I don’t exactly understand this about myself, as I’m not a violent person, and can count on one finger the number of times I have watched an event of blood sport from start to finish (It was a student boxing competition, and I went to support a friend, but he was a literary magazine editor far more than anything else and the whole event unfolded in approximately thirty seconds.
But man do I enjoy a baseball fight. The best part about this playoff series isn’t that the Yankees and Dodgers aren’t in it. It’s that the Rangers and Astros threw a twenty-minute fight that wasn’t on anyone’s scorecard.
Charging the mound is not enough. Two players shoving is not enough. I want both benches emptied and our assistant manager swinging at their mascot.
I suppose I feel this way because baseball is very much a game of slow-building tension; there’s a titanic struggle taking place, all right, but it’s mostly in single combat and the worst that usually happens is people wind up staring menacingly at one another from the dugouts.
We speak of “battling” at the plate– both the batter against the pitcher and the batter against himself– but it’s rare to see an actual exchange of blows. And even when everybody including the bullpen pours out onto the field, it’s mostly to mill about and undertake a great deal of shoving. Nobody’s kickboxing out there.
I suppose this is because baseball is a non-contact sport; new protocols about concussions and plate blocking have made it even less of one than it was in the past. But even in Our Lord Who Has Improved Dentistry All the Way to 2023, we’re not shocked to see hockey or even an occasional football player missing some teeth. An outfielder in need of a dental clinic, however, is an Event.
On the odd occasion there is a throwdown, the real theater begins. Baseball players are faster and more instinctual to forming a pile than a litter of puppies– and far less serious about it. You’ll see shoving around the fringes, but mostly it’s staff dramatically flinging their arms over a player’s chest, because wow if this umpire weren’t pushing me away, then I’d absolutely throw down with you guys.
They say soccer has the corner on player theatrics, but what nobody talks about is the fact that baseball players typically throw hands like Brownies. The important part is that it all looks very intimidating.
The point of baseball is not to overwhelm with brute strength. That helps, but after a while a fellow does need some room in the arms and chest to swing a bat. Even the nature of the uniforms doesn’t allow for WWF participants; Ted Kluszewski is one of the few heavy hitters who was so frustrated about the matter that he was forced to take scissors into his own hands.
Baseball is a game of slow attrition; if there’s shoving to be done, it happens between the ball and the bat. Our sport doesn’t offer the raw strength contest of one line of big men trying to push an equally large line of big men out of the way. Hockey moves quicker, but it’s no less a matter of slamming one body into another. That is why baseball players can push on through their 30’s– the wear and tear comes from the shove against speed and technique rather than another man.
But these men all understand what’s really at stake here– one another’s performance incentives– and so while the yelling is impressive, the actual fighting tends to devolve into 5th grade playground bouts, complete with limited vocabularies.
Yeah, I know the important thing is the fight on the grass, not around the batter’s box when someone has admired his home run for an unnecessarily insulting length of time. But come on– when the drama unfolds over at least half an hour to cycle through three outs, it’s nice to see everybody running at once. Team building at its most kinetic.