Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Knight-Davis Fight
I was quite disappointed recently when ESPN's Page 2 ran a list of baseball's greatest fights and left off the Mets-Reds brawl of July 22, 1986.
The thing about that fight is, it was one of those games - typical for the Mets in those days - where nothing much happened until the ninth inning, other than Darryl Strawberry getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes. (Note: some of the play-by-play here is from Retrosheet, but sadly they seem to have changed the site layout so you can't link to individual box scores).
UPDATE: Per Jason Steffens' comments, here's the direct link.
Anyway, the game was going nowhere, 3-1 Reds with two outs in the ninth, when the Mets got two runners on against John Franco and Dave Parker proceeded to drop a routine fly ball by Keith Hernandez (it just popped out of his glove), the game was tied, and off to extra innings.
In the 10th inning, with Jesse Orosco on the mound, Pete Rose singled with one out, and put in Eric Davis to pinch run for himself. Blessed with incredible physical talents, the 24-year-old Davis had only just started playing regularly in June; maybe he was trying to impress his famously aggressive manager, who after all was despised by Mets fans for years after his own fight with Buddy Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS.
So Davis steals second and third (he'd wind up with 80 steals on the season), and at third he goes hard into Ray Knight, and when Knight jaws at him, Davis gives him a shove. Now, baseball players are not really known as good fighters; most of them just throw wild roundhouse Popeye the Sailor Man punches that don't do much damage. But Knight wasn't just any ballplayer; he was a Golden Gloves boxer in high school, and he knew how to throw a punch. He cocked his right arm quickly back and cracked Davis square in the jaw with a punch. You could tell he landed a good one when Davis' head snapped back like a bobblehead.
That's when it really got wild. Besides Knight, high on the list of guys you'd want on your side in a baseball fight was Gary Carter, the only guy I ever saw fight John Stearns to a draw. Carter had great presence of mind; as the dugouts started spilling out, he ran out from behind the plate, whipped off his mask, and almost in one motion, stuck the mask in front of Davis' stomach and just fell on him. Davis, the wind completely knocked out of him by landing on the mask, was out of the fight.
Too many others weren't; this was a baseball fight where it seemed like everyone was actually fighting. The worst of it involved the Reds' starting rotation, which for whatever reason decided to gang up on Kevin Mitchell, the Mets rookie who'd been through more than his share of actual gang fights as a kid in San Diego (he had the scars on his back from chain-whippings to prove it). The pitchers were taking turns holding Mitchell down and pummeling his face; even John Denny, who was on the disabled list, got in the act.
(The brawl also helped cement the end of the line for George Foster, the only Met to stay on the bench; he was released not long after).
When the smoke cleared, so many players were ejected (in the case of Mitchell and Davis, they were also physically unable to keep playing) that the Mets wound up the rest of the game with a ridiculous defensive alignment with Orosco and Roger McDowell alternating between the mound and the outfield (the Mets broadcast showed Pete Rose throwing the rule book in frustration - not the last time, I suspect - when he couldn't find a rule against this) and Carter at third base (Howard Johnson was at short). McDowell avoided fielding anything, but Orosco did catch a fly ball, and Carter started a double play from his new position; only in 1986 would things like this work out for the Mets. In the 14th, Ed Hearn doubled, Orosco (the triple threat!) walked, and Johnson -- then known more for clutch hitting and less as a productive everyday player - blasted a 3-run homer off Ted Power. In the end, it was one of the most memorable regular season games of that whole era.