During the 1884 baseball season, John Hillerich, a woodworker for his father and a good amateur ballplayer, was in the stands watching ‘The Louisville Eclipse’ of The Professional American Association play. During this game, Pete “The Gladiator” Browning, star outfielder, broke his favorite bat and became very frustrated. After the game, young Hillerich invited Pete to his Dads’ woodworking shop. He claimed that he could create a new bat for Pete. After Browning and Hillerich selected a piece of white ash, Hillerich began to “shape the new bat” according to Browning’s directions. With Browning looking over his shoulder and periodically taking practice swings, Hillerich worked through the night. Finally, Browning announced that the bat was just right.
The next day, Browning used the Hillerich bat and hit three for three. Soon after, not only did Brownings’ teammates begin to order bats from the Hillerich woodworking shop, but so did players from other teams. Hellerich and his family would go on to start the Hillerich & Bradsby Company, maker of the Louisville Slugger bat brand.
But while the baseball bat is probably the most recognizable piece of equipment from America’s past time, it’s purpose has evolved beyond just launching a small white ball over a fence. In the non-baseball world, the bat has become a symbol of minimal self protection. The fine line between sports equipment and full scale weapon is a thin one, something that the Grand Theft Universe has enthusiastically confirmed.
Movies have deployed our wooden friend with great deft as well. Whether in the hands of Al Capone, Nazi Hunters or a bunch of stiffs at Initech making a victim out of a fax machine, the bat has been the weapon of choice throughout its history.
Most recently, former Michigan/NBA star and Grantland/ESPN commentator Jalen Rose has been putting the bat to use as his own personal statement of endurance, strength, and “Don’t F*&k Wit Me”.
But here is where we return to the baseball diamond. Most of the time, major league bats are put to use as god intended them: making bleacher souvenirs out of baseballs. However, sometimes that thin line between MLB game tool and real world wooden weapon becomes blurred to the extent that we realize we might be watching a field full of 18 juiced up guys each steps away from wielding a baseball battle-ax. Without further ado, here are your Top 8 Baseball Bat Incidents in Baseball History!
(To note: these rankings were based on professional baseball incidents involving a bat and utilized 3 categories to compute their position: Malicious Intent, Level of Violence, and Historical Resonance on scales ranging from 1 aka this to 10 aka this)
8. Lasorda at the 2001 All Star Game
Former LA Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda has been immortalized for the many contributions he made to the game, exemplified from his helming multiple World Series championships to his induction into the Baseball HOF in 1997. Yet, it was also his no holding back attitude that rivaled even the great Earl Weaver that endeared many Dodgers and baseball fans alike to the hot tempered Italian. We’re talking about a man that destroyed a reporter during his famous Kurt Bevacqua meltdown and even attacked America’s most loveable mascot, the Phillie Phanatic.
Maybe all that baseball karma caught up with him as he was an honorary third base coach during the 2001 All Star game in newly minted Safeco Field, Seattle. While often remembered for the pre-game position switch where AL short stop Alex Rodriguez voluntarily swapped to third base with soon to retire and baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. (aka The Last Nice Thing A-Rod Ever Did), the highlight of the evening transpired in the top of the 6th inning. With Montreal Expo (RIP) OF Vlad Guerrero at the plate, the famous for not wearing any gloves slugger accidentally released his bat after a fouled off pitch. 90 feet later, a pudgy Tommy takes a backwards somersault in the Third Base coach’s box after getting blindsided by the errant projectile. High comedy all around.
Despite the hit and tumble, Lasorda would remain in the game. An inning later, NL outfielder Barry Bonds (never RIP) handed Tommy an ump’s vest for some (apparently) much needed protection. While the event was just another laugh track for an otherwise forgettable all star game, some say the Lasorda Down event was one example the league cited when implementing this rule 7 years later:
Long Live the Base Coach Helmet.
