Diamond in the Roughhousing

By Mike Warkentin

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With MLB playoff battles raging, Mike Warkentin looks at the anatomy of the bench-clearing baseball fight.

A precisely manicured ball field is a thing of beauty, and the best are gorgeous temples built in honor of the sport of baseball.

There’s a geometric elegance to the ball field, which is home to skilled specialists who run the spectrum from amazing physical specimens to freakishly talented trolls who look as athletic as a walrus but can hit a ball a country mile with a flick of the wrists. Each one has earned his place on the field, even if you might use the designated-hitter spot to shield an out-of-shape first baseman with bad knees and killer bat speed from the rigors of catching a ball three times per inning.

Baseball requires skill and some level of athleticism, but it simply lacks the intensity of hockey or basketball. There’s very limited opportunity for physical contact, and most of the time players are separated by significant distances for the entire contest. In many games, players stand immobile for innings at a time before a lazy fly ball arcs toward them, and crotches are scratched with obsessive frequency.

But throw just one inside pitch at the right time, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. In the dugout, previously disinterested players charge up the steps and sprint to the aid of an enraged teammate who’ getting choked out by a lanky hurler. The bullpen gates fly open with a clang and leak relief pitchers into the fray in a flanking movement. Coaches and managers can swell the numbers to more than 50, with but four umpires to try and keep a lid on the violence while fans scream for blood. In some cases, drunken fans get in on the action, either by throwing objects from the stands or by jumping a barrier to get into the fray themselves.

It’s like an episode of Spartacus—but so much better.

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