Like most baseball fights, Thursday night’s brawl in Chicago between the Royals and White Sox wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. Friday morning I watched video of the fight — pretty much frame by frame — and I didn’t see all that many punches being thrown; it was mainly a lot of pushing and shoving by guys not all that interested in really fighting.
Baseball fights tend to involve two guys who are actually mad and a bunch of teammates who come out on the field because baseball protocol demands it. If a teammate gets into an altercation and you don’t come out on the field to protect him, you might as well get on a bus back to Triple-A the next morning; you’ll be an outcast.
So who were the two guys who were actually mad?
Probably not the two guys who started it.
Let’s go back to the beginning and review what we know so far. On opening day, Mike Moustakas hit a home run off White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardjiza, who hit Lorenzo Cain with his next pitch. Samardjiza claimed it was an accident; the Royals were not inclined to believe him. But because this is the American League and pitchers don’t hit, retaliating against Samardjiza would be complicated. You just put it on your to-do list and wait for an opportunity.
Cut to last night.
In the top of the seventh, Christian Colon lined into an inning-ending double play and Samardjiza was yelling at Colon from the bench. The Royals didn’t like that.
In the bottom of the seventh, Adam Eaton hit a ball back to pitcher Yordano Ventura and Eaton reportedly said something to Ventura before he responded with the two words everyone in America can lip read, and the second word is you. (See? Ventura’s English is coming along just fine.)
Eaton never got to first base; he made a U-turn and headed for Ventura. The first-base umpire and Eric Hosmer controlled Eaton and the home-plate umpire got in front of Ventura. Yordano made an “I’m fine and everything is cool” gesture. Mike Moustakas came in from third base and pushed Ventura toward the dugout. Adam Eaton was being led down the first-base line, away from the infield.
At this point the two guys who started it were walking away from each other and everything appeared to be OK, except other players were arriving on the scene and that seemed to give the two guys who were really mad at each other — Samardjiza and Cain — a chance to settle their differences.
The camera cut away from Ventura and Eaton and the next shot showed that other players were becoming involved in the debate. Melky Cabrera was yelling and gesturing, Salvador Perez was pointing back. Still, freeze the video frame at that point and everything still looks under control. Sure Ventura said: “(Expletive deleted) you” to Eaton, but if ballplayers fought every time one of them told an opponent to (expletive deleted), there would be fights every night.
Suddenly the camera cut to another scene, and it was clear something had started out on the infield near first base. At that point Eaton was down the first-base line in shallow right field and Ventura was near the first-base dugout. Ventura broke away from Moustakas and headed for the rugby scrum on the infield; things had gotten physical.
But from the outside it still appeared to be a lot pushing and shoving; you can see more violent behavior at a half-price sale. If someone was actually throwing punches, it was not visible from the outside.
Then the group split like an amoeba; the group on the left surrounded Samardjiza, the group on the right surrounded Cain.
Lorenzo was being drug away from Samardjiza by hitting coach Dale Sveum. No one on the White Sox appeared to have control of Samardjiza. Everybody else was just fighting for position and generally doing a whole lot of nothing, but looking quite masculine while doing it.
I once asked Clint Hurdle what you do if you find yourself in the middle of brawl, but don’t really want to fight. Clint said you find your best friend on the other team, grab on to each other’s jerseys and stand there and make dinner plans.
People were still bobbing and weaving when the camera pulled back and at that point Jarrod Dyson could be seen running on the field. Dyson is usually at the front of these things, so he must’ve been in the bathroom or up in the clubhouse when the dustup started. Imagine coming back to the dugout and realizing your friends have left to storm the beaches of Normandy without you.
Cain was still being physically restrained by Dale Sveum and then third-base coach Mike Jirschele also got involved. Cain wanted a piece of Samardjiza and Sveum and Jirschle were trying to prevent that from happening.
