AL (Glass Jaw) COWENS vs. ED (Mow 'Em Down) FARMER and JOHN (Down for the Count) Montefusco vs. DAVE (The Manager) BRISTOL plus BILL (In Your Face) MADLOCK vs. GERRY (Don't Bump the Ump) CRAWFORD
"I don't know," said Ken (the Pacifist) Singleton, standing in the corner of the Oriole dugout. "Ali's retired, and Sugar Ray's dethroned and we've got to resort to baseball fights."
They used to call 'em bench-clearing brawls, some still do. Real flyweight stuff. But this is getting serious. Farmer is pressing charges: Montefusco is filing a grievance; Madlock is writing out complaints, and George Steinbrenner is consulting his lawyers.
The best lawyers the Yankees could buy researched the question and reached this conclusion: beanballing is illegal. "It constitutes intent to harm with a deadly weapon."
Madlock of the Pirates, who received the stiffest sentence -- 15 days -- stiffer than Juan Marichal, eight days for cracking John Roseboro over the head with a bat in 1965, said: "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and violence."
Everywhere you look, it seems that baseball players are mixing it up:
May 1: Madlock caresses umpire Gerry Crawford's face with his glove; he gets 15 days, a $5,000 fine.
May 20: Jeff Burroughs, Braves, scuffles with bullpen coach John Sullivan.
May 26: Angels vs. Rangers, two brawls, four ejected; Pirates vs. Phillies, two brawls, two knockdowns, two ejected.
June 1: Twins vs. Orioles: shortstop John Castino of the Twins takes exception to bump by Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey in rundown; the benches empty. At the bottom of the pile, Dempsey tells Castino, "I realize things are going bad, but c'mon, John."
June 8: Billy (The Kid) Martin accuses umpire Dale Ford of making contact with him. "We got the films," Martin declares.
June 18: San Francisco pitcher, John Montefusco, upset at being taken out of the game while ahead for the second time in a row, storms the manager's office, and emerges with a black eye. Bristol says, "I don't have to take this stuff and I won't." Detroit Tiger President Jim Campbell closes $2 seats because rowdy fans have been throwing objects at visiting players.
June 20: Detroit outfielder Al Cowens bounces the ball to short, and heads for . . . the mound. He jumps White Sox pitcher Ed Farmer who broke Cowens' jaw last year with a pitch; he gets a seven-day suspension with pay and an undisclosed fine.
White Sox President Bill Veeck said, "He should have been suspended for a month, perhaps the whole season. All he got was a week's paid vacation. If it happened in my stands, he'd have been in the pokey in 15 minutes."
June 25: Dickie Noles of the Phillies suspended three days and fined for throwing bat and helmet in dispute with umpire; The question is why?
"It's the humidity," said John Lowenstein.
"It's the recession," said Mark Belanger.
Oriole Manager Earl Weaver said, "The same thing's been going on ever since there's been baseball and will be going on as long as there is. I don't think there are nearly as many (fights) as there was in the old days."
The figures bear him out. According to the American League office, there were 45 ejections and three suspensions as of June 24, exactly the same number as last year.
According to the National League office, there were two fights and six balls thrown at batters as of June 24, and two fights and seven balls thrown at batters in 1979.
It's enough to make you wonder what they're counting.
Still, many players are not convinced that there is an increase in "heat of the battle" battles. Many agree with Madlock that there aren't any more fights, "they're just getting more ink."
And air time. Baseball fights are almost as popular on local TV news as fires.
Steve Stone, the Orioles' poet-pitcher, said, "We have a violence-oriented society. Consequently, violence sells. You have an altercation that's nothing but pushing and shoving, and the next day there's blaring headlines in 300 to 400 papers.
"Before, if the manager and a player had a fight, it stayed right there. There wasn't the tremendous coverage, where every little bit and dispute came out. Now there are more scuffles and name-calling and consequently, it carries onto the field."
In the past, baseball fights always seemed so harmless: a bunch of guys in pantaloons rolling around in the dirt.
Belanger said, "Maybe there were just as many fights back then, but they may not have been as bad."
"Yep," said Madlock, "they're taking 'em for real. They're out for blood.
They don't get too much of a chance to make contact in baseball. But when they get the chance to make it, they make it."
They fight for the same things that men have always fought for: life, limb, livelihood. The difference now in baseball, said Billy Martin, "is that there's more at stake. The hitters just aren't going to take it."
Stone agreed: "A man could possibly make $10 million. Why take a fast ball off his head?"
"Guys don't play for fun, for the love of the game now," said Al Bumbry. "They get a cracked jaw or a wrist broke, they have to start looking down the road financially."