(Malicious Intent – 2; Level of Violence – 5; Historical Resonance – 4)
7. Bo Jackson’s Kindling
The Legend of Bo Jackson was well documented in the 30 for 30 “You Don’t Know Bo”, reminding us of the other worldly athletic abilities that Bo brought to the baseball diamond and gridiron. Bo’s legend lives through rewatching clips of his Nike sponsored “Bo Knows” ad campaign and on NES systems everywhere, where his Tecmo Bowl appearance is either the precursor to the Madden AI glitch or, in this writer’s opinion, the most accurate emulation of an athlete’s real world abilities. Oh, and there’s also that time he defied physics and ran sideways on the Baltimore outfield wall. That too.
But even the perfect athlete strikes out every now and then (and for Bo, it was pretty often, even leading the league in 1989). When the baseline is perfection it’s only acceptable to expect a little venting after a swing and a miss. Somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky, a bat maker is not watching this video clip:
(Malicious Intent – 1 (or 8 if you count the bat); Level of Violence – 3; Historical Resonance – 6)
6. Brat Wurst Down
Finally, our first incident with some malicious intent thrown into the mix! Randall Simon would otherwise have gone the way of many baseball players before and after him into the sunset of obscurity. The heavy-set backup first base playing, lefty bat off the bench option put together one nice season in Detroit where he knocked 19 HRs, but otherwise had a very forgettable career.
Meanwhile, as Simon began collecting minimum salary checks while jumping around from NL team to NL team, the Milwaukee Brewers were perfecting a now common occurrence between innings in baseball stadiums around the country: the mascot race. Given the city’s long history with German immigrants and culture, the Brewer’s “Sausage Race” began in the early 1990s and expanded into the glorious Olympic-worthy event. Any time you can pit a bratwurst, polish sausage, italian sausage, hot dog and chorizo against each other, you know you’re in for a good time.
The Brewers Sausage Race has inspired a litany of copy cats around the MLB world, some fantastic, some good and some we’d rather forget because the Atlanta Braves sold their souls to Home Depot. They’ve even been featured on the highest of all sports honors, a Sports Center Commercial:
Mascots are undoubtedly the most fun part of any sporting event and any ill will shown their way was an unconscionable thought.
Enter: that fateful day.
During a Pittsburgh versus Brewers game in July of 2003, the sausages lined up at their usual starting point on the outfield warning track between the 6th and 7th innings. While coming around towards the visiting team dugout, Randall Simon decided to take batting practice on the Italian sausage, named “Guido” in order to…well we have no idea what he was trying to do. Luckily, Simon was donning his usual non-productive swing and hit high on the meat stick, only causing the Guido to lose balance and fall, taking Hot Dog with him. Even better, the mascot wearers, Mandy Block and Veronica Piech, only sustained scrapped knees from the fall. Simon apologies profusely and Block even ended up getting a free paid vacay to Curacao, Simon’s home country.
Unfortunately, Bud Selig must have sent his minions to scrub YouTube of any evidence that this event actually took place. Thank god for MSN Canada!
Laughs aside, that day marked the worst we came as a society to crossing that invisible line between athlete and civilian participant. You know, until Ron Artest did this.
(Malicious Intent – 5; Level of Violence – 5; Historical Resonance – 2)
5. The Umpire Is Struck Back
We’ll keep this one short. For all the adoration laid at the doorstep of Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman for turning the decade long pitiful AL East doormat into a perennial contender and endless fountain of prospect youth, there have been some troubled players that have made their way through the Rays farm system. We all remember Elijah Dukes for his high ceiling of talent and low ceiling of anger management. But when it came to on field incidents, Delmon Young flies into the picture.
