The Big Lead posted a thought-provoking piece today about the way fighting in the NBA is perceived versus the way fighting in Major League Baseball is perceived. I think to have a legitimate discussion about this, you have to throw in the other major sports, too: the NFL, where I can't remember any real fight on the field ever occurring (I'm sure I'm just overlooking them, but whatever); and the NHL (and hockey in general), a sport (not necessarily a league) that connotes fighting more than sporting to a lot of people (see the tired "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out" joke, for instance).
A lot of the commenters on The Big Lead already addressed a lot of very good possible reasons why fighting is spun differently in the NBA and in baseball: race, the proximity of fans to the playing field, the relative strength of commissioners and player unions, "tradition," etcetera, etcetera. Whatever. I got tired of reading after about 5 comments (as an aside--who are these people that have the time and/or desire to read upwards of 100 comments on a blog post? Who gives a shit what some random asshole thinks about a random sports topic? I say all this completely aware of the irony in a blogger with commenters wondering these things. But still...) OK, back to the fisticuffs.
While I think race (baseball=white, basketball=black), fan proximity to the playing/fighting field (baseball=far, basketball=close), and commissioners and player unions (Selig=gutless moronic wussy, Stern=iron-fisted dictator) all play into the way fighting is spun in the different sports, I'm inclined to think tradition--whatever the hell that means--is perhaps the biggest factor in the way these things are handled.
Especially after reading Moneyball, where it becomes clear that damn near everything in baseball is done a certain way because that's the way it was always done, it seems to me that maybe the rich historic tradition of the whole "code of honor" bullshit/beanball wars in baseball contributes to a tendency to write off such bench-clearing brawls as simply a part of the game. I'm next to completely ignorant about hockey, but it seems like the same could be the case over there. Guys beat the shit out of each other on the ice because that's just an accepted part of the game. In basketball and football, however, melees have never really been a part of things for whatever reason. Double standard, to be sure.
But the double standard that applies within baseball, between pitchers and position players, is something that I still can't wrap my head around. In the latest round of fisticuffs, this time between San Diego pitcher Chris Young and Cubbies first baseman Derrek Lee, both pitcher and position player were suspended 5 games (and are appealing those suspensions) for taking swings at each other. They each had a roughly equal role in the fighting (Young threw the beanball, Lee took the first swing) so supposedly "equal" suspensions of 5 games were dealt out. That means, of course, that Chris Young misses one start and Derrek Lee misses five starts, which doesn't seem equal at all.
I'm not proposing Young be suspended for 25 games here, but I also don't believe the suspensions in this case are equal in severity. How do you deal with pitchers versus position players in a situation like this? I don't have any satisfying answers, but it's pretty clear that Bud Selig will never, ever, ever, ever have an even mildly satisfying solution either.