In May, 1979, when Farmer broke Cowen's jaw with a fast ball, Cowens was out three weeks. Cowens missed another week, ending yesterday, when American League President Lee MacPhail suspended him for jumping Farmer while he had his back turned. "I'm doing my time," Cowens said Thursday. "I'm serving my time, for what I did."
Cowens said he hadn't noticed "there was more fights in baseball." This was his first one. Lenny Randle, who kayoed former Texas Rangers Manager Frank Lucchesi in March, 1977, is a high school chum. "Al's a pacifist," he said.
"What's that?" Cowens asked. "No. I fought every day in high school. I can get along with everybody. But that's the way it goes.
He was asked if he had any regrets about what he had done. "Why should I feel bad about it?" he said. "And you writing down all this stuff. I told you how I feel. I got no comment."
"The problem is, we got too many milk-toast ballplayers," said Eddie Stanky, the baseball coach at the University of South Alabama. Stanky, a former Dodger, Giant, Cub, and Cardinal, was known as a pepper pot in his day. He was in 44 fights "and won none of them" he said. "But I had a lot of fun."
The most memorable, he said, was one that started one day in 1946 at Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers were playing the Cubs, and continued through the next day's batting practice. "Everyone got in it except Leo Durocher, he was in the locker room dressing," he recalled. "Leo (then the Dodger manager) called a meeting and said if he caught anyone talking to the Cubs it would cost them $250. He missed the whole thing. That's what he was mad about, I guess."
Stanky sighed. "When we played, pitching inside was all part of the game."
The problem is, he said, hitters just aren't used to getting pitched tight anymore. "They're more touchy," said Oriole batting coach Frank Robinson. a
Stone said, "When I first came in the league in 1971, pitchers threw closer to hitters than they do now. It was more accepted. There were whole staffs, like the Dodgers with Stan Williams and Don Drysdale, that would pretty much try to intimidate the hitters. Hitters today do have a tendency to overreact.
"The inside of the plate is still the inside of the plate. A pitcher is allowed to throw over the inside of the plate. When you do you're going to have some that got away."
Doug DeCinces, who charged pitcher Mike Proly in a game against the White Sox in April after being hit on the shoulder, thinks the umpires let too many situations get away from them. "If he (the home plate umpire) immediately fines and kicks that pitcher out, then you don't have a problem. Otherwise, it's up to the player to take care of things."
It's one thing if the pitch gets away, DeCinces said. It's another if the game is getting away from the pitcher and he starts aiming for your earlobe. "What other choice does a hitter have? The only way that pitcher is going to remember not to do that again is to get out there and let him have it."
In the old days, "before the designated hitter rule, there were alternatives," said Bumbry. Now, what's a fella going to do?
Randle thinks he has the answer: "I'm with Clark Gable. Let's go outside and go 10 paces."
Everyone has a theory. Rich Dempsey, the Oriole catcher, said, "There's a lot of new relief pitchers trying to establish themselves."
Williams aid, "I think it's a microcosm of what's happening all over -- a breakdown of authority."
Madlock did not so much challenge authority, the umpire, as embarrass it. "How can you respect anyone who misuses their authority, when they aren't consistent?" he said.
One day, before he began his suspension, Madlock said, he was playing third base in a game against the New York Mets. "There was interference on our shortstop and the ump didn't see it at the time. He blew the call. (Joel) Younglood (of the Mets) jumped up and spun him around. But the umpire said, 'Don't worry, I blew the call. I won't write it up bad." It's a double standard.
"I got the worst fine in baseball. I made no physical contact with the umpire. I got 15 days. Cowens got seven, and that was an attempt he planned."
Veeck is worried that a beautiful sport is becoming a brutal one.
"It's a national trend. It has been increasingly prevalent throughout society and it's beginning to spill over into baseball. It's probably an aftermath of a very different kind of thinking, during the early 1960s and 1970s, prior to the end of the war in Vietnam.
"Many of our ballplayers came up in that period where the watchwords were speed, action and violence."
A diamond-shaped island. Green and brown and immune. There have to be some lines you don't cross in America. If you can't find them in baseball, where can you?
Listen to Dave Bristol, the manager of the San Francisco Giants who gave his pitcher a black eye when he challenged his authority. "There's only so much you can take," Bristol said, "before you have to do something. I'm there to provide leadership and when it's questioned, I have to take a stand."
Montefusco, he said, came into his office after he had been removed from the game, though leading, 8-2, "and he got to talking. I asked him to leave and when he didn't, I attempted to put him out.
"Now, there's gonna be a court case. I remember in baseball when you battled it out. There was none of this suing and calling Marvin Miller."
Miller, the executive director of the Major League Players Association, confirmed that Montefusco had filed a grievance against Bristol. "He's charging assault," Miller said.
Bristol bristled. "It's just the way kids are brought up today. It's a sign of the times. They grew up in a era where they were driven to Little League parks and everything," he said, disgustedly.