I remember hearing a story decades old from an opposing player opining about brawls between two teams. He said that if a fight was about to break out, the opponents should be able to have the choice of fighting the entire Tigers squad or Willie Horton – but not both.
But maybe Willie should be sitting in the Tigers’ dugout more often given that the number of teams picking fights with Detroit has been on the rise over the past 3 years. Most of them within the AL Central with multiple incidences of “errant” pitches – and not initially started by the Tigers. Several of them going back a couple years and finding renewed life each season.
The latest obviously was this past weekend’s incident that saw JaCoby Jones go on the DL. But its roots can be traced back to a mere week ago and also last year.
The most significant brawl was last year in which Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer “lost control” and plunked 3 Tiger stars, including beaning Ian Kinsler. And if you’re waiting for a pitcher to admit he hit a player as “payback”, you’ll be waiting an awful long time. Even Justin Verlander talked about how a pitch of his “got away” from him last season.
Whether or not you believe in purpose pitches, sending messages, protecting your teammates or delivering “an eye for an eye”, there are 3 more important issues at stake.
1. Why are teams picking on the Tigers more? Do other teams see a less-aggressive (or passionate) team? Do other teams find them to be “easier pickings”?
a. Does the manager’s calm demeanor factor into any of this? Was Jim Leyland’s fiery response to seeing his players hit more intimidating?
2. Why aren’t the umpires proactive instead of reactive? They come into these games and appear surprised when brawls break out. Even those that just happened a week ago.
a. Why don’t they have records about teams and issues to observe when they come into a park to umpire? How hard could it be to know that certain teams have a history of bad blood?
b. When the Indians return at the beginning of May, will the umpires remember what happened last September and this month? Wouldn’t it be a better idea for them to warn each side before the first pitch is even thrown instead of waiting for both benches to clear?
3. Will the umpires association make changes in how they address questionable HBPs before something tragic happens? Throughout baseball over the entire weekend, there were multiple incidences of players being hit on purpose with a handful ending up on the DL as a result.
a. Can the Tigers afford to stay quiet about the risks posed to their players by the Indians, Twins, Rangers and others who have hit their players? Can they afford to lose any more guys to the DL?
More importantly, can they risk losing or jeopardizing the health of any of their players in what is expected to be their last viable year for October baseball?