Best Fights in Baseball History: The Rivalries and Brawls That Defined the Game

Jake Cain

Jake Cain

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Last Updated: February 1st, 2024 by Jake Cain

We love baseball for a variety of reasons.

In particular, fans often resonate with players who play the game with great passion. Legendary figures like Pete Rose come to mind, who seemed to play with a level of grit and hustle that most fans imagine they’d play the game with if they had the opportunity.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, players passion on the field sometimes boils over into benches clearing and punches being thrown.

Fortunately, we’ve got it all on tape to relive over and over again.

In no particular order, here’s our list of the best fights in baseball history:

Buddy Harrelson And Pete Rose

The infamous brawl between Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds and Bud Harrelson of the New York Mets was sparked by Rose’s aggressive slide into second base during the National League Championship Series on October 8, 1973.

Intent on making a statement and potentially influenced by Harrelson’s previous comments about the Reds’ hitting, Rose slid hard into Harrelson, initiating a fight that cleared both benches.

As they tussled at second base, teammates joined the fray, leading to multiple scuffles on the field.

The situation was exacerbated by the charged atmosphere at Shea Stadium, where New Yorkers were rooting for their underdog Mets against the dominant Reds.

The brawl incited fans to shower the field with debris, creating a chaotic scene that nearly caused a forfeit when a whiskey bottle nearly hit Rose. Despite the mayhem, no players were ejected or faced subsequent punishment, highlighting the grittier, less-regulated nature of baseball at the time.

The Mets managed to resume play, secure a victory, and eventually claim the pennant amid an era of baseball that was unrefined and unguarded compared to today’s standards.

Nolan Ryan And Robin Ventura

On August 4, 1993, a notable altercation occurred between Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura during a game between the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. Ryan, who was 46 years old at the time, hit Ventura with a pitch, leading to Ventura charging the mound.

What ensued was a lopsided confrontation that looks like what would happen if you would charge the mound on your uncle in a backyard Wiffleball game.

If you’ve never seen the video, check it out above.

The incident became a defining moment in the careers of both players. Ventura, who was 26 years old at the time, was widely criticized for his decision to charge the mound against the veteran pitcher. The fight highlighted Ryan’s tough demeanor on the field, a contrast to his normally reserved personality.

Following the fracas, Ventura was ejected from the game, while Ryan was allowed to continue pitching. Major League Baseball issued fines to both players, but neither player received a suspension for their roles in the fight.

Jason Varitek And Alex Rodriguez

One of the most memorable altercations in baseball history occurred on July 24, 2004, between Jason Varitek, the Boston Red Sox catcher, and Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third baseman. The incident was sparked after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch from Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo and exchanged words with Arroyo, leading to Varitek stepping in and escalating the situation with a shove. The iconic image of Varitek thrusting his mitt into Rodriguez’s face symbolizes the intense rivalry between the two storied franchises.

The brawl resulted in the ejection of both players from the game, and it further inflamed the fierce competition felt during the 2004 season. The fight is often cited as a pivotal moment that galvanized the Red Sox team, contributing to their historic comeback in the American League Championship Series and eventually leading to their World Series victory, breaking the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino.”

Following the brawl, Major League Baseball handed down suspensions: Varitek received a four-game suspension, while Rodriguez was suspended for four games as well.

Braves Vs. Padres In 1984

During a game on August 12, 1984, between the San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves, a record 17 players were ejected due to multiple brawls. The hostilities began the previous day when Braves pitcher Pascual Perez and Padres second baseman Alan Wiggins exchanged words over bunt attempts. In the following game, Perez hit Wiggins with the first pitch, setting off tensions that would escalate throughout the matchup.

Despite warnings from umpire Steve Rippley, Padres pitcher Ed Whitson made several attempts to hit Perez in retaliation, ultimately leading to Whitson’s and manager Dick Williams’ ejections. The brawls continued, with acting managers and replacement players also getting ejected. In a notable incident, the Padres’ Champ Summers attempted to confront Perez in the Braves bench but was blocked by an injured Bob Horner, who wasn’t officially in the game.

The feud extended into the ninth inning, where Braves pitcher Donnie Moore hit Graig Nettles and both benches cleared again. Umpire crew chief John McSherry, fearing for crowd control, cleared both benches, sending all remaining players to the clubhouses. The game reflected an era of baseball characterized by less regulation and more on-field retaliation, with no immediate repercussions beyond ejections. Dick Williams was later suspended and fined for his role in the conflicts, and other players from both teams also faced suspensions and fines.

George Brett And Graig Nettles

George Brett and Graig Nettles are iconic names in Major League Baseball, both having remarkable careers mostly with the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees, respectively. Their careers intersected dramatically on October 9, 1977, during the American League Championship Series. The incident between the two occurred when Brett slid into third base and Nettles kicked him, leading to an on-field altercation.

