Notable brawls in baseball history

From early April to late October, sometimes tensions boil over

July 31st, 2019

Baseball may not feature the constant collisions of football, basketball or hockey. But make no mistake, it's a sport that can get physical -- in a hurry.

From bitter cold afternoons in April to the dog days of August to the intensity of postseason baseball in October, history has shown that any time of the season can conjure the perfect ingredients for an on-field brawl. Baseball does, after all, feature the longest and most grueling schedule in North American professional sports. Eventually, there comes a time when tensions built up over 162 games boil over.

But while every season features its fair share of skirmishes, a select few have stood the test of time for their ferocity and scope. The following (in chronological order) is a look back at some of MLB's most memorable on-field brawls.

Juan Marichal and John Roseboro, Aug. 22, 1965

The rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants was nothing new by 1965, having stretched way back to when the franchises called New York home. The two clubs also found themselves locked in many a pennant race back then, and the Dodgers led the Giants by just one and a half games on this August afternoon at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Tensions were high off the field as well, as this game was played in the aftermath of the riots in Watts as well as the backdrop of a civil war in the Dominican Republic, Marichal's home country.

The game began with a bunt by Dodgers speedster Maury Wills, one to which Marichal took exception. Dueling chin music was played between Marichal and Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax until the top of the third with Marichal at the plate, when the catcher Roseboro's return throw to Koufax buzzed Marichal on the ear. Reaching his limit, Marichal struck Roseboro twice with his bat and opened a huge hash on the backstop's head. Marichal was ejected and suspended eight games, while Roseboro sued Marichal and eventually settled out of court. Roseboro eventually forgave Marichal, but this remains one of the most brutal on-field altercations in baseball history.

Bert Campaneris and Lerrin LaGrow, 1972 American League Championship Series Game 2
Campaneris had already logged a terrific game for the A's, knocking three hits, scoring two runs and stealing a pair of bases when he dug in against the Tigers' LaGrow in the seventh. LaGrow's first pitch, which hit Campaneris in the ankle, was not the typical ignition for a fight but Oakland's shortstop got up and furiously threw his bat at the mound. LaGrow ducked out of the bat's path just in time, but that was enough to clear the benches at the Oakland Coliseum. Both Campaneris and LaGrow were suspended for the rest of the A's five-game triumph.

Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose, 1973 NLCS Game 3

This was cited for a long time as baseball's most famous brawl, and many fans still see it that way. It began when Harrelson showed some self-deprecating humor when he told reporters that Mets starter Jon Matlack "made the Big Red Machine look like me" after he threw a two-hit shutout in Game 1. Known always for his intensity, Rose did not take kindly to Harrleson's quip and slid hard into Harrleson at second base on a double-play ball in the fifth. Harrleson and Rose traded blows while both benches erupted into a bigger brawl. The contest was nearly called off after fans at Shea Stadium began throwing objects onto the field, and Mets manager Yogi Berra and stars Cleon Jones, Willie Mays and Tom Seaver were summoned to calm down the crowd. The Mets eventually won, 9-2, after a lengthy delay and went on to upset the heavily favored Big Red Machine in a memorable five-game series.

Red Sox and Yankees, May 20, 1976

Baseball's most famous rivalry jumped up a level with this brawl, the first of a series of famous fights between the AL East clubs over the proceeding years. Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee was an unpopular man in the Yankees clubhouse after some disparaging comments he had made toward them, and tensions were still left over from a skirmish between catchers Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson in '73. Three years later, the benches spilled when Lou Piniella bowled over Fisk on a play at the plate. Lee got the worst of it when Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles tackled the eccentric pitcher, separating his pitching shoulder, and subsequently gave Lee a black eye. It would take several seasons before Lee would regain full strength in his shoulder and his velocity on the mound, meaning this kerfuffle had long-lasting effects for the Red Sox.

George Brett and Graig Nettles, 1977 ALCS Game 5

Nettles was right back in the thick of things for New York the following fall, when the Yankees and Royals met for the second of their four ALCS meetings in a five-year span. Brett, the heart and soul of the Royals, tripled in the first inning and slid hard into Nettles, one of the Yankees' own emotional leaders, at third base. Nettles snuck a subtle kick at Brett's face, and then Brett popped up and threw a fist at Nettles. So, of course, both benches emptied.

But as intense as it was for a few moments, this fight surprisingly ended about as soon as it began. In fact, not a single player or coach was ejected. The Yankees prevailed, 5-3, after the dust settled to eliminate Kansas City for a second straight season.

