Fighting is as much a part of baseball as crackerjacks and chewing tobacco. With so many passionate players sitting in any MLB dugout it should come as no surprise that tensions boil on a regular basis.
However, what happened last night at Fenway Park between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles shows some players aren't mature enough to play professional baseball and don't deserve to ever step out onto that field.
If you haven't already watched a dozen replays of the bench-clearing brawl, then let me first do a quick recap of what happened.
The Red Sox roared out to an 8-0 lead in the first inning on the strength of a David Ortiz three-run home run. Orioles starter Zach Britton only lasted two-thirds of an inning as the Red Sox won their fourth straight game and second straight blowout. Baltimore, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight game by a cumulative score of 50-18.
In other words, these were two teams going in very opposite directions.
But with the game long over, Orioles' reliever Kevin Gregg decided to raise the stakes in the eighth inning, with the score 10-3.
Gregg threw a fastball inside to Ortiz, who was already 2-for-3 in the game and having a monster series. Ortiz backed off. Then Gregg threw another inside fastball, even closer to Ortiz. Then just for good measure he did it again and this time Ortiz took offense and began walking towards the mound. Gregg walked right back at Ortiz shouting at him and both benches cleared.
Somehow, the at-bat was allowed to continue.
Ortiz swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped it up. He began jogging down the first base line, but not before Gregg pointed and yelled at him for not running fast enough. Ortiz lost it and charged at the pitcher, throwing hay makers. The dugouts and bullpens emptied again and swallowed up Ortiz and Gregg before any punches landed.
Both players were ejected and the game concluded without any more drama.
Gregg Sounds Off
Speaking to reporters after the game, Gregg felt like it was necessary to defend his actions.
"We're not backing down. We're not scared of them," Gregg said. "Them and their $180 million payroll, we don't care. We're here to play the game and we have just as much right to play the game, and we're going to do everything we can to win."
First of all, how is pitching inside to Ortiz at the end of a blowout supposed to intimidate the Red Sox? What does Gregg hope to accomplish? It's great that he wants to stand up for his team and light a fire under his teammates, but at the expense of another player's safety?
Pitching inside is a part of the game and Gregg has every right to do it. But Gregg obviously wasn't trying to get Ortiz out. He was trying to show the Red Sox that he wouldn't let them tee off on him (even though Josh Reddick tripled in the previous at-bat, driving in the 10th run).
As for why he yelled at Ortiz after he popped out, Gregg had an equally ludicrous explanation.
"It's 3-0 and they're up seven and I think there are some ethics to this game, some guidelines that you have to stay within, [so] run. You hit an easy fly ball, you have to run the bases," Gregg said. "Apparently, he didn't like me telling him that stuff and he came out there. That's part of the game, and he has the right to come out there and I'm going to defend myself when he comes out."
Ortiz did not violate any baseball ethics. He's always been the kind of player that likes to swing 3-0 and he's not going to sprint down the bases on a fly ball in a seven-run game. That's just crazy. He's not Pete Rose! He's a 35-year-old, 230-pound man who isn't about to risk pulling his groin in a meaningless at-bat.
Gregg, on the other hand, violated every baseball ethic known to man.
It was bad enough that he was trying to hit Ortiz. But to yell at the batter after he got him out? What is Gregg thinking? Trash talking a batter who you just successfully retired is the equivalent of a batter watching his home run sail over the fence. Remember what happened when Ortiz took a split second too long to admire his shot against the Yankees? Everyone in New York lashed out at him.
Gregg's only rationale seems to be that he didn't want to let the Red Sox walk over his team.
"They're going to whine and complain about it because they think they're better than everyone else, but no, we have just as much right to pitch inside as they do," he said.
Apparently, Gregg hasn't looked at the AL East standings lately.
The Red Sox are better than everyone else. They are 16 games ahead of the Orioles in the AL East and have the second best record in baseball. But, to Boston's credit, they've never tried to show up the teams they pummel. They just go about their business, and that's exactly what Ortiz was doing when he stepped up to the plate.
For Gregg to bring up Boston's payroll or offensive prowess as the reason his team lost is cowardly. For Gregg to try to start a fight because Ortiz wouldn't run out a fly ball is borderline insane.
Gregg has been around the MLB for nine seasons and has been on a lot of bad teams. He should know better than to do what he did.
Unfortunately, Gregg's ego right now makes Alex Rodriguez seem shy. Players like this give sports a bad name and if I never see Gregg pitch again it'll be too soon.