Recent brawls envokes memories, heartache and childhood

 

The recent Cincinnati Reds - Pittsburgh Pirates brawl that saw pitcher Amir Garrett charge directly to the Pirates dugout, Yasiel Puig act like a maniac and throw people around, and make many wonder why grown men sometimes act like children (or criminals, depending on who who talk with)...had nothing on the way brawls used to play out on big league diamonds.

Monday, August 12th was the 35th (!) anniversary of one of the wildest brawls in Major League history. 17 players were ejected. The Padres were leading the National League West, the Braves were in second, though they were 10 1/2 games back with 46 games left.

With a large lead the day before, Padres leadoff man Alan Wiggins had tried bunting for hits, and Braves pitcher Pasqual Perez yelled at him to "swing the bat" from the bench (invoking old school baseball that was complained about then, is now, and ever shall be). The two began screaming at each other multiple times during the game.

The next day, with Perez on the mound, he hit Wiggins with his first pitch of the game. San Diego (and Hall of Fame) manager Dick Williams then ordered his pitchers to throw at Perez every at bat he had, and they complied.

To make a long story short (too late, I know) umpires issues warnings, but neither team cared. Perez was thrown at during every at bat he had, and the teams eventually brawled in the eighth. At that point eight Padres had been ejected and three Braves. When Atlanta closer Donnie Moore threw at the Padres in the ninth, the teams brawled again.

Atlanta slugger Bob Horner, out with a broken hand and watching the game from the press box, went to the clubhouse and put on his uniform just to get into the melee. He couldn't be ejected, since he wasn't even an active player for the game (insert Seinfeld joke here). The Padres lost three acting managers. Williams was tossed in the second inning, then acting managers Ozzie Virgil Sr and Jack Krol, as the Padres kept throwing at Perez after warnings were issued. Umpire John McSherry eventually had to order both teams to the locker room, only allowed to enter the dugout when needed.

"If you don't work here, you can't fire me!! Right Bob Horner?"

"You can't eject me I wasn't even playing....that's what makes this so difficult."

It was a note to one of the more memorable baseball teams of my lifetime. The San Diego Padres won the National League Pennant in 1984. It's the year I started to remember my life more vividly. I was five. My mom babysat two of my cousins all summer and we had a blast. I recall dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller album in the family room. I saw "Ghostbusters" at the Drive-In with those same cousins, watched "The Neverending Story" (yes, "Stranger Things" fans, it was a big deal) on TV, and spent lots of time at "Farmer Jim's" one of the large community swimming pools in the area. That's if I wasn't racing my "USA Trucking Set" or my "Dukes of Hazzard" toys. For the first time I could recall the music I heard on the radio, primarily dominated by MJ, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Hall and Oates ("Maneater" became the first song I couldn't stand hearing), Huey Lewis and Billy Joel. Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It" became the first song I remember hearing constantly. And the Padres had their first real awakening as a franchise.

The team had never sniffed the postseason before. They weren't an overly talented club, but everything came together in a National League that wasn't very strong that season. Their ace pitcher, Eric Show, had a 12.38 ERA in three postseason starts. He was fighting deep personal demons , brought on by a father that physically and verbally abused him throughout his life, and always felt was looking over him, ready to criticize. Williams felt Show's large struggles that postseason were a product of being too hard on himself. Show had a reputation for crumbling in big moments, and later admitted that anytime he was in a jam, the words of his father echoed through his ears. Why wasn't he better than this? Why did he get himself in the position to begin with? Show, who was widely criticized the next season for showing little respect by sitting on the mound after Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's hits record with a single off of him, and decided to sit during the in-game ceremony, was a good man who tried hard. However, he found drugs worked great as an escape, and died after taking a speedball (cocaine and heroin overdose) in 1994. He was 37.

Alan Wiggins was the Padres drug addicted leadoff hitter who stole 70 bases that summer, and hit .341 in the postseason. He started multiple rallies against the Cubs in the NLCS and batted .364 in the World Series. He faced multiple arrests, was eventually traded and found himself out of baseball. He died of AIDS in 1991 at 32.

Another heartbreak from that San Diego team came from pitcher Dave Dravecky, who grew up 20 minutes from my hometown in Northeast Ohio. He was an outstanding starter/reliever who pitched to a 2.93 ERA that season. Dravecky threw 10 2/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen that postseason, and allowed just one run in 25 2/3 career postseason innings (0.35 ERA). In 1989 he developed cancer in his pitching arm and eventually had it amputated (Also note, the '84 Padres had a very deep bullpen, and "Bullpenned" their way to that '84 Series, as many teams try to do now. Goose Gossage, Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Andy Hawkins led the Padres assault that season.)

Then there was the talent. Tony Gwynn. Winner of eight batting titles and a lifetime .338 average, 1984 was essentially his first season playing everyday. Gwynn died at just 54 in 2014 due to cancer.

The Padres season culminated with an epic playoff comeback against a Cubs team largly thought to be the class of the NL. Chicago had essentially one other season since World War II, 1969, where they found any glory before '84 (and wouldn't find it consistently until the mid 2000's) , and that had ended in heartache. In that NLCS the Cubs outscored the Padres 17-2 in the first two games The series shifted to San Diego. The Padres beat Dennis Eckersley 7-1 in game three. Game four was a white-knuckler, going back and forth with swings in momentum, only to end when Steve Garvey homered off newly minted Hall of Fame closer Lee Smith in the ninth inning.

Steve Garvey knows he'll never have to buy anything in San Diego ever again

Steve Garvey breaking Cubs fans hearts with his game winner off Lee Smith in Game Four

The decisive Game Five, played the next afternoon on a gorgeous Sunday, saw the Cubs take a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth. Rick Sutcliffe, acquired from Cleveland in a trade, went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA for Chicago that season and would win the NL Cy Young. For the first time since joining the Northsiders he couldn't hold the lead. San Diego would tie the game in the seventh when pinch hitter Tim Flannery's routine ground ball went through Leon Durham's legs. Two batters later Gwynn roped a single to give San Diego the lead for good. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage ended it when Jody Davis hit into a fielder's choice.

The Padres lost to the Detroit Tigers in a five game World Series they didn't have much of a chance to win. Detroit started the season 35-5 (you read that right), won 104 games and had one of the deepest teams of the post World War II era.

So ended one of the most exciting, eventful and memorable seasons in baseball. And to my first real summer, and the first year I remember well.

Me getting home after my first day of kindergarten in 1984

The author of this peice. Getting home from my first day of kindergarten in August of 1984.

Mike Pilch

Mike Pilch

Mike Pilch is a news anchor for WIBA-AM and WISN-AM as well as a sports anchor for WTSO-AM and WRNW-FM. Read more

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