During the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium, the Royals were leading the series 2-1. Brett’s aggressive slide into third was met with Nettles’ reaction, which was a swift kick as Brett stood up, igniting the infamous fight. Benches cleared, and the brawl ensued, resulting in the ejections of both Brett and Nettles.

The fight echoed the intensity of postseason baseball and highlighted the fierce rivalry between the Royals and Yankees during the 1970s. No suspensions were handed down, and both players continued to make significant impacts for their teams.

Yankees Vs. Orioles In 1998

The 1998 baseball season witnessed a heated rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, culminating in an unforgettable brawl. Tensions between the two teams had been simmering due to the intense competition in the AL East Division and prior incidents. On May 19, 1998, the Yankees and Orioles clashed at Yankee Stadium, resulting in a bench-clearing fight.

The altercation was sparked when Orioles pitcher Armando Benitez hit Yankees batter Tino Martinez with a pitch following a home run by Bernie Williams. This act was perceived as intentional and retaliatory by the Yankees, leading to an on-field confrontation. Players from both teams poured onto the field, exchanging words and blows as the umpires struggled to restore order.

Following the fracas, the American League handed out suspensions to key players involved, affecting both teams’ rosters. Benitez received an eight-game suspension for his role in inciting the incident. This event is often regarded as a defining moment in the rivalry between the ‘98 Yankees and Orioles.

Carlton Fisk And Thurmon Munson In 1973

On August 1, 1973, Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, two celebrated catchers of their time, were involved in a notorious altercation. It began when Munson, playing for the New York Yankees, collided with Fisk at home plate during a suicide squeeze play. Tensions between the rival teams escalated, culminating in a memorable bench-clearing brawl.

Both Fisk and Munson were well-known for their competitive spirits and their determination to excel, characteristics that fueled the intensity of their rivalry. While the fight did not lead to suspensions, it cemented the fierce competitive nature of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and remains a significant moment in baseball history for fans and players alike.

This clash reflected not just personal animosity but a larger competitiveness of the era, symbolizing the tension that defined the American League East rivalry during the 1970s. The incident continues to be mentioned whenever the enduring rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is discussed.

Rockies Vs. Padres 2018

On April 11, 2018, Coors Field witnessed a heated altercation between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres that escalated, culminating in a bench-clearing brawl. The fracas began when Padres pitcher Luis Perdomo threw a pitch behind Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado, seemingly in retaliation for earlier incidents in the series where Padres players had been hit by pitches.

Arenado, visibly enraged, charged the mound, hurling his helmet at Perdomo, who responded by tossing his glove at the charging Arenado before both benches cleared. The melee prompted suspensions for five players: Arenado received a five-game suspension, Perdomo was suspended for five games, Padres catcher A.J. Ellis, and Rockies outfielder Gerardo Parra faced suspensions as well.

Jose Bautista And Rougned Odor

On May 15, 2016, a notable brawl erupted between Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays and Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers. The tension reached a peak in the final game of the series when Bautista slid aggressively into second base, prompting Odor to retaliate with a punch to Bautista’s face. The bench-clearing brawl that ensued has since become one of the most talked-about fights in baseball history.

Odor’s swing at Bautista followed a heated exchange, rooted in Bautista’s bat flip in the 2015 postseason—considered disrespectful by many traditionalists—and was a culmination of the ongoing bad blood between the two teams. Following the altercation, punishments were handed down with Odor receiving a seven-game suspension for his role in the incident.

The fight between Odor and Bautista reflected the sometimes volatile dynamics within baseball, where unwritten rules and player pride can quickly escalate situations.

Cubs Vs. Reds 1984

The baseball game on May 27, 1984, between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds escalated into a conflict initiated by a contentious home run call.

The Cubs, at that time, were enjoying a favorable season standing in first place in the National League East Division, while the Reds were second in the NL West. During the game, Cubs player Ron Cey hit a ball that was initially ruled a home run by umpire Steve Rippley, but Reds players contested the call, leading to a heated 30-minute debate involving players and umpires.

During the argument, Reds pitcher Mario Soto became particularly agitated and even attempted to throw a bat at the fans, resulting in his teammate Brad Gulden stepping in to prevent potential violence.

The initial home run call was eventually overturned, and both Soto and Cubs manager Jim Frey were ejected from the game. Following this incident, Soto was suspended for five days and fined. Despite the disruptions, the Reds ultimately won the game 4-3, but the Cubs had a successful season overall, winning the NL East.

George Bell And Bruce Kison

On April 12, 1985, the intense rivalry between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals reached a boiling point, leading to a memorable showdown between George Bell and Bruce Kison. Bell, a formidable slugger for Toronto, took issue with a pitch from Kison, then a veteran pitcher for the Royals, that hit him squarely in the back. Believing the pitch was intentional, Bell charged the mound, igniting a bench-clearing brawl.