In 2006, Young was, at the time, a five-tool prospect in Tampa Bay’s seemingly bottomless pit of such prospects. Assigned to the AAA Durham Bulls he was on his way to a .300+ season with consistent power and top notch fielding. The Durham assignment was just for a stopover until his inevitable call up to The Show. However, on 26 April 2006, Young argued a called third strike call with the home plate umpire, for which he was thrown out of the game for, per the usual with arguing balls and strikes. However, before retreating to the bullpen, Young flung his bat at the umpire, colliding in perfect timing with his chest protector. The event also produced this still hilarious video clip, the epitome of a “F&*k you” moment:
Young wound up getting a 50 game suspension and followed that with a very underwhelming career in Tampa Bay, Detroit and elsewhere. We’ll always have that clip though.
(Malicious Intent – 8; Level of Violence – 6; Historical Resonance – 3)
*Mandated Major League Break*
As this is a heavily baseball induced posting, it is required by law that we post something related to the greatest of baseball movies ever made: Major League. Now I’m sure we can spend the next 2685692 hours debating Major League’s warrant for such a grand title over the likes of Bull Durham, The Natural, Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, Et cetera, Et cetera. But for time’s sake, let’s just watch this relevant moment from everyone’s favorite Cuban slugger not named Puig:
(Malicious Intent – 6; Level of Violence – 0; Historical Resonance – 8)
4. Sammy Sosa’s Corked Bat
In 2003, Sammy Sosa was still one of America’s most loveable baseball players. Terms like HGH, the Mitchell Report and BALCO had yet to become common place syntax in the baseball world. With a booming bat, made famous by the ’98 season’s HR race with Mark McGuire, and an even more booming smile, Sosa’s poster was on the walls of 12 year old boys throughout the country.
But on 3 June 2003, during a home game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Sosa grounded out in the bottom of the first on a broken bat infield dribbler. After the runners scored and Sosa walks off after the out, the umpires, returning the pieces of the bat strewn over the infield, became suspicious of what they saw inside Sosa’s shattered bat. As umpire Tim McClelland would later say, “I turned the bat over and there was a half-dollar size piece of cork in the bat right about halfway down the barrel head”. Suddenly, a normal broken bat incident turned into ESPN headline gold.
While Sosa defended himself by admitting he used corked bats for batting practice purposes only and accidentally pulled this type of bat for the in game at bat, an explanation reinforced by negative findings from CT and X Ray scans of Sosa’s bats currently in use at Wrigley and other previously used bats he donated to the HOF. MLB suspended him for 8 games anyways.
What makes this story sadder is that it was the first time that Sosa would come under question as a cheater. As someone who practically broke Roger Maris’s HR record 3 different times, looking back at Sosa’s late 90s surge cannot be done without remembering the steroids era. The final nail in Sosa’s once cherished legacy came during the Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball in 2005. Then again, the corked bat and implied steroid use probably don’t shock his one time fans as much as his most recent transformation…
(Malicious Intent – 6; Level of Violence – 0; Historical Resonance – 8)
3. George Brett’s Pine Tar
George Brett is by all measurements one of the greatest men to step onto a baseball field. Thirteen time All Star, AL MVP, World Champion, and Hall of Famer. He started playing for the Kansas City Royals at age 20 when Nixon was just starting his 2nd term and ended with that same Royals franchise 20 years later as Clinton was entering the White House. He hit .390 one season and collected more than 3000 hits. He is probably the greatest athlete to don a Kansas City jersey ahead of Tony Gonzalez and the short stints by Bo Jackson and a washed up Joe Montana. So yeah, George Brett means a lot to the fine folks of western Missouri.
And with that said…….despite such an illustrious career, most baseball fans will always remember Brett for his memorable full steam ahead charge at Yankee Stadium.