Braves and Padres, Aug. 12, 1984
Known as the "Bean Brawl Game," there seemed to be more fighting than actual baseball played when this contest had finally concluded. Braves starter Pascual Perez hit Padres leadoff man Alan Wiggins with the first pitch, and things escalated from there as the Padres targeted Perez with each of his subsequent plate appearances. A total of three large-scale brawls took place on this afternoon (with several smaller skirmishes embedded within), and a total of 13 players and coaches were given the hook (along with five fans who were arrested). And yes, Nettles was involved in this chapter of base-brawl history as well, as a pitch he took in the backside in the ninth spawned yet another dust-up.

Mariners and Orioles, June 6, 1993

Mariners starter Chris Bosio walked away with a broken collarbone. Two other players were bloodied. Seven players and a manager were ejected. The toll was high from an intense afternoon at Camden Yards.

It began when Orioles ace Mike Mussina hit Mariners catcher Bill Haselman (who had homered earlier off Mussina) with a pitch in the seventh inning. Haselman made no reservations about charging the mound, and soon both benches and bullpens followed suit. Sliding over to the third-base side and then to first base, the pile up featured a dizzying array of punches that lasted close to 20 minutes. Mussina was actually not among those ejected, leading Mariners manager Lou Piniella to place the game under protest. Orioles catcher Jeff Tackett required a pair of stitches in his right cheek while pitcher Mark Williamson walked away with a noticeably swollen nose. As Washington Post Mark Maske wrote to lead his recap, "This was not the usual milling-around, push-and-shove, don't-get-hurt baseball fight."

Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura, Aug. 4, 1993

One of baseball's most famous showdowns is a fond memory for Ryan, and not so much for Ventura. In the third inning, the Hall of Fame pitcher drilled Ventura with a fastball and then headlocked the third baseman to deliver a series of blows before the rest of the Rangers and White Sox arrived at the mound. The image of the 46-year-old Ryan getting the better of a player 20 years his junior is one that has endured the test of time, but there were plenty of other curious nuggets from this skirmish. Ventura was Ryan's lone hit batsman of the 1993 season, and Ryan immediately picked off the runner who replaced him. Ryan was actually not ejected, while Ventura was, and the Rangers went on to earn a 5-2 victory in front of a fully satisfied home crowd.

George Bell and Mo Vaughn, Sept. 6, 1993

Vaughn likely received full marks from his teammates following this memorable encounter, as he rushed into to tackle Bell after the White Sox slugger charged Red Sox pitcher Aaron Sele on the mound. Vaughn and Bell made for a true heavyweight collision, but Vaughn's clean tackle effectively ended this bench-clearing battle before it could get too out of hand.

Pedro Martinez and Mike Williams, Sept. 24, 1996

There were certainly a handful of occasions when batters charged the fearless Martinez on the mound, but Pedro flipped the script on this memorable night at Veterans Stadium. Martinez had already forced an early exit by Phillies left fielder Gregg Jeffries with a hit by pitch, and Williams retaliated with an inside heater to Martinez in Martinez's next at-bat. Umpire Frank Pulli's warning didn't deter Williams from throwing behind Martinez on the next pitch, and the Expos ace responded by charging the mound and doffing his helmet in a rather aggressive manner.

Armando Benitez and Tino Martinez, May 19, 1998

Benitez took out a little frustration after surrendering a three-run homer to Yankees star Bernie Williams and the Orioles' lead, hitting Martinez in the back to mark the second beaning of the night for New York's first baseman. What ensued next was pure chaos. This brouhaha stumbled into the Orioles' dugout and seemed to last forever as the swinging participants kept finding new ways to become aggrieved with one another. Both Martinez and Darryl Strawberry had to be physically restrained, while Benitez fought a handful of pinstripes on his own. The umpires stood on the foul line, rendered helpless, as this nasty brawl raged on in the Bronx. Benitez was hit with an eight-game suspension, while Strawberry, Graeme Lloyd, Jeff Nelson and Alan Mills were also disciplined. The Yankees survived for a 9-5 victory.

Tim Belcher and Chan Ho Park, June 5, 1999

Let this (and the Martinez incident above) be a lesson to all those who deem pitchers' plate appearances to be the ideal time to go get a snack. The Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers hasn't quite reached the animosity levels of other rivalries, but Park's impressive kick at his pitching counterpart Belcher certainly ranks among the more memorable moves performed on a big league diamond. Park deemed Belcher's tag on a sacrifice bunt to be a little too forceful, and responded to Belcher's curt reply with a forearm to the face and his now-famous kick. Unfortunately for Park, that combination earned the Korean star a seven-game suspension.

Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza, 2000 World Series Game 2

It's unfortunately one of the most enduring moments from an exciting Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees, and certainly one of the bizarre things to take place in a World Series. And there was some history behind it, too. Clemens had hit Piazza in the head during an Interleague matchup earlier in the season, which knocked the Mets' All-Star catcher out of the game. Piazza later speculated that Clemens hit him on purpose, and perhaps the Yankees' ace didn't take kindly to that assumption. Whatever the case may be, Clemens picked up a piece of Piazza's broken bat and hurled it in the direction the slugger with the entire baseball world watching. The Mets claimed Clemens' act was intentional, while the pitcher claimed he did not see Piazza running down the line when he threw the bat shard. In either case, many fans can probably recall that moment more than any other in the Yankees' five-game triumph over their intracity rivals.

Mike Sweeney and Jeff Weaver, Aug. 10, 2001
The Royals' season was long gone with the club already languishing 25 games below .500 in early August, but Kansas City fans saw some fireworks nonetheless when their big slugger charged Weaver on the hill. The usually affable Sweeney wouldn't have been pegged by many to ignite a brawl, but that's exactly what he did when Weaver refused to grant his simple request of moving the rosin bag further off the pitcher's mound. Sweeney hurled his helmet and got a couple jabs in at Weaver, getting the most out of the first career ejection. Though Kansas City was already out of contention, the brawl still had a sting to it as Sweeney missed a total of 15 games -- five from a bruised hand and another 10 via a suspension from the league.

Martinez and Don Zimmer, 2003 ALCS Game 3

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry reached its zenith in the mid-2000s, with one of the most memorable moments coming when Martinez threw the 72-year-old coach Zimmer down to the ground as part of an epic skirmish at Fenway Park. It was just one chapter in an Odyssean postseason series Homer would have loved to catalog, but one that will forever link together Martinez and Zimmer -- each of whom were revered for many accomplishments they achieved outside that afternoon in Boston. Hideki Matsui doubled off Martinez to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in Game 3, and Martinez responded with a beanball to the back of Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia. With the New York nine up in arms, Martinez refused to back down and gestured at the Yankee dugout. Clemens subsequently threw high and tight to Manny Ramirez (the starpower in this series was dizzying), setting off the benches-clearing brawl that eventually intertwined the fates of Martinez and Zimmer.

The Yankees eventually won Game 3, 4-3, and the series thanks to Aaron Boone's walk-off homer in Game 7. But the animosity was far from over. In fact, it picked right back up …

Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek, July 24, 2004
… the following summer, right back at Fenway, when Rodriguez entered as a new participant in the rivalry. The reigning MVP was very nearly a Red Sox player before the MLB Players' Association vetoed a trade between Boston and Texas, which cleared the way for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to put Rodriguez in pinstripes. Such was the backdrop for this tense contest in July, when the Yankees entered the day with an eight-and-a-half game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East standings. New York was up, 3-0, in the third when Boston pitcher drilled Rodriguez in the elbow. Rodriguez and Varitek exchanged some pleasantries, and then the Red Sox catcher shoved Rodriguez with a now-famous blow to the face. Considering the personalities and recent history involved, the subsequent pileups were a foregone conclusion.

Many point to the Rodriguez-Varitek encounter as a turning point in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Long the second fiddle to their southern neighbors, Boston eventually won this game on walk-off homer by Bill Meuller off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and went 45-20 the rest of the way to capture the AL Wild Card. Most baseball fans know what happened next, as the Red Sox miraculously battled back from a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS to shock the Yankees and eventually claim their first World Series title in 86 years.

Michael Barrett and A.J. Pierzynski, May 20, 2006
The Cubs and White Sox proved their crosstown encounters didn't lack any spice, either, when these two backstops came together at U.S. Cellular Field. Pierzynski barreled into Barrett in a play at the plate and scored for the White Sox, and then slapped home plate in celebration. Barrett didn't take too kindly to that and landed a clean punch to Pierzynski's jaw in what remains the most enduring moment of the Chicago rivalry. Barrett landed the punch but received the heavier discipline, garnering a 10-game suspension while Pierzynski received a $2,000 fine. Of course there were others involved, too; White Sox outfielder was hit with a five-game suspension while Sox coach Joey Cora was forced to sit out a pair of contests.

