It was a kismet when a copy of a new book on baseball fights arrived at my doorstep the very same day ESPN's Jayson Stark reported multiple Phillies were so angry over Carlos Beltran's declaration that the Mets are the team to beat in the National League East that they said "there will be a brawl this year."
Beltran's reaction? "We'll see what happens." In other words, "Bring it on, Cheesesteaks!"
As we tingle with anticipation over a possible main event in 2008 between New York and Philly, let's use Benchclearing: Baseball's Greatest Fights and Riots by Spike Vrusho (of Rhinebeck, N.Y.) to review the most (in)famous brawls in Mets history.
Pete Rose vs. Bud Harrelson, Oct. 8, 1973 (National League Championship Series, Game 3), Shea Stadium: The Reds were on the verge of being an all-time great team. The Mets barely finished above .500 and were in last place in the East on Aug. 27. But the Mets started the series with three straight complete games. Jerry Koosman was in the midst of the final one, a 9-2 Mets win, when Rose singled in the fifth. Joe Morgan followed with a grounder to first baseman John Milner and a frustrated Rose employed a popup slide to break up the double play. Harrelson felt an elbow. Profanities escalated into shoving and soon Rose, 40 pounds heavier, pinned Harrelson to the infield dirt. Said Rose, "I'm supposed to give the fans their money's worth and bust up double plays -- and shortstops."
After both dugouts and bullpens emptied, Reds reliever Pedro Borbon and Mets reliever Buzz Capra restarted the fight. Haymakers were exchanged. Once things settled down again, Borbon discovered he had put on a Mets cap by mistake and proceeded to again earn his Dracula nickname -- or biting a cover off a baseball -- by taking a chunk out of the bill with his teeth. Borbon and other Reds relievers said they feared for their lives when they returned to the 'pen. Gary Nolan was hit in the face with a beer can. Assorted food and trash were hurled by the angry Shea mob. When the Reds took the field, one fan hurled a whiskey bottle at Rose. Manager Sparky Anderson took the team off the field. The fans settled down only after manager Yogi Berra sent Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub and Cleon Jones out to "plead for peace." Said Rose, "They brought the fans from the zoo to the ballpark and they bring them back after the game."
Did you know? Mickey Mantle gave Rose his nickname when he saw him run to first base after a walk in an exhibition game and asked, "Who's that Charlie Hustle?" Seaver, John Matlack and Koosman tossed those complete games but Seaver lost the opener, 2-1. Harrelson played amateur softball after leaving the Mets in 1977 and teamed with Rose on the 1979 Phillies.
Ray Knight vs. Eric Davis, July 22, 1986, Riverfront Stadium: Davis was pinch-running for player/manager Rose and stole second
and third base. The Rose-styled, popup slide was again at the start of trouble. Knight took the throw from Gary Carter a shade late, brought his glove to Davis' face and knocked his helmet off. Knight didn't like the way Davis looked at him and quickly followed with a right cross. The benches emptied and ill will was exchanged for 15 minutes. Mookie Wilson squared off against pitcher Bill Gullickson, who extricated himself to join fellow hurler Mario Soto in an attack against Kevin Mitchell. The Mets' burly utility man -- and future MVP --easily shed Gullickson and "tossed Soto like a rag doll." Pitcher Tom Browning intercepted Mitchell and managed to tear off his gold chain.
Another Reds pitcher, John Denny, a black belt in karate, used the Mr. Spock Vulcan neck pinch to take Carter out of the fight.
Did you know? George Foster was the only Met who didn't leave the bench and said he didn't want to fight because it sets a bad example for kids. Less than a month later, the Mets released him despite his large contract. All of the ejections forced Davey Johnson to alternate righty Roger McDowell and lefty Jesse Orosco as pitcher and opposite field outfielder depending on the batter. Rose furiously tried to find a rule that prevented the Mets from rotating pitchers, to no avail. The Mets won the five-hour, 14-inning marathon on a three-run Howard Johnson bomb.
Felix Millan vs. Ed Ott, Aug. 12, 1977, Three Rivers Stadium: Or, if you prefer, the Cat vs. The Otter. Ott was intentionally
walked to set up a double play in the sixth inning of a double-header nightcap. Mario Mendoza -- of Mendoza Line fame -- seemed to oblige. But Ott broke it up by upending Millan. The Mets second baseman exchanged heated words with Ott and swung his hand with the ball in it right into Ott's mug. Cue the end of Millan's big-league career. The Otter grabbed the Cat and slammed him on to his right clavicle, which shattered on impact. Millan took the blame for the fight and eventually recovered enough to win a battle title in Japan. The Mets lost the game, 6-5, in extra innings when Ott's replacement, ex-Met Duffy Dyer, singled home the winning run.
Did you know? Millan had four straight singles for the Mets in a 1975 game and Joe Torre proceeded to ground into the double play four straight times.
Pedro Guerrero vs. David Cone, May 22, 1988, Dodger Stadium: The fight occurred one day after Doc Gooden raised his record to
8-0 and fractured shortstop Alfredo Griffin's wrist with a heater.
Cone threw two inside fastballs to Guerrero and then hit him on the shoulder with a 70-mph curve. The ball ricocheted off the shoulder and into Guerrero's helmet. Guerrero swung his bat at Cone and released it, sending it instead harmlessly into the direction of shortstop Kevin Elster. Catcher Barry Lyons and third baseman Howard Johnson prevented Guerrero from successfully charging Cone, who raised his record to 6-0 in the 5-2 Mets win.
Did you know? Guerrero, whom Vrusho says Bill James called the "best hitter of the 1980s," was traded to the Cardinals that year for John Tudor. The year before, Lyons broke Tudor's leg after falling into the Cardinals dugout to catch a popup. The Dodgers had the last laugh despite losing 10 of 11 regular-season games to the Mets. They beat them in the NLCS in seven games and went on to ride Kirk Gibson's Game 1 heroics to the World Series crown.
There's not much bench-clearing history between the Mets and Phillies.
Noted in unexpanded form are just two semi-melees.
The first was a September 1989 fight between the Mets' Gregg Jefferies and then Phillie McDowell, who landed a flurry of punches after McDowell yelled something unkind at Jefferies after the cocky youngster grounded out to end the game.
The next season, on August 9, 1990, Gooden and Pat Combs battled after Combs hit Doc in the knee -- after Gooden plunked two Phillies.
Gooden took a couple of punches from catcher Darren Daulton and Darryl Strawberry tried to intercede but "ended up with a handful of Von Hayes instead." Seven players were ejected.