After hitting what he thought was a go-ahead two run HR in the top of the ninth against the Yankees on 24 July 1983, on again, off again Yankees skipper Billy Martin came out to protest the play. His reasoning: the amount of pine tar laden on Brett’s bat. According to MLB rules, pine tar is an acceptable application to a hitter’s bat if only used on the lower half to increase grip. Obviously there isn’t a strict enforcement on the practice and most managers go about a live and let live approach to the practice. Yet Brett was notorious for applying an abundance of the stuff and Martin, knowing this, decided to forgo the usually practiced courtesy and contest the call. Technically, Martin was within his rights and the umpires were within theirs. After umpire Tim McClelland (also our umpire during aforementioned Sosa corked bat game!) called Brett out, ending the game. Brett responded with this:
Now, whenever pine tar comes up as a topic during a baseball broadcast (and when these games are running anywhere between 4 hours and 6 days, we’re bound to talk about every baseball topic imaginable) there is the automatic reference and showing of that clip. If anything, pure genius by Brett to secure his baseball immortality.
(Malicious Intent – 6; Level of Violence – 3; Historical Resonance – 8)
2. Clemens vs. Piazza
Probably one of the weirdest series of events in MLB history (you know, besides that time two Yankees players completely swapped families. I’m not even kidding, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich just traded families, wives, kids, the whole thing. Read about it here. Ah, the 70s…).
Let’s journey to the 2000 season, aka the last time the Mets were actually good. During a Subway Series inter-league game that summer, Clemens plunked Piazza in the head, causing the latter to have a concussion that would keep him out of the All Star game. While the media and public criticized Clemens, The Rocket was adamant that it was not intentional.
Fast forward to Game 2 of the first Subway Series World Series in over forty years. Piazza is facing Clemens once again and this time breaks his bat while fouling off a pitch. As Piazza begins to come back from trotting to first, Piazza grabs a shard of the broken bat and flings it towards Piazza.
Benches clear. Fans jeer. And ESPN/the venerable local New York media have wonderful fodder for the news cycle. The incident is also remembered as the most interesting event of an otherwise boring World Series.
However, given the eventual testimony and evidence of the massive amount of steroid use by Clemens (with its lovely roid rage side effects) and a personality otherwise described by Boston fans as “a massive d*&k”, the attempted murder of Mike Piazza seems to make more sense as time passes.
(Malicious Intent – 8; Level of Violence – 6; Historical Resonance – 7)
1. Juan Marichal
While the 500 Section Committee on Baseball Activities took some time to hash out numbers 2-8 on this list, there was one thing as solid as a fine log of Pennsylvania ash wood: Juan Marichal would be number one.
It seems almost impossible that a game that has been played for almost 160 years and involving a wooden weapon would have so few incidents where anger plus said weapon turned deadly. Yet, the closest we ever came was in 1965.
Already one of the greatest rivalries in sports, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants met for a 4 game series in August at Candlestick (RIP?). Mired in a battle for the NL pennant (that the eventual World Series winning Dodgers would win) with LA, the rivalry was already at humming on all cylinders before Juan Marichal went The Shining on LA. When Koufax was instructed to plunk Marichal for a retaliation shot in the 3rd inning, Koufax, as professional as they come, refused to knock the pitcher at the plate intentionally. Luckily for the curmudgeon baseball gods, Dodgers catcher John Roseboro came to the rescue and decided to brush the toss back to Koufax via buzzing Marichal’s head. To say the least, Marichal didn’t take this in kind.
This being the 60s and the MLB package a few years off, there is very little video evidence of the entire incident. So let’s relive the moment in wondrous photo fashion!
And of course, the fantastic GIF that should be nominated for Best Sports GIF of a Pre 1980 Event
The images from that day are just downright shocking to the normal among us and giddy to the weird among us. From Koufax calming trying to play UN in the whole thing to Giants infielder Tito Fuentes coming out of the on deck circle with a bat of his own to add to the melee, it plays out like an old school sports brawl should.
Marichal and Roseboro would go on to become friends, with Roseboro even campaigning for Marichal’s HOF candidacy. But we’ll always have that one day in 1965 where the baseball bat rightfully earned its place in the sports equipment hall of fame.
(Malicious Intent – 9; Level of Violence – 7; Historical Resonance – 9)
Editing Note: Language for the history of the baseball bat can be cited to Oldtyme Baseball News, Volume 4, Issue 2