Thursday, December 29, 2011
10,000 days since baseball’s nastiest beanball warPosted by Chris Jaffe
10,000 days ago (a “day-versary” I call it), baseball witnessed its nastiest and ugliest beanball war in memory. It led to over a dozen ejections, multiple bench clearing brawls, and ended with police in riot gear stationed by each dugout.
It was Aug. 12, 1984, and the fun began on the very first pitch of the Padres-Braves game. Leading off for the visiting Padres was second baseman Alan Wiggins, and he took the game’s first pitch in the ribs.
San Diego was sure that this wasn’t simply a pitch that got away. For one thing, Atlanta pitcher Pascual Perez had a bad reputation as an immature jerk. He was showing up hitters, regularly gesturing on the mound. Second, Alan Wiggins tortured the Braves the night before with a pair of bunt singles en route to the Padres’ 4-1 win.
Besides, there was a sense the Braves, who won the NL West in 1982 and came in second in 1983, were upset over the fact that the upstart Padres had a comfortable division lead.
San Diego was sure Perez intentionally plunked Wiggins, and all these years later its pretty clear he did. No team managed by Dick Williams was going to take that lying down, and retaliation was just a matter of time.
The Padres had their chance in the second inning when Perez first came to the plate. Padre pitcher Ed Whitson threw at Perez, but while Perez may have been an immature jerk, he was no dummy. He knew it was coming and started backing away from the plate as soon as Whitson released the ball. Upshot: San Diego couldn’t hit him because Perez moved himself too far from the plate. Instead, Whitson threw a wild pitch before finally fanning Perez.
Home plate umpire Steve Rippley issued a warning to Whitson and San Diego manager Dick Williams, but for now that was all. He, and the Braves, must’ve hoped that the intent to hit Perez was enough for the Padres. No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.
If the fourth inning, Perez came up again. Whitson threw three balls at him, but Perez kept wheeling away from the plate sooner rather than later. The umpire thumbed Whitson and manager Dick Williams, as Perez eventually walked.
In fact, a little later Perez advanced to second base on a wild pitch—right where HBP victim Alan Wiggins was. Perez, always classy and always charming, started jawing with Wiggins right there. Instead of a fight, Wiggins opted to walk away. He didn’t expect the night to get as brutal as it did. He said after the game that he wished he had gone at it with Perez right there.
Unfortunately for everyone, Perez was actually pitching a pretty good game, so Braves manager Joe Torre left him in the game. Thus, Perez came to the plate again in the bottom of the sixth. Again San Diego tried to drill him, but by now Perez had his dodge technique perfected. He avoided the ball, but two more men got ejected: Padre pitcher Greg Booker and the coach who took over for Dick Williams.
And the game went on. In the top of the eighth, Joe Torre made a big mistake and let Perez bat again. Yes Perez was pitching a nice game, but Atlanta had a 5-1 lead, Perez was fading, and oh yeah—you’re just waving a red cape in front of a very angry bull. What did Torre think was going to happen when Perez came to the plate?
You can figure this one out, right? Yup, current Padre pitcher Craig Lefferts threw at him. And for once, finally made contact. He plunked Perez, and Perez charged the mount. That’s when the benches first cleared. After an ugly fight and the ejection of Lefferts, another Padre coach, and mound-charger Perez (and possibly some other brawlers—I’m not sure who got ejected here, and who got ejected later), the game went on.
Well, that should be the end of it, right? Wrong. Leading off the top of the ninth, Atlanta relief pitcher Donnie Moore immediately nailed the Padres’ first batter of the inning, Graig Nettles.
And then one of the nastiest fights in baseball history occurred. Usually baseball fights are messy shoving matches, but these two teams wanted blood. A half dozen or so players got ejected, including San Diego’s Champ Summers and Bobby Brown, and Atlanta’s Rick Mahler, Steve Bedrosian, and Gerald Perry Oh, Donnie Moore also got tossed of course, and I believe Nettles was as well.
It wasn’t just the players who wanted blood, either. Some drunken Atlanta fans charged the field in the mess. Padre player Kurt Bevacqua got hit in the face with a beer glass. Things were seriously in danger of spiraling completely out of control. That’s when the cops came in and were stationed by both dugouts in riot gear.
The game finally ended and both managers blamed the other one. Dick Williams was furious at Joe Torre for reigniting matters in the top of the ninth, and Torre thought Williams should be ashamed for having his team throw so many pitches at one player.
Both managers received fines and suspensions—though it was a heavier punishment for Williams. 10,000 days later, and I don’t think baseball has had that ugly a beanball war since.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d prefer to skim the list.
2,000 days since Jason Vargas pitches the longest relief outing in the franchise history of the Marlins: 6.1 IP.
3,000 days since Joan Kroc, Padres owner, dies.
3,000 days since the Marlins blank the Cubs 4-0 in Game Five of the NLCS as Josh Beckett tosses a complete game two-hit shutout.
6,000 days since the Dodgers sign amateur free agent Eric Gagne.
9,000 days since Chris Speier hits his second grand slam of the week, which is neat because he’d previously gone 15 years without one.
9,000 days since Eddie Murray homers from both sides of the plate for the second consecutive game. He becomes the first person to do that in the big leagues.
25,000 days since the Braves release Tony Cuccinello.
40,000 days since Nap Lajoie hits the first grand slam in the history of the Cleveland Indians.
1916 Ed Doheny, a turn-of-the-century pitcher, dies at age 43.
1937 One time Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga is born.
1938 The Boston Braves purchase Al Simmons from the Senators for $3,000.
1942 Star pitcher Red Ruffing is inducted the armed services. He’s 38 years old, and is missing four of the toes on his left foot from a mining accident, but he’s inducted anyway. He’ll do non-combat duties for the armed forces.
1947 Washington releases catcher Rick Ferrell.
1949 Detroit signs Charlie Keller, previously a great slugger whose career has been derailed by back problems. There is no revival for Keller in Detroit, though.
1962 Devon White, outfielder, is born.
1973 Theo Epstein, former Red Sox GM and current Cubs honcho, is born.
1974 Richie Sexson is born.
1975 Jaret Wright, pitcher with a reputation as a headhunter, is born.
1977 Sports Illustrated writer Melissa Ludtke sues MLB, the Yankees, and New York City for denying her access to the locker room during the 1977 World Series.
1995 The Padres sign free agent Rickey Henderson.
1999 Texas signs free agent Kenny Rogers
2002 Cincinnati’s Cinergy Field (formerly known as Riverfront Stadium) is imploded. It opened in 1970.
2005 Washington signs free agent starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz.
2006 Florida signs free agent infielder Aaron Boone.
2006 San Francisco signs starting pitcher free agent Barry Zito to a huge contract.
2009 The Mets sign free agent outfielder Jason Bay.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.