This week’s FanPulse question asked if bench-clearing brawls were ever okay. Most respondents strapped on their pith helmets and cried an enthusiastic YES:
Here in MarinersLand, we don’t get into scraps very often. Certainly not in recent years, helmed by the oversize plain white gravy boat full of CBD oil that is Scott Servais, whose Midwestern manners insist that his strongest form of retaliation is cutting you the smallest slice of shoofly pie. Seriously, though, the Mariners as an organization don’t tolerate fighting at their lower levels, at least; rumor has it that longtime employee, Everett manager Jose Moreno was supposedly suspended this year for his actions during a game against Eugene (Moreno and the Mariners later “parted ways”) described by many who saw it as “a beanball war.” That didn’t stop Dee Gordon and Jean Segura from brawling in the clubhouse prior to a game last season, although only one of those players is still with the team.
While it doesn’t seem impossible the Mariners will never fight (other teams) again at the major-league level, cooler heads prevailing does seem to be the modus operandi, which is admittedly easier to do when a team 1) doesn’t possess a strong rivalry (no, the Padres don’t count); 2) aren’t seen as threats. Of course, this didn’t stop the Mariners of years past from getting into it at times. Here are a few of the most memorable fights:
August 28, 1996: Mariners-Yankees
Technically, this one is more “Paul O’Neill vs. John Marzano.” Lou Piniella loved to mess with Paul O’Neill’s head, calling his former player at one point a “crybaby” when pitchers threw up and in on him. So that’s exactly what Mariner pitcher Tim Davis did, striking O’Neill and causing him to charge the mound in frustration. Except Mariners backup catcher John Marzano got to O’Neill first:
O’Neill, Marzano, and Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson, who was 6’8” and loved to fight, all received suspensions for the game.
August 13, 1983: Mariners-Angels
Angels infielder Rod Carew (you’ve heard of him) became incensed at Mariners pitcher Bryan Clark (you’ve definitely not heard of him) when Clark threw a pitch behind him in the first. Clark, who struck out just a couple more batters than he walked that year, was likely not throwing at the future HOFer, but that didn’t stop Carew from charging the mound. Benches cleared, and home plate umpire Ken Kaiser eventually got everyone back to the dugouts, only to have Angels shortstop Rick “Rooster” Burleson run back out on the field to re-start the fight. Instead of throwing people out then, Kaiser called for play to resume. Carew grounded out, and on his way back to the dugout detoured and went after Clark again, as the former had chirped at Carew on his way to first. Burleson, who it should be noted wasn’t even playing in the game, rushed back on the field only to be trucked by Mariners rookie shortstop Spike Owen, who finished the year batting .196 but managed to separate Burleson’s shoulder with the best solid contact he’d make all year. The highlight of the brawl was Mariners outfielder Al Cowens, who was injured and not playing in the game, but ran to the field in his underwear and shower shoes when he heard the fight. Sadly, no video exists of this part of the incident.
June 30, 1990: Mariners-Brewers
This is a fight that has some backstory. Way back in a Spring Training game in 1989, Brewers shortstop Bill Spiers slid hard into home—harder than was necessary for a Spring Training game, many felt—landing Mariners catcher Dave Valle on the injured list and causing a very rare Spring Training benches-clearing brawl. Flash forward to a game at the Kingdome in 1990. The erstwhile Seattle Pilots were trailing 5-2 in the eights, and Brewers reliever had given up a homer and a double before catching Mariners left fielder Tracy Jones in the ribs. What starts with some light jawing quickly devolves into the benches clearing and punches being thrown. Interestingly, at one point in the video you can see Dave Valle, apparently having made a full recovery, holding back a Brewer.
Probably the most famous participant in this fight wasn’t a Brewer nor a Mariner, but 79-year-old Agatha Doman, a pastor’s daughter who objected to a Brewers player pinning first baseman Alvin Davis to the wall beneath her seat and bopped the offending player over the head with her handbag.
June 6, 1993: Orioles-Mariners
The most notorious Mariners fight thanks to duration, severity, players, and availability of grainy old TV footage. Chris Bosio, pitching for the Mariners, was recently returned from a stint on the DL where he’d broken his collarbone and had missed about a month of play. Maybe he was still rusty, because he hit two batters, Mark McLemore and Harold Reynolds (ironically, both Mariners at one time—Reynolds was in his first year of baseball not playing for Seattle, and McLemore would finish his career with Seattle). The Orioles took exception to this, and ordered future HOFer Mike Mussina to retaliate, hitting Seattle catcher Bill Haselman between the shoulders. Haselman immediately charged the mound, benches cleared, and a great many punches were thrown. No, I mean a great, great many.
This isn’t a typical standing-around chest-puffery baseball fight. This is a fight that is a living thing, rippling in waves, like an earthquake and its aftershocks. There were black eyes and broken noses. Players needed stitches. Bosio re-injured his collarbone. In the end, seven players were ejected, although not Mike Mussina. For all the oral histories The Athletic has treated us to, I’m surprised this isn’t one of them.
Honorable mention: the Randy Johnson - Jim Leyritz incident
This one never really came to blows, but in 1995, Randy Johnson hit Yankees catcher Jim Leyritz in the face with a wayward ball. Leyritz and the Yankees promised retaliation, with Leyritz in particular talking a big game about how Johnson “better not see me out him public.” Johnson, wearing a Beastie Boys “Check Your Head” t-shirt, responded with a classic Randyism:
“Part of my game is intimidation, and you can’t intimidate the intimidator.
I’m the intimidator. He is the intimidatee.”
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