.  Christensen is a top-flight right-handed prospect who throws really hard and was ranked among the top collegiate pitchers.  He is also responsible for ending another player’s career.
On April 23rd of this year, Christensen was warming up on the mound, preparing to face the University of Evansville.  Anthony Molina waited on the on-deck circle to lead off the game. Apparently, Christensen felt Molina was too close to home plate and was timing his pitches, so he let a ball fly thirty feet away from home plate towards Molina.  The ball struck Molina above the left eye, giving him a one-inch gash and permanent vision damage.  All of this before the game even started.
After the game, Christensen and his coaches were confrontational and even accusatory, saying Christensen had acted correctly.  The coaches later rescinded these remarks and Christensen has repeatedly apologized to Molina, but to no avail.  In the end, Christensen has himself a contract with the Chicago Cubs and Molina is left with a weakened eye and the thoughts of a baseball career that could have been, all because of the supposed ethics of the game.  I also find it hard to believe that if Molina actually was timing the pitches, he wouldn’t have seen the ball approaching him before he was hit.  Molina would have to be watching Christensen throw in order to time him, yet when he gets hit, he never sees the ball coming.  
Players and people within baseball have actually stated that what Christensen did, in theory, was in line with the proper ethical actions.  According to them, if Molina was timing pitches, that was a big no-no and Christensen had every right to brush him back.  The fact that he lost control of the ball and permanently injured another player is simply a terrible accident.
Terrible accidents shouldn’t be given the opportunity to occur.  Any action, regardless of the ethical or moral standards it is used to uphold, should not be so extreme that it can end a player’s career. I think it’s time to take a long hard look at the way the personal side of the game of baseball is handled, especially with the effects trickling down to the college game.

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