Hockey has fighting; baseball doesn't. At least that's the custom.
Some hockey players are, more or less, paid to fight, taking on other teams' enforcers in a well-carved corner of the sport. It is both a point of pride and a mechanism for the rule of law. Just as Bob Gibson had four separate types of knock-down and brush-back pitches to uphold rules of sportsmanship (and punish those who irked him), hockey's tough guys fight to protect their own respective honors and put the smackdown to any cheap-shotting goon that endangers the well-being of a star finesse player.
One such enforcer, Cam Janssen of the St. Louis Blues, offered his take on the bench-clearing brawl that unfolded Tuesday night at a baseball stadium rather than a hockey arena: a fight between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. He seems a bit timid about the prospect of getting into the middle of what was, at its epicenter, a violent scrum. Janssen tells the Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford:
"To me, it's pretty scary when you've got guys hitting you from behind and there's 40 guys out there throwing punches and you're not looking," Janssen said. "You get blind-sided and all of the sudden you're down in the pile getting kicked in the face. It's a scary thing, but sometimes it's kind of humorous when you see some of those guys try to throw punches."
The fight in Cincinnati was sparked by comments made the day before by Reds second-baseman Brandon Phillips, who said he "hate[s]" the Cardinals and that they're all "little bitches, every last one" who "bitch about everything." When Phillips came to the plate, as is customary for him, he tapped Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina on the shin-guard with his bat. Molina told him not to do that. Phillips did it again. Molina got in his face. It was on.
What mostly amounted to trash-talking evolved into Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, pinned against the backstop, kicking wildly into the scrum, landing spikes on the face of Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue and ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, who later said it's unfortunate Cueto "doesn't have a brain" (LaRue expressed similar displeasure). On Thursday, Cueto got suspended seven games. Here's the video. Biased commentary about Carpenter from the Reds announcers should be summarily ignored.
Predictably, Janssen backs up his hometown boy Molina, supporting the move of getting in Phillips' grill. And Phillips' mouth-running wouldn't happen in hockey, Janssen says:
"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."
On Cueto's kicking:
"That's gutless, completely gutless. Some of those (baseball players) are warriors, don't get me wrong. But some of them aren't. To see a guy getting kicked . . . it's a scary sight to see. But that's why I play hockey. There's a lot of respect and if someone wants to run their mouth, they're going to get called out in the middle of the ice and nobody is going to break it up."
So there you have it. Janssen is 1.) kind of afraid of the scene that went down on Tuesday, with its wild spike-kicking, despite the fact that some MLBers don't know how to throw a punch, and 2.) of the mind that hockey's code of fighting makes it more honorable than baseball. Run your mouth, and you have to settle it. The refs aren't going to break it up.
Janssen's discussion opens two questions: which sport has the better fights, and does the fighting (or lack thereof) actually make either sport more honorable?
I don't pretend to have an answer to the second. Baseball is undoubtedly more gentlemanly for its lack of fighting, and baseball upholds more nuanced codes of honor, some of which are getting watered down by modern umpiring. It used to be: show up a pitcher or talk a lot of trash, and you get beaned. Fair deal. Now umpires preemptively warn the benches that no bean-balls are to be thrown. The violence has been reduced. Has the honor been, too? I've personally neither been punched squarely in the face or beaned by a 90-mph fastball, so I can't quite say with authority. (Someday, maybe.)
There's no question that hockey fights are better, though the rarity of baseball fights makes them more valuable on sheer economic principle. It's a surprise when somebody charges the mound. But on the merit of the fighting, there is no contest. In hockey, actual punches get thrown as the players wobble around. We don't even need a video of a hockey fight to prove this. As much as I hate to say it, and, in saying it, to shamelessly use an old man to make a point...just ask Don Zimmer.
Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.