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Baseball Fights: A View from the Outfield

At the recent melee between the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels that lasted for some 18 minutes and resulted in 12 suspensions of players and coaches, my seat in left field provided a unique and illuminating perspective on the nature of baseball fights. My take-away is that baseball fights are more symbolic than real.

The bullpens in Angel Stadium are situated side-by-side in left field, just beyond the outfield wall. The visitors’ bullpen is closest to the field, and the Angels’ bullpen is slightly higher. Both bullpens share a narrow set of steps leading to a wide maintenance and vehicle outlet and onto the field. For the duration of the game relief pitchers, bullpen catchers, and coaches coexist in very close proximity. This shared, tight space prohibits secrecy and privacy.

Prior to the fight, I found it quite fascinating to watch the starting pitchers throw their warm-up tosses and generally observe the interactions of players and coaches. My seat was close enough for me to hear some of the conversations, and I enjoyed estimating the age of players and coaches since I could see their faces so well. I could smell the players’ sunscreen and I could easily see the presence and degree of their facial hair.

Soon after the second-inning melee erupted near home plate and dugout benches emptied, the bullpens rushed onto the field as well. Baseball fans are very familiar with the sight of bullpen players and coaches streaming onto the field during such altercations to render support and assistance to their respective teams. It is a tradition.

What struck me on this occasion, made possible by my left field seat, was the manner in which both teams politely shared the bullpen steps. Each team’s players and coaches took their turns going down the steps and carefully refrained from cutting, elbowing, or crowding. The unspoken courtesy was striking: You first. No You. I insist. Yes, the players and coaches were rushing, but their urgency was polite and accommodating to their opponents.

I was also intrigued by the spectacle of players and coaches running side-by-side contentedly and harmoniously for some 100 yards before becoming active participants in the fracas. Another baseball tradition on display. The understood agreement is: I won’t square off against you, begin throwing punches, or try to restrain you until we relocate to the immediate scene of the fight. We’ll share space and run together in peace and calm for as long as necessary before we transform into combatants.

A week after the melee, I’m still fascinated by the display of tradition and symbolism that my front-row seat afforded me. When the bullpen players and coaches reached the altercation, most of them played the role of peacemaker rather than warrior. Their mission was largely symbolic and centered on limiting the actual fighting and re-establishing peace.

Yes, some players were intensely throwing punches, lobbing haymakers, jostling for position, and wrestling opponents to the ground. But most players were attempting to de-escalate the conflict by separating players, pleading for stoppage, clearing territory of bodies, and holding players back from direct physical attack.

After the fighting stopped, it was equally fascinating to witness the bullpen players and coaches from both teams walk together back to the shared steps and bullpen space, with matching politeness and accommodation.

Tradition and symbolism are powerful forces.



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