Remembering one of the worst brawls in baseball history

Capped by probably the biggest baseball brawl ever, between the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves on Sunday, August 12th, the 1984 season was the worst for fighting in more than a quarter century.

The Padres had twice beaten the second-place Braves in the weekend series and led them by 10 1/2 games in the old National League West, en route to their first World Series appearance in franchise history.

The battle in old Fulton County Stadium was like a tag-team wrestling match with 50 participants (plus coaches) instead of the customary four inside the ring.

Why did it erupt?

Oh, the usual your-guy-threw-at-my-guy retaliation, only the teams didn’t settle their scores with one brushback pitch, or even with one donnybrook. They came out of their dugouts THREE TIMES, twice for violent struggles. But some Braves fans (five of them), operating on possible alcohol ingestion and the misguided notion that this activity on the field was an invitation for audience participation, were arrested for joining in the fracas and taken off the field in handcuffs.

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Understandably, the level of violence was alarming to National League President Chub Feeney. The hand of justice was most felt by San Diego Manager Dick Williams. He received a $10,000 fine and a 10-day suspension. Across the field, Atlanta Manager Joe Torre, received a $1,000 fine and three days off. A record seventeen players, a dozen of them Padres, including two acting managers, and five Braves were fined, suspended or both.

Williams, a world-class bench jockey during his playing career in the ‘50s, had admitted ordering each of his pitchers to aim for Braves starter Pascual Perez, who had opened the game by nailing leadoff man Alan Wiggins in the back with a fastball on his first pitch. In the bottom of the second inning, Perez came to bat against San Diego starter Ed Whitson. He threw behind Perez’ head with his first pitch but missed him three times. He was tossed out of the game along with Williams. Reliever Greg Booker followed and came close to hitting Perez in the fifth inning. He was also asked to remove himself from the premises.

Incredibly, it was not until Perez’ fourth at-bat that Craig Lefferts finally made contact. That eighth-inning bullseye set off the first of two bench- clearing brawls.

Lefferts told NBC at the time: “It’s unfortunate and something you hate to see happen in this game but they started it and we had to do something about it so we finished it.”

Another brawl followed in the ninth when Atlanta reliever Donnie Moore hit Graig Nettles with his second pitch, the result of their confrontation the previous inning. Padres players ejected after the first brawl returned to the field to join in the melee.

Now, have you ever heard of something like this? Braves slugger Bob Horner, watching the proceedings from the press box with a broken arm, rushed down to the clubhouse, changed into his uniform and came onto the field. Outfielder Champ Summers of the Padres spotted him and raced across the field to warn him not to get involved for his own good. Of course, other gathered around him to listen in.

The intervention of security police was all that prevented the brouhaha from becoming an all-out riot involving both teams and the fans. The ninth inning was played with both benches and bullpens cleared of personnel in their respective clubhouses, except for those due to hit, and with police lined in front of both dugouts. Braves announcer Chip Caray said on WTBS, “Welcome back to guerrilla baseball from Atlanta.”

In his postgame comments, Torre called Williams, “an idiot and you can spell that with a capital I.” Williams said he’d meet Torre anytime, anyplace to settle matters.

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“I’ve never seen violence like that. It’s a miracle somebody didn’t get seriously hurt. It took baseball down 50 years,” umpiring crew chief John McSherry told the Atlanta Constitution at the time. Just a few days earlier, McSherry had refereed a brawl between the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “It was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. It was pathetic, absolutely pathetic.”

Oh, a footnote: Atlanta won the game 5-3 and Pascual Perez, who was never ejected, got the win.

Could this happen in today’s game? Tim Flannery, the former Padres infielder who later won three rings on Bruce Bochy’s coaching staff at San Francisco, thinks not.

“You know, it’s funny, that fight comes up every year near the anniversary in August,” Flannery said. “It’s so different today. It’s hard for today’s players to understand. They’ve sanitized the game with no collisions at second base and at home and bigger bases.”

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Flannery made one other point.

“When you look back on the ‘80s, teams stayed together. Players didn’t jump around from team to team nearly as much. Now, a team has a bad year and a player says I want out. The commitment is different today.”

With that in mind for today’s game, it’s hard to imagine anything resembling what took place on Sunday, August 12, 1984 in Atlanta.

I went to the archives for this piece – thanks in part to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Padres vs Braves: Remembering one of the worst brawls in baseball history originally appeared on NBCSports.com