As I mentioned in the first half of this series, the Yankees have had some great rivalries, and most of us remember where we were and how we yelled at the TV when certain fights happened. Here is the second half of my top 10 fights in Yankees history.
5. Shelley Duncan and the Spring Training Melee
I cannot think of a single good reason why a fight breaks out in spring training. Veterans are getting their work in, rookies are trying to make an impression. Everybody's biggest worry is getting hurt and missing opening day. The last thing anybody thinks about is a fight. The 2008 Rays had other ideas. After a home plate collision a few days earlier, Shelley Duncan retaliated by sliding into second with spikes up. Tampa Bay right fielder Jonny Gomes charged in and the benches cleared. It was the birth of a division rivalry with the division newest member.
4. Alex Rodriguez vs. Jason Varitek
July 24, 2004, was a flashpoint in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. After getting hit by a pitch, Alex Rodriguez started yelling at Jason Varitek and it was very easy to read lips ("F--- you! F--- you! F--- you, M---r f---r, c'mon!"). Varitek puts his mitt in Alex's face, and Alex grabs him in a headlock and throws him around like a rag doll. After Varitek was rescued by his teammates, a bunch of other fights broke out on the field. This fight was a clear indicator of what the rivalry with Boston looked like in 2003 and 2004. It wasn't as bad as 1976, ut it was intense. Do hard feelings linger? Neither Alex nor Varitek will sign a picture from that game. Tanyon Sturtze, who started that game for the Yankees, grew up in Boston. In an exclusive interview with BYB (read Bleeding Yankee Blue: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TANYON STURTZE), Sturtze said that after this fight, he threw out a bunch of Red Sox memorabilia and despises the Red Sox to this day. Enough said.
3. Graig Nettles vs. Bill Lee
Speaking of 1976 .... it started as a war of words. In 1973, after an altercation between Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, Red Sox pitcher "Spaceman" Bill Lee said the Yankees looked like "a bunch of hookers swinging their purses". Three years later, in 1976, Bill Lee was pitching against the Yankees when Lou Piniella barreled into Carlton Fisk in a play at the plate. All hell broke loose. Piniella and Fisk went it for a while before it was broken up. Then Lee got the brilliant idea to yell at Graig Nettles. Nettles knocked him to the ground with a single punch. Mickey Rivers and a bunch of other Yankees got into it as well. When it ended, Bill Lee walked away clutching his arm in obvious pain, causing the Yankees Stadium crowd to erupt in cheers. Was it connected to the 1973 comments? After the game, Bill Lee would call manager Billy Martin a Nazi, who responded by leaving a dead fish at his locker with a note telling him to stick it in his purse. Graig Nettles asked after the game, "I'd like to know, does he look like he's been hit with a purse?” Bill Lee was never the same pitcher after that injury. Those were the days.
2. Armando Benitez hits Tino Martinez
Armando Benitez came in to save a 1-run lead with two on when Bernie Williams sent a fastball over the fence for a three-run home run. Maybe it was the fact that the Orioles had lost 7 of their previous 9, or that they were in dead last. Regardless, Benitez lost his composure and hit the next batter, Tino Martinez, on the first pitch. Darryl Strawberry led the charge from the dugout and the fight lasted for 10 minutes. It spilled into the visitor's dugout, with lots of people getting involved. Most notably, Graeme Lloyd flew in with a wild haymaker, which earned him a loud standing ovation the next game he appeared in. Curiously, Cal Ripken was pulling people away from the fight. He was in the middle of his consecutive game streak, so I wondered why he would risk getting injured. Nevertheless, it was a stupid move by Benitez, even prompting some of his teammates to say the same. To add insult to injury, the next batter, Tim Raines, hit a home run. It was a nice touch.
1. 2003 ALCS Pedro Throws Zimmer to the Ground
Betting on baseball gets you banned from the Hall of Fame. Throwing a 72-year-old man to the ground apparently does not. Roger Clemens was pitching to Manny Ramirez when he threw a pitch that angered Manny. If you see the footage, the pitch was high but over the plate. That little detail didn't stop Manny from walking to the mound and yelling at Clemens, who was yelling back. Benches cleared, and Don Zimmer charges Pedro Martinez. Pedro grabs him by the head and shoves him down into the ground. The fight literally stops and both Yankees and Red Sox players come around to see if Zimmer was okay. It drew universal condemnation from the announcers to baseball journalists all over. Even Mayor Bloomberg suggested that perhaps assault charges should be considered. Despite rationalizations from Pedro that he was trying to defend himself, absolutely nobody was buying it. It was an ugly game, with 3 separate altercations, and deepened the hatred between the two teams.
So that's it. I gotta tell you, recalling some of these incidents got me heated. And it's the offseason. So what did you think? Did I get it right? Did I miss any of your favorites? Let us know.