Cain pointed at someone off screen, but he was being held back and pulled away. Suddenly Samardjiza came charging into the picture. Clearly, none of his teammates were holding him back, and that’s one of the reasons this thing kept going. Sveum swung Cain out of Samardjiza’s way, like a matador pulling the cape back at the last second. Samardjiza then bowled into Mike Jirschele. Jirsch and Samardjiza (who looks like a cut-rate Musketeer) fell to the ground.
And that’s when Edinson Volquez did something amazing:
He threw the single-worst punch I’ve ever seen in my life.
Sugar Ray Volquez missed wildly and spun around; if he’d connected with Samardjiza’s head he would have done a lot more damage to his fist than what seems to be the very thick skull of Jeff Samardjiza.
Sugar Ray’s attempted punch drew the attention of some of the White Sox and Volquez went into a boxer’s stance — as long as you define boxer’s stance as someone who is backpedaling furiously while trying to look dangerous.
Meanwhile, two White Sox coaches — or two White Sox players who are in really bad shape — got a grip on Dyson. One of them had Jarrod in a chokehold from behind. Jarrod looked like he might have a little more experience at this stuff than Iron Mike Volquez and slipped out of the choke hold and threw one of the coaches/overweight players to the ground with a: “Take that (expletive deleted)” look on his face.
At that point I shifted my gaze to the right side of the screen and the Muhammed Ali of Kansas City was down on the ground. I rewound the video to see who decked Volquez and it turned out the Raging Bull decked himself; he was dancing around in his boxing stance, slipped and fell flat on his face.
To be honest, deciphering what was happening wasn’t easy; it’s as if the cameramen had been trained to cover baseball, not street brawls.
But my main impression was that this brawl had a lot more huffing and puffing than houses being blown down. At one point Volquez was being restrained by an umpire old enough to collect Social Security and, as I said about Brett Lawrie; if a middle-aged umpire who looks like he needs a dose of Metamucil can hold you back, you just don’t want it that bad.
Still, there must have been some punches thrown somewhere; Chris Sale came out of the scrum holding his nose or his mouth like he’d taken a shot to the face — but it also might have been an elbow thrown without malice. You get into the middle of those melees (and I’ve never used that word before, but I didn’t want to pass up a chance to throw in a baseball cliché) and you can get hurt accidentally.
And so we get back to Yordano Ventura.
As Ned Yost would say, I’m not the kind of guy who says I told you so, but I told you so. Back in January I wrote a piece asking if Yordano Ventura should be the opening day starter. Ventura certainly has the stuff; did he have the maturity?
The media kept writing about Ventura’s “remarkable poise and composure,” but I’d heard stories that might indicate he wasn’t all that composed. It was just a side of Ventura we hadn’t seen yet — and now we have.
If teams can rattle Ventura and get him off his game, they will and there will be more blowups and altercations that hurt his career and the Royals chances of success.
My guess — and it is a guess — is that Edinson Volquez has a big role to play here. Players do not hang out with managers and coaches; it’s like hanging out with your dad. Players hang out with other players and Yordano and Edinson are both from the Dominican Republic. Edinson is eight years older than Yordano and has eight more years in the big leagues.
So it seems logical that Volquez needs to set an example for Ventura and doing bad Floyd Mayweather imitations isn’t helping.
The Royals are also going to have to decide how they want to respond to what’s been happening: other teams are baiting them and so far the Royals have taken the bait. And once they take the bait the Royals get criticized for being out of control.
Frankly, in some cases I think the Royals have to retaliate; you can’t let people throw at your batters without consequence. But they have to pick their spots and retaliate when they have no alternative.
It’s a fine line: the Royals have to show that they won’t be pushed around — and it seems like teams are trying to push them around — but at the same time the Royals have to keep their eyes on the prize and not let suspensions or fight-related injuries keep them from reaching their goal.
The Royals are nobody’s darling anymore; it was cute when that poor underdog from the Midwest did well in last year’s postseason, but this year that poor underdog is the American League champ. The Royals need to remember that they don’t have to respond to every challenge or insult.
But they also need to remember that if they get the chance, they still owe one to Jeff Samardjiza.