The altercation between Bell and Kison was a flashpoint in an otherwise typically competitive game, and it underscored the tensions that can escalate quickly in baseball. The fight resulted in ejections and put baseball’s unwritten rules on league-wide display. Following the game, both players faced disciplinary actions; however, details on subsequent suspensions or fines remain obscure.

Juan Marichal And Johnny Roseboro

The notorious incident between Juan Marichal and John Roseboro occurred on August 22, 1965, during a tense game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants.

With a high-stakes pennant race in full swing, emotions had been heightened throughout the series. Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers and Juan Marichal of the Giants, both future Hall of Famers, were the starting pitchers in a match featuring several star players.

During the third inning, Marichal, believing Dodgers catcher Roseboro had deliberately thrown a ball too close to his head, retaliated by striking Roseboro with his bat. The blow led to a bench-clearing brawl, with Roseboro requiring 14 stitches for his injury.

Willie Mays, a Giants player and friend of Roseboro, played a critical role in calming the situation, and home plate umpire Shag Crawford tackled Marichal to help end the violence. The aftermath saw Marichal suspended for ten games and fined $1,750, while Roseboro sued him for damages, resulting in an eventual $7,500 settlement.

Both Koufax and Marichal experienced a dip in performance following the incident. Years after the fight, Roseboro and Marichal reconciled and developed a friendship, with Roseboro even supporting Marichal’s Hall of Fame induction. When Roseboro passed away in 2002, Marichal served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Jose Ramirez And Tim Anderson

In the landscape of baseball’s memorable confrontations, the skirmish between José Ramírez and Tim Anderson notably stands out. The inciting incident sparked on the field due to a play at second base, leading to tempers flaring between the two infielders. Ramírez, known for his tenure with the Cleveland Guardians, and Anderson, a mainstay of the Chicago White Sox, both brought a competitive edge to the game.

Take a look and a listen to the video above as the play-by-play guy switches into full boxing announcer mode during the fight and makes one of the most memorable calls you’ll ever hear.

Billy Martin And Reggie Jackson

The confrontation between Yankees’ manager Billy Martin and outfielder Reggie Jackson during a nationally televised game is etched in baseball history. The incident occurred on June 18, 1977, in a game against the Boston Red Sox, when Martin removed Jackson from the game allegedly for failing to hustle on a fly ball.

The argument between the two was fierce, occurring in full view of the television cameras and spectators, showcasing a significant clash of personalities.

Martin was a no-nonsense manager with a fiery temperament, while Jackson was a high-profile signing known for his slugging prowess and as the nicknamed “Mr. October” for his clutch playoff performances. This altercation was a manifestation of the season-long tension brewing in the Yankees’ clubhouse, a dynamic often cited as an example of the volatility of the 1977 Yankees team.

Although no suspensions resulted from this specific scuffle, it underscored the ongoing struggle within the sport between discipline and player individuality.

Billy Martin’s and Reggie Jackson’s legacies include their hallmarked roles in some of baseball’s memorable brawls, with their volatile relationship defining an era of Yankees history. Their mutual competitiveness helped lead the team to success, despite such public conflicts. The altercation highlighted the pressure-cooker environment of New York baseball and remains a topic of discussion among baseball historians.

Twins Vs. Tigers In 1982

During the 1982 baseball season, one of the more memorable altercations unfolded between the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers.

Two brawls broke out during the game, resulting in multiple ejections and injuries. The confrontations began when Twins’ starter Pete Redfern hit the Tigers’ Chet Lemon with a pitch, inciting Lemon to charge the mound and sparking a bench-clearing fight. Lemon was ejected following the melee.

Further tensions flared in the 11th inning when Ron Davis of the Twins threw a pitch close to Enos Cabell of the Tigers, leading to the game’s second brawl. As a result of this second skirmish, four players were tossed from the game: Cabell and Richie Hebner of the Tigers, and Jesus Vega and Ron Davis of the Twins. During this incident, Tigers’ pitcher Dave Rozema was seriously injured, twisting his knee and requiring removal from the field via stretcher.

The game was eventually decided in the 11th inning when, after returning to play and with Terry Felton pitching for the Twins, Kirk Gibson hit a two-out, two-run homer to clinch the game for the Tigers.

Cardinals Vs. Giants In 1988

The brawl between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants on July 24, 1988, at Busch Stadium was sparked by a controversial slide into second base. The bad blood stemmed from their previous encounter in the National League Championship Series, which the Cardinals won. The eighth inning of the game saw Giants’ Will Clark slide hard into second base to disrupt a potential double play after a ground ball hit by Candy Maldonado. Ozzie Smith, the Cardinal’s shortstop, and second baseman Jose Oquendo took exception to what they considered an aggressive and unnecessary slide by Clark.

