At the risk of overdoing the “completist” thing, I think it is time to go action-by-action on the A.J.Pierzynski/Michael Barrett melee (all screencaps are taken from ESPN.com’s online video highlight).
Murton sets up to throw:
Anderson stinks this year (he’s hitting a whopping .176) and would be considering king scapegoat if the team wasn’t in first place. He gets a good pitch to hit and hits it medium/deep to left. For a player with decent speed, tagging up should be easy. Pierzynski, however, is a catcher and is slow. Matt Murton has a decent arm.
The throw comes in:
As you can see (I’ve put a little red box around the ball on the image to highlight it), the play is close, but Pierzynski has pretty clearly beaten the ball to the plate. This is pretty easy to see. He comes in at full speed (well, top speed for a catcher), lowers his shoulder and…
Barrett does not have the ball (A.J. later said it hit him in the back as he was running), Pierzynski probably could’ve slid, the picture is a little blurry and the ump is blocking our view. They both fall down, as is the way when a grown man runs fulls speed into another grown man.
A.J. touches the plate:
Some said this was the reason for the punch, but Barrett said in his post-game presser that he didn’t even see A.J. slap the plate for empasis. Barrett said he was a little dazed (makes sense to me) and simply took a second to regain his full capabilities.
A.J. gets up/Barrett appears to come to:
Notice the stink-eye that A.J. gives to Barrett. Quick to anger, he is known as a bit of an instigator.
A.J. gets up and begins walking:
This is, in my opinion, the key point in the whole thing. Notice the direction A.J. is walking; He’s going towards the Cub dugout. He swears he went to go and pick up his batting helmet, which —believe it or not—makes some sense. Barrett said that the reason he proceeded with his actions (which we’ll see in the next image) was because he thought Pierzynski was “walking towards” Barrett (i.e. trying to start something with the Cubs catcher).
Barrett grabs A.J.:
This is the next problematic part. If you believe A.J. that he was solely going to retrieve his helmet, Barrett had no right to get A.J. in a bear hug. If you believe Barrett, he was simply defening himself, as he thought A.J. was walking towards him, menacingly (they’re both tall catchers, though A.J. has 25 lbs. on Barrett). However, if I’m Barrett, how is grabbing A.J. defending myself? If I let him bump me(which is what would’ve happened if Barrett really believed A.J. was coming for him), I have carte blanche to pop him one. As is, now I’m the instigator (seriously, that hugh/grab was the first non-baseball hit in the whole shenanagin).
A.J. appears to try to get out of the hold:
Seriously, he looks like he’s just trying to get away.
Words are exchanged:
I suspect this is when Barrett said “I didn’t have the ball.”
It’s a little grainy from the video, but you can see other photos all around the Web of the hit, I imagine. Here is one the second before fist hits face:
What most amazes me is that A.J. doesn’t drop when he gets hit. I imagine if I got punched in the face by another grown man, I’d like fall because of the shock, if nothing else. Admittedly, I haven’t been in a fight in a long time, but it strikes me as painful.
All hell breaks loose:
Again, the vidcap is grainy, but Podsednik runs in from the on-deck circle and grabs Barrett (the ump is doing the same). He supposedly is trying to punch Barrtett, but the video I’ve seen is unclear. The ChiPod was not among the four ejected. Notice the ump’s hold on Barrett. Ozzie said in his post-game presser that the umps did a great job getting control of the game. I agree.
All hell breaks loose, pt. ii:
John Mabry claims he went in to try and break everything up. If that’s the case, Brian Anderson didn’t think so. Anderson squares us to fight Mabry for no real reason (he claimed he was “defending his teammate”).
More on Mabry and Anderson:
Anderson is clearly not trying to make peace. What a dope.
The benches clear:
The one upside is that this was a real fight. All too often, baseball fights are just a bunch of pushing and shoving. There were several solid hits in this fight (the top two being the ones I’ve highlighted here).
After being ejected, A.J. plays to the crowd:
No stranger to wrestling, A.J. does a little arm-flap thing that makes the Sox crowd roar. As I understand it, he is a very popular player on the South Side.
Finally, play resumes and Gooch hits a grand slam:
Actually, Podsednik walked beforehand, but it was Tadahito’s second home run of the day.
Who’s to blame?
Evidence for A.J.’s story: His batting helmet was over that way. He’s a catcher and (like it or not) he probably understands that home plate hits are part of the game. Why on Earth would he try to start a fight in the second inning of a game? The Cubs are having a tough season and it is easy for frustrations to boil over, and that’s what happened. Barrett got made at the fact that the Cubs haven’t been playing well and he took it out on an easy target.
Evidence for the other side (not necessarily Barrett’s side, as he took total blame for the whole thing): A.J. Pierzynski is a hateable guy and would do something like that; Just look at what he did when he slapped home plate. He gave Barrett the stink-eye after the hit. Pierzynski’s a catcher, he should know not to do that to another catcher. Apparently, Barrett yelled “I didn’t have the ball,” but I’m not sure how much difference that makes.
Not to get too “liberal basing all the problems on the system,” but the system is to blame here, specifically the whole concept of a “home plate collision.” I won’t even get into the language problem there (OK, you twisted my arm. A “collision” involves two objects meeting at a speed, such as two cars on the highway. When one player is standing still, it is not a “collision.”), but the rulebook clearly states that no player can block off a base. Home plate is a base and the catcher is, by the letter of the law, not allowed to block off home. In fact, here’s the rule, Rule 7.06(b):
The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.
(Thanks ro Rob Neyer, for recently addressing this in a column.)
Like the strike zone and players diving over the plater to get HBPs, the umpires need to do a better job of enforcing the rules. A catcher isn’t allowed to guard home like he’s a goalie and the runners are pucks. Would you be happy if the third baseman did the same thing on a stolen base? It’s crazy.
Barrett was very contrite in his apology and A.J. was calmer than I expected. I imagine there will be suspensions and (likely) some retaliation today. It’s too bad when stuff like this happens, I guess, but it is sure is exciting.