“Wait, the refs just stand there and let them fight?” my wife asked. She was a novice to the sport of hockey.
“Yep,” I answered. “It’s pretty great.”
It is pretty great, and I’m not just saying that because I’m some macho male that likes watching people get pummeled. Truth be told, I don’t. I don’t watch MMA; it’s too gruesome for me. The reason I appreciate how the refs stop the game and let two people settle their differences is because it’s organized chaos.
And baseball should take note.
There’s something about sports that draws out the competitive, animalistic nature of men. A Lutheran pastor serving in Baltimore, who happened to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, told me that he “would slit his throat before becoming a Ravens fan.” I’ve sat next to wholesome church members at games who have burst into refrains of “Ref, you suck!” We’re just fans.
Imagine what it does to players who have their egos bruised in front of millions of spectators.
On Memorial Day, Giants’ pitcher Hunter Strickland and Nationals’ star Bryce Harper showed us exactly what that looks like. In the top of the 8th inning, with the Nats up by two, Strickland hurled a 97-mph at Harper’s hip. Yes, accidents happen, but this was no accident. Harper had done something to offend Strickland… three years ago. He hit two home runs off Strickland. A coach would say that Harper had Strickland’s number. Strickland tossed it, and Harper hit it… really far… twice. And apparently, Strickland never got over it, and so he threw a 97-mph temper tantrum to get Harper back for being a better ball player than him.
When I was a late teen, I played video games a few times with this guy that whenever he lost, he’d get upset, throw the controller, and blame the game for cheating. He was the definition of a poor sport, but at least he didn’t throw a baseball at me.
The problem with baseball is that pitchers always have the upper hand. They hurl a ball 90+mph, and the unsuspecting batter has but a fraction of a second to react. Should the batter wish to charge the mound and retaliate, the pitcher knows the catcher is going to try and stop him, and the other seven fielders behind him will quickly take his back. The batter will be lucky if he gets one or two punches in before being tackled by an entire team. A batter that wants to charge the mound really has to want revenge. The odds are never in his favor. Furthermore, pitchers never experience retaliation for the wrath they inflict. There’s a very important unwritten rule in baseball: you never intentionally hit another pitcher.
Besides being unfair, baseball brawls excessively prolong a game that already tends to drag. As soon as the batter charges that mound, all of the players on the field charge the mound. Everyone in the dugouts charge the mound. Then everyone in the bullpens come pouring onto the field. As soon as it happens, it becomes an excuse for other players to settle old scores for god knows what.
With only four umpires left to sort out a mess involving some sixty testosterone-raging men, the drama can last a long time. Once the brawl settles, the umpires have to figure out who to throw out, they issue warnings, and many times inevitably another pitcher retaliates in a later inning. And we do this all over again.
Hockey fights are a beautiful thing. In an intense, contact sport, officials know that they’re not going to stop players from fighting. Someone is inevitably going to take issue with having their ego checked against the boards. So what they do is allow two people to settle their differences. Think of it as a Canadian version of a dual. Everyone on the ice stays away, everyone on the bench stays on the bench, and the refs circle around two consenting adults, as they throw off their gloves and go to pound town. When one of the fighters falls on the ice, the refs intervene, end the fight, and send the offenders to the penalty box to cool off.
And that’s it. No drama. No bench clearing. No bench coaches settling scores from their playing days. The fight happens, and then it’s over.
What about the accidental, errant pitch, or the pitcher that doesn’t want to fight? Listen, pitches sometimes go awry, and accidents happen. That’s why God gave us the ability to say, “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to do that. Please forgive me.” I know that’s a foreign concept for many ballplayers, but if they don’t want to get a beating, that’s the alternative. As for the pitcher who finds himself on the wrong end of a mound-charging, he can always curl up into a ball and protect his head with the bag of rosin until the umpires intervene. Maybe, just maybe, a rule like this will encourage pitchers to be a little more cautious and refrain from turning a beautiful, stitched, leather baseball into a projectile missile.