Barrett and Pierzynski would later shake hands at home plate in the team's next series at Wrigley Field, but the memory of their brawl still lives on in the Windy City.

Cardinals and Reds, Aug. 10, 2010

The comments made about the Cardinals several days earlier evidently didn't sit quite right with catcher , who decided to confront Phillips about them at home plate in the bottom of the first. This brawl had a little bit of everything. Managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker were involved, as were several starting pitchers. Former Cardinal Scott Rolen pinned St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter against the protective netting, and former Redbird Jim Edmonds got into it, too. The Cardinals eventually pulled out a hard-fought 8-4 victory, but the Reds would go on to win their first division title in 15 years.

and , May 15, 2016

Similar to the Ryan-Ventura showdown, this is a much more pleasant memory for the man who landed the punch. There was history behind this one, of course, as it was Bautista who had homered off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson and delivered the bat flip heard around the world in the Blue Jays' decisive Game 5 victory in the previous October's ALDS. It didn't take long for things to heat back up between Texas and Toronto, as Rangers reliever Matt Bush plunked Bautista with a 98 mph fastball. That set up a double-play ball that led to a hard slide by Bautista into the fiery Odor, and the fight was on. Odor got in a shove and then perhaps the most vicious right hook ever struck on a baseball field, one that sent Bautista's helmet and sunglasses flying and sent shock waves through the game. Plenty of chaos ensued thereafter at Globe Life Park, with a total of six ejections stemming from this unforgettable throwdown in Arlington.

and , May 29, 2017

Many of the fights on this list had a backstory, but few have ever had a three-year span between incidents like this tilt between Strickland and the superstar Harper. It was Harper who homered off Strickland in the 2014 NLDS, but although the Giants won the series, Strickland evidently hadn't forgotten about Harper's blast. The Giants' reliever came back after the Nationals slugger in this early-season game at AT&T Park, plunking Harper right in the hip and setting off Harper's charge and (somewhat errant) helmet toss toward the mound. Each side got in a punch before reinforcements arrived, though Strickland did not receive the full support of his dugout, considering the amount of time that had passed since Harper's original homer. Strickland was hit with a six-game suspension, while Harper received four games.

Something was evidently in the frosty air when not one, but two brawls went down across the Majors at a very early juncture of the season. In Denver, the Rockies star Arenado dodged an inside fastball from Perdomo and stormed the hill, prompting a glove toss from the San Diego hurler. Rockies left fielder landed a punch on Padres catcher A.J. Ellis, while Rockies starter threw some punches, too.

Later that night, the Red Sox and Yankees turned up the heat early with a skirmish in just their second matchup of the season. Boston reliever Joe Kelly pounded Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin with a 98 mph fastball, setting up a mound showdown in which Kelly was able to land a couple blows.

The exchange came several innings after Austin slid hard into Red Sox shortstop on a play at second base. Austin and Kelly were both ejected, as was Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin and reliever Tommy Kahnle.

"I was ready to defend myself," said Kelly. "Someone comes in my property in my backyard? I have two dogs. Ready to come on my property and I'm being attacked, then I'm ready to defend myself."

Amir Garrett and the Pirates' dugout, July 30, 2019

Earlier in the season, on April 7, Pirates starter Chris Archer threw a pitch behind the Reds' Derek Dietrich, sparking a benches-clearing incident, after Dietrich hit a home run and paused to admire it as the ball sailed toward the Allegheny River.

On July 30, Pirates reliever Keone Kela threw a 97-mph fastball in the seventh inning that whizzed over Dietrich's head. Two innings later, Reds reliever Jared Hughes -- a former Pirate -- hit Starling Marte in the rear end with a first-pitch fastball. Hughes was replaced by left-hander Amir Garrett, who, according to several Pirates players, looked directly at Josh Bell and said, “[Expletive] you" immediately upon entering the game.

This obviously didn't go over well in the Pittsburgh dugout, and Bucs players exchanged words with Garrett until, while in the middle of a conversation with coach Jeff Pickler later in the inning, the pitcher charged the Pirates’ dugout and a five-minute melee ensued.

Adding to the surreal atmosphere of the night was the fact that Yasiel Puig, who had to be restrained by Reds teammates during both the April and June brawls, had been reportedly dealt to the Indians just moments before the melee ensued.