Friday, July 3, 2009

The Art of the Baseball Fight

The current international situation makes me think, for the umpteenth time, that what the country and the entire world needs is a much larger dose of baseball. Specifically, we all need to learn, or relearn, the Art of the Baseball Fight.
No, seriously. Watch a hockey game, and if a fight doesn't break out, everybody is vaguely disappointed. Watch a football game, and the whole point of playing is hitting each other, and a lot of the sponsors are bandage companies, painkillers and hospitals. Baseball...when somebody gets hurt in a baseball fight, it's News.
The proper baseball fight begins when somebody gets hit by a pitch. This may or may not be accidental, but the offended party will always assume the worst. While this seems contradictory to the idea of world peace, it establishes precedent: "Hey, we ain't taking none of that!" (Adjectives and spare nouns are optional here, of course.) However, the perceived victim has a very important duty: he puts down the bat he is holding. He does not whack the pitcher with it, chuck it at his head, or turn around and belt the umpire. He does not run toward the mound if he knows what's good for him, either; that's called charging the mound, and you can get unscheduled vacation days for that. No, the technique is to wander in the direction of first base, shouting comments all the way, until the pitcher comes down to discuss the matter.
Now, this is the point where hockey or the United Nations allow punches to start flying, but baseball is another matter. There is an art, as if both sides were about to be awarded style points. It's perfectly acceptable for the warring parties to grab each other by the shirt and shout. Flailing, and often deliberately ineffectual, punches are okay, since at this point both are going to get thrown out of the game anyway; only actually hitting the other guy will get a suspension or a huge fine. Next, the catcher must rush up and attempt to pry the pitcher away from the batter, and somebody has to come out and grab the batter, too--it really should be someone from his own team, preferably one of the coaches, and there needs to be an enormous show of dragging the combatants apart as if they both had the strength of bull elephants. Grabbing the guy from the other team--well, it happens, but there go the style points. If honor has not yet been satisfied, it's time for the mother of all You Tube-able baseball tantrums: the Bench-Clearing Brawl.
If you are a fan of another sport and see a baseball "brawl", you may be confused. Yes, everyone does run out of the dugouts, screaming bloody murder. However, no one actually punches anyone else. There is a great flurry of shirt-grabbing and yelling. There is a great deal of pointing, even if no one is sure what he is pointing at. There's a lot of genealogy involved; at least, there's a lot of speculation about everyone else's ancestors, personal habits and eternal destination. For some reason, and not even those of us who have been *in* the brawls can explain, it is necessary to throw down hats and, if the opportunity arises, stomp on the other guy's. (On one occasion several decades ago, a Cincinnati Red took a large bite out of someone else's hat, then a bite out of someone else's armpit. That would seem to be a little over the line.) You will also see some of the players, generally either the cooler heads or those who can't afford to get thrown out, standing off to the side in pairs, one from each team, arms folded, solemnly discussing the matter at hand and nodding in agreement. Sometimes they're talking about what started the fight, sometimes they're discussing the umpires, and most often they're doing play by play on the action: "Huh. He calls that an insult? Do you remember when we got in a fight and you called me a..."
Meanwhile, the umpires will descend on the pack, roaring orders to knock it off, and the fight will dissolve as fast as it formed. The guys who started the fight will get thrown out of the game, and they'll toss a few insults at each other as they leave. Their replacements will take the field, and the game will go on, just like that. No, really: everybody was mad, everyone got to yell and cuss, the whole world knows A WOULD have punched out B if it wasn't for the umpire and all, and B WASN'T afraid of A and would have slugged him back, yeah, twice as hard, and so they don't need to. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, what you won't see is anybody needing so much as a Band-Aid.
Think about it: the very point of baseball is that a guy chucks something hard as a rock and eminently throwable in the direction of a guy holding a big stick, or a big hunk of aluminum. The materials for real mayhem are always close at hand--are always, for that matter, IN someone's hands, and there are plenty more in the dugouts. An armed society is, in this instance, a very polite society, even if the language isn't. Most of the injuries in baseball fights are accidental: somebody gets poked in the eye while someone else is pointing and yelling in another direction, someone trips and falls, or someone who falls down gets stepped on. Postgame celebration pileups probably cause more injuries than the fights do. By common and unspoken agreement, a baseball fight always looks as if there should be body parts strewn around, but no one loses so much as an eyelash.
I remember getting in trouble as a little kid because I copied Nikita Khruschev, the Russian prime minister who took his shoe off at a state dinner and banged it on the table while he was yelling at our side. He didn't actually hit anyone with the shoe, and neither of us fired any nukes at the other. Yelling, I gathered even at that age, is almost as satisfying as hitting and way less painful. We're now having problems with countries who think they should fire their nukes without thinking about the consequences. There's no line to them, no notion of what will happen tomorrow if they do that today; they just want to grab a bat as they leave the dugout, and they haven't thought through the idea that the other side is equally armed and may start bashing back.
Maybe what the world needs now isn't love, sweet needs more baseball fights.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Becky! Thanks for the great read -- you have such a neat way of putting things. (I'm a "follower" now :))