Clark, who perceived his slide as clean, was confronted by Smith and Oquendo after the play. An altercation ensued when Oquendo either kneed or kicked Clark and then slapped him as he tried to get up. Smith then punched Clark from behind, which Clark labeled as a “cheap shot.” The fight escalated when Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog defended his players’ actions, asserting that any shortstop and second baseman would have responded similarly.

Smith, already frustrated by what he saw as unchecked intimidation by the Giants, particularly Clark, expressed the need for the Cardinals to toughen up and not be bullied. Clark criticized Smith’s actions, expecting a direct confrontation instead of being attacked from behind.

The melee resulted in the ejections of Clark and Oquendo, while Smith, who was also involved in the fight, was not ejected because the umpire Dutch Rennert did not see him land any punches. The incident continued to affect the game when Cardinals pitcher Scott Terry threw a purpose pitch close to Giants’ Mike Aldrete’s head, leading to his ejection and both benches clearing for the second time. Terry’s actions reflected the Cardinals’ sentiment that they needed to stand up to the Giants’ aggressive play.

In the end, although the game resumed and no further punches were thrown, the incident remained a significant clash between the two teams, both physically and in terms of baseball philosophy, with varying interpretations of aggressive play and how it should be handled on the field.

Reds Vs. Cardinals In 2010

The 2010 season saw heightened tensions between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals culminate in a notorious brawl. On August 10, during a series pivotal for division standings, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips’ comments about the Cardinals sparked animosity, setting the stage for conflict.

During the game, remarks escalated into a scuffle as Phillips approached the plate and tapped Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina’s shin guard, which Molina took offense to. This action triggered a benches-clearing fight. Pushing and shoving ensued, marked by an intense moment where Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, pinned against the backstop, lashed out with his cleats, inadvertently injuring several players.

In the aftermath, Johnny Cueto received a seven-game suspension for his role in the melee, while both team managers, Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa, were fined.

Bryce Harper And Hunter Strickland

On May 29, 2017, the baseball world witnessed a fiery confrontation between Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants. This animosity stemmed from the 2014 NLDS when Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, which seemingly precipitated the bad blood between them. Their clash escalated quickly as Harper charged the mound after being hit by a pitch from Strickland, resulting in fists flying and both benches emptying in a bench-clearing brawl.

Suspensions and Fines: Major League Baseball acted swiftly, handing down a four-game suspension to Harper and a six-game suspension to Strickland. Both players were also fined for their roles in the altercation.

The incident became one of the most talked-about fights in recent baseball history, not just for its intensity but also for the history leading up to it. It served as a reminder that tensions in baseball can run high and personal rivalries are often hard to leave behind, even as players move between teams.

Reds Vs. Pirates In 2019

The 2019 baseball season witnessed one of the intense clashes between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. On July 30, a brawl erupted following a series of hit-by-pitches and escalating tensions over the course of their matchups. Earlier tensions were stoked in April when Pirates pitcher Chris Archer threw behind Reds first baseman Derek Dietrich, who had admired a home run.

The conflict ignited from a Garrett charge towards the Pirates’ dugout, leading to both benches clearing and a heated exchange on the field.

The aftermath of the July brawl led to suspensions for multiple players. The most significant were handed to Reds pitcher Amir Garrett for 8 games and Pirates pitcher Keone Kela for 10 games, both for their involvement in the incident.

Reggie Jackson And John Denny

In a game between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, tensions escalated after John Denny of the Indians threw a high fastball past Reggie Jackson’s chin and subsequently struck him out. Jackson, who had been previously knocked down by pitches and had expressed frustration with his team’s lack of retaliation, charged the mound after being struck out. The benches cleared, but no punches were thrown as Jackson was restrained by his teammates. The umpires issued warnings to both teams and ejected Yankees third base coach Joe Altobelli for his comments from the bench.

Later in the game, after order was restored, Jackson avenged the brushback pitch by hitting a two-run home run off Denny. Jackson’s dramatic theatrics while rounding the bases, which included a fist pump and tipping his cap to the crowd, provoked Denny and led to another bench-clearing brawl involving serious fights.

Both Jackson and Denny were ejected after this second altercation.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, displeased with the event, threatened legal action against any pitcher who would intentionally throw at a Yankees batter in the future

Tim Belcher And Chan Ho Park

The altercation between Tim Belcher and Chan Ho Park is a notable event in baseball skirmishes. Park, a pitcher known as the first South Korean-born player in MLB, was involved in a physical incident during a game while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On July 11, 1999, the Dodgers faced the Anaheim Angels, and tension escalated when Park took offense to being tagged out by then-Angels pitcher Belcher.

The confrontation quickly became physical when Park delivered two kicks to Belcher, an act rarely seen in baseball. The bench-clearing brawl that ensued ended with Park being suspended for seven games and Belcher for two, reflecting MLB’s stance on on-field violence.

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