Let's be honest: baseball's brawls can make for entertaining theater. Who among us hasn't reached for the popcorn as we re-watched video of the infamous Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura noogiefest or Kyle Farnsworth's bodyslam of Jeremy Affeldt? The pleasure may be a guilty one, but it makes for easier revisiting given that aside from their long shelf life as spectacles, the repercussions of those dustups were limited to brief suspensions served by the principals involved.
Thursday night's melee involving Carlos Quentin and Zack Greinke will carry further than that, because the Padres outfielder is expected to receive a significant suspension, and the Dodgers pitcher could miss two months due to a broken left collarbone, a significant blow given L.A.'s status as contenders. Matt Kemp, who was among those ejected and reportedly confronted Quentin after the game, could draw a suspension as well.
What follows is a roundup of some brawls of the past 50 years whose consequences carried much further than token suspensions. They're listed chronologically, limited to the majors and by no means comprehensive.
Juan Marichal (Giants) vs. Johnny Roseboro (Dodgers), August 22, 1965
The Dodgers and Giants were part of a tight four-team pennant race — Los Angeles up by half a game over the Braves, a game and a half over the Giants and two and a half over the Reds — when Sandy Koufax squared off against Marichal in San Francisco. When the Giants' ace came to bat in the bottom of the third inning, he took offense when a return throw from Roseboro nicked his ear, and attacked the Dodger backstop with his bat, striking him three times. Roseboro needed 14 stitches in his head and missed the next two games, while Marichal was fined $1,750 and suspended nine games. Though the Giants split the two starts he missed, they went 3-6 in his absence, lost in his return and wound up finishing two games behind the Dodgers in the NL race.
When Piniella collided with Fisk at home plate in an unsuccessful attempt to score, it set off a fracas that had its roots in a 1973 encounter between Fisk and Thurman Munson, after which Lee said that the Yankees were "like a bunch of hookers, swinging their purses.'' Fisk tackled Piniella, while Lee, who was backing up home plate, was punched by Rivers and then thrown to the ground by Nettles, who apparently intended to keep him from joining the fray. Once Lee regained his feet, he went to throw a punch at Nettles, and when he realized he couldn't lift his left (throwing) arm, he continued jawing and was subsequently decked with a right hook that gave him a black eye.
Lee, who had been one of the team's top pitchers for the previous three seasons, was carrying a dreadful 7.31 ERA at the time. He wound up missing two months due to torn ligaments in his shoulder, spent his first month back largely pitching out of the bullpen only fleetingly recaptured his form in the years after the injury. The Sox, who were defending AL champions but meandering below .500 at the time of the fight, finished a distant third in the AL East race behind the Yankees. Nettles wasn't suspended.
Tempers in this game were already running hot by the time Mussina hit Hasselman in the shoulder with a high fastball in the seventh inning. The Mariners catcher had touched the Orioles ace for a home run earlier in the game, but it was Bosio throwing behind Baltimore's Harold Reynolds and Mark McLemore that really ratcheted things up a notch. Once plunked, Hasselman charged Mussina, and amid the ensuing 20-minute scuffle, Bosio refractured his left collarbone, an injury from which he had just returned after missing a month. He missed another 19 days and served a five-game suspension upon returning, while six other players drew suspensions of three to five games as well. Hasselman received only a three-gamer, but Mussina wasn't disciplined even though Mariners manager Piniella claimed that an Oriole told him that the plunking had been ordered.
As a side note, after twisted his right knee while getting caught in a pileup, Cal Ripken strongly considered ending his consecutive games played streak at 1,790 games, 340 shy of Lou Gehrig's record. He came to the park the next day unsure whether he would play, but felt well enough during batting practice to remain in the lineup.
Armando Benitez (Orioles) vs. Tino Martinez, Graeme Lloyd, Jeff Nelson and Darryl Strawberry (Yankees), May 19, 1998
After surrendering a home run to Bernie Williams, a frustrated Benitez buried a fastball between the numbers on Martinez's back. Both benches and bullpens emptied, with Lloyd initially throwing punches at Benitez. The action spilled into the Baltimore dugout not once but twice, with Strawberry the main instigator in pinstripes.
Benitez drew an eight-game suspension, Lloyd and Strawberry three apiece, Nelson and the Orioles' Alan Mills two apiece. Martinez, who was hitting a sizzling .331/.417/.554 at the time, missed the next two games due to a bruise, and fell into a tailspin at the plate, batting just .165/.259/.351 through the end of June, though a shoulder injury he suffered upon returning to the lineup was likely the real culprit. Nonetheless, the Yankees stormed to a record-setting 114 wins and their second of four world championships under Joe Torre, while the Orioles, who had reached the playoffs in the previous two seasons, continued a nine-game losing streak and ultimately began the long dark sub-.500 age that continued until last season.
With Phillips having called the Cardinals "little bitches" the day before, Molina began jawing with him during his first-inning plate appearance, and soon, both benches emptied. Managers Dusty Baker of Cincinnati and Tony La Russa of St. Louis went toe-to-toe, and Rolen took on former teammate Carpenter, pushing him into the netting behind home plate. Pinned against the backstop amid the scrum, Cueto (the Reds starter) began wildly kicking opponents with his spikes. He scraped up Carpenter's back, but more seriously, he connected with the face of LaRue, who suffered what turned out to be a career-ending concussion. Cueto was suspended seven games, La Russa and Baker two apiece, and four other players were fined. With the Reds' loss in the game, the two teams tied for first place atop the NL Central, but ultimately Cincinnati won the division by five games while the Cardinals missed the playoffs. This post has been updated to clarify the sequence of events in the 1993 Mariners-Orioles brawl.