And There's Really Nothing Wrong With That Because Baseball Has Always Been A Sport That Polices Itself

By Ernie Palladino
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Our era of politically correct pacifism clearly dictates against raising one’s hand against another’s.

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So no one in this space will publicly sanction what happened Sunday between Texas and Toronto. Major League Baseball definitely didn’t, as it handed down an eight-game suspension and $5,000 fine to the Ranger who cast the first fist, Rougned Odor, on Tuesday.

He deserved it, regardless of the artfulness of the right hand Odor landed on perennial nudge Jose Bautista. Fighting is a no-no. Bad thing. That’s part of the reason the sport instituted rules against collisions at home and late slides into second.

Now that we have given the obligatory nod to civilized, rules-burdened play, a question:

Didn’t you get just a little bit of a tingle when Odor hauled off on the Toronto slugger with a perfect overhand shot to the old beezer?

Go ahead. Admit it. It’s okay. It kind of brought back memories of the good old days, right? Like the sort of thing the Mets and Yanks legendarily brought us in a different age.

What happened on that field Sunday was simply old-school self-policing, something the commissioner’s office is trying a bit too hard to stomp out these days. With managers still scratching their heads over an ambiguous slide rule and its simultaneous elimination of the neighborhood play, and the still-vague rule about engaging catchers on bang-bang plays at home, the game has become a lot blander than it used to be.

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The impetus for the rules is obvious. Nobody wants to see a Chase Utley-Ruben Tejada incident, which wound up with Utley breaking Tejada’s leg on an aggressive-but-questionable slide in last year’s NLDS. And no manager wants to lose an All-Star catcher as Giants skipper Bruce Bochy did in 2011 when Miami’s Scott Cousins freight-trained Buster Posey.

But baseball has always been a self-policing sport, and that element of player-to-player enforcement should not be eliminated from the game.

Nobody is advocating that every game end up in a riot. But the occasional dust-up, whether in retaliation for a late slide or, in the Bautista-Odor case, Bautista’s “Take That” bat flip from the previous October that provided the tinder for the whole thing, adds a little spice.

And they could become the stuff of legend.

Fans in these parts remember fondly two huge postseason brawls involving the Mets and Yankees.

None other than Pete Rose was the culprit on Oct. 8, 1973, when he came in way late on Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson in Game 3 of the NLCS.

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Harrelson, a scant 160 pounds, probably should have known better than to go after someone 32 pounds heavier who the world knew as “Charlie Hustle.” Still, Harrelson scored the takedown as his teammates swarmed to his defense. It took 30 seconds to separate the two, and their ruckus spilled over to some fist-wielding apart from the main event.

That David-and-Goliath confrontation remains a cherished part of Mets lore.

Just as memorable was the Yankees’ Oct. 11, 2003 bench-clearer in Game 3 of the ALCS at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez clipped Karim Garcia in the back of the helmet. The umpires warned both benches.

Roger Clemens threw a high one well away from Manny Ramirez, who nevertheless took it as a retaliatory move.

And off they went.

Benches cleared. Suddenly, Yankees coach and revered baseball lifer Don Zimmer raced his 72-year-old body out to confront Martinez. The pitcher grabbed Zim by the head and flung him to the ground.

People still talk about that one.

Baseball can make all the rules it wants, and it should for the safety of its players. But when it comes to real enforcement, the players will eventually take matters into their own hands.

You want to go into second high? Fine, just watch out for that little white dot flying between your eyes.

Show my pitcher up? Go ahead, we’ll settle up later.

Buzz one under the chin? See you at the pitcher’s mound.

Odor vs. Bautista was just a bit of old-school payback in a new-school era.

Nothing wrong with that.

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