By now, everyone's seen clips and photographs of the fight that broke out in the bottom of the first inning during Tuesday's Cards/Reds match-up. Watching it, well, it made me miss hockey season, but it also made me thankful that there's another sport with a code - namely, don't call our team "little bitches." These eloquent words from Brandon Phillips are what started the whole thing:
"I'd play against these guys with one leg," Phillips insisted before the game. "We have to beat these guys. ... All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, all of 'em.''
He also was quoted as saying, "I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."
Well, thanks. Your team gets all relevant for the first time since Marge Schott was dropping racial slurs, and Phillips thinks that he can add a little fuel to that match-up and battle for first in the Central. What he hoped to accomplish with that is beyond me - trying to scare the Cards into submission? "Oooga booga, it's Brandon Phillips! Gee, I really hope that he doesn't have a huge series and go 2-for-14 or something like that!" Phillips didn't back his words up. In fact, he was the ground out specialist of the Reds.
Even dumber than the original statement was him trying to go out and act buddy-buddy with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina by tapping him on the shin-guards. Yadi kicked his bat away and told him to stop, Phillips kicked him again to piss him off, and Yadi stood up and told him "I'm not your bitch." In those four words, Molina showed more team-riling gumption than Philips' national television spew. Of course, a fifty person fight ensued, in which Phillips couldn't be found. Oh, and the highlight of which was Johnny Cueto, the night's starting pitcher, bicycle kick Jason LaRue in the head. Cueto got a seven game suspension out of that class move. Seven minutes later, the game resumed, and Phillips grounded out to end the inning. Molina was first to bat in the second, and he promptly jacked a home run, sucking any good vibes directly out of the Reds. It also showed them that if you have a problem with a team, you deal with it on the playing field where competition takes place, not in the clubhouse behind a microphone.
The original words of this whole incident are what struck me as absurd. In a league that enjoys presenting itself as the class sport of the nation - "America's Game," if you will - they allowed Phillips to call an entire team "little bitches" publicly and no repercussions were given. Dusty Baker made no statement trying to smooth the situation over, making him complicit in the trash talk. Penalties were given after the fight, sure, but that was because of the brawl itself. What if that fight hadn't happened?
A situation like that in the NHL, such as Sean Avery's now infamous "sloppy seconds" comment, gets you an audience with the commish and a six game suspension. It's all right, though, for someone to directly use profanity when describing an opponent in nationally broadcast comments? No statement from Bud Selig, no reprimand, no fine. It's not a leap to read that as MLB not caring a bit about the comments of its employees, and therefore the image of the game.
Avery's suspension was absurd (Cueto got one more game than Avery did and Cueto could have blinded LaRue with a cleat) and reactionary. Selig's was apathetic if not oblivious, and his lack of response - as well as a lack of response by the Reds organization - allowed a fight to happen during a game that was, of course, picked up by national media. How ignorant does this make the Reds look? The League? The ignorance of not doing anything is just as off putting as the ignorance of over-punishment.
Molina did the right thing, and what he did is completely expected in hockey. Someone trash talks your team, or takes runs at your guys, and someone does something about it if no one else will. Policing yourself is (was, you could argue) a major part of the game, but it kept larger problems like direct retribution hits at bay. St. Louis Blues enforcer Cam Janssen had this to say regarding the scuffle:
"That was great that Yadi did that," Janssen said. "He's not going to take that from him, and why would he? The Cardinals are a great organization. They've got a great team, and they're classy. If someone was calling the Blues that, there would be hell to pay when they got to Scottrade Center, I'll tell you that."
But Janssen followed by saying, "In hockey, no one would do that because they know there's consequences on the ice. That's why hockey players have respect for one another. If you're going to run your mouth like that, then you're going to be called out on the ice. And I'll tell you what, there's nobody going to be breaking that up for a while."
Cam hits on something important. Hockey players have respect for each other. There are guys that you absolutely can't stand on the ice, but you have a code and you follow it. You can dislike someone and still respect their abilities at your sport, or them as a person in general. Also, his comment regarding "consequences" is a telling one - if there were stronger consequences - the removal of the instigator penalty, perhaps? - maybe fewer injuries would occur.
A happy medium needs to be found between the NHL and MLB's reaction to an incident of the same vein. Things can't be allowed to blow up like they did. But, most importantly, players need to have respect for each other. That's what Brandon Phillips was lacking. Nothing negative was said about the Reds after the game - Molina had this to say instead: "They've got a pretty good team. They were in first place, but we showed we've got good talent and we're going to compete. We took good at-bats. That's what we needed to do."
That's how the game needs to be played. Maybe Phillips needs to lace up and learn that lesson himself.