What if a Juan Marichal-John Roseboro brawl happened today?

ByJim Caple ESPN logo
Friday, August 21, 2015

The Kansas City Royals received considerable coverage and social media attention for fighting earlier this season, but the brawl that has been written and talked about more than any other in baseball history took place 50 years ago Saturday: the infamous fight between San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal and Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro.

The Giants and Dodgers were fighting for the National League lead, and their heated rivalry intensified early in the Aug. 22, 1965, game at Candlestick Park when Marichal knocked down Maury Wills and Ron Fairly with tight, inside pitches. This was a much more common pitching tactic in those days, but Dodgers starter Sandy Koufax did not hit a Giants batter in retaliation. "He said, 'No, that's not my game,'" then-Dodgers second baseman Jim Lefebvre recalled last week.

Instead, Roseboro decided to retaliate himself.

With Marichal batting in the third inning, Roseboro threw a ball back to Koufax so close to Marichal that he said it nicked him in the ear. Marichal responded by confronting Roseboro, and the two exchanged curses. The catcher took a step toward Marichal, and Marichal responded by lifting his bat and crashing it down on Roseboro's head, opening a 2-inch wound that required 14 stitches. The benches emptied, with Willie Mays, a close friend of Roseboro's, helping restore order.

Marichal received a suspension of eight game days (because of two doubleheaders, it wound up being 10 games) and a $1,750 fine, the highest league-mandated fine in baseball at the time. In today's money, it would be around $15,000, or less than what Clayton Kershaw earns every two pitches this season. Then again, players earned far less back then, and the fine was roughly 3 percent of Marichal's $60,000 salary. To fine Kershaw the same percentage would require $900,000, but fines are almost always under $10,000 these days.

It wasn't the fine that upset people most, though.

"I remember how unjust the punishment was," then-Dodgers first baseman Wes Parker said last week. "We all thought he should be banned from baseball for at least a year or have done jail time. We just could not believe that was all the punishment he got."

Were the brawl to take place today, the glare of social media would have pressured baseball to give Marichal a longer suspension. Discipline for on-field altercations is handled on a case-by-case basis, with regulations specifying that "moving toward a pitcher and retaining his bat as he moves may be the subject of severe disciplinary action.'' That should also be the case for swinging at a catcher. Roseboro, however, might also be subject to discipline for throwing the ball at Marichal.

There are many suspensions for aggressive behavior every year, but most are under 10 games. The longest suspensions since 2000 have been 20 games (reduced to 13) to Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers for shoving two cameramen in 2005 and 16 games to Frank Francisco, another Texas pitcher, for throwing a chair that hit a fan in 2004.

While it's hard to say exactly how the league would respond to a bat-wielding incident today, social media would instantly clobber Marichal harder than he hit Roseboro.

OMG! Juan Marichal just literally bashed John Roseboro on the head with a bat!

Dodger Blue Bleedin' Dodger Red!!!

Not even @TaylorSwift13 could shake this off! #HatersGonnaHateHateHateHateMarichal!

Thanks to cellphones, people also would share the iconic image of Marichal with his bat raised. The difference is modern photos probably would be selfies of people posed in front of the brawl.

Here I am at an MMA fight ... between Giants and Dodgersat AT&T Park!

Vin Scully said what he remembers about that brawl was trying to keep any children listening to his broadcast calm: "I was trying to make a little better situation out of it."

These days, with video of the brawl going instantly viral -- cameras in 1965 did not capture how it started -- not even Scully's calm, distinguished voice would keep the public from exploding in rage.

But how long would the rage last in today's culture of social media? John Rosengren, who wrote extensively about the incident in his excellent and well-researched book "The Fight of Their Lives," said he has pondered that question several times.

"I think it would go viral, and then it would go away," he said. "It would not be as big a deal today. It would be huge for like three days and then be forgotten and go away. The reason I say that is because of the way the news cycle goes now. Things are competing for space, and attention spans have gotten shorter."

Rosengren makes a valid point. While the Twitterverse explodes over events, such reaction often is wiped from the screen by the next "trending" story. The media moved more slowly in those days, so a story stayed alive longer. Magazines Time, Life and Sports Illustrated all had stories and photo spreads on the incident.

Clearly, it is remembered today. Despite Marichal's averaging 20 wins a season from 1962 to 1971, finishing his career with 243 wins, a 2.89 ERA and 52 shutouts, and being in the Hall of Fame, Rosengren said, "Unfortunately, the first line of his obit will be about the Roseboro brawl." (Such was the case with Roseboro's obituary in 2002.)

Although Marichal still would be blasted today, hopefully racial stereotyping would not be as prevalent as in 1965. As Rosengren points out in his book, many critics resorted to stereotypes by referring to Marichal as a "fiery Dominican" and "young Caribbean hot blood."

Rather than a "young Caribbean hot blood," Rosengren wrote Marichal "was a man of deep faith, sweet-natured and fun-loving," who reacted very poorly in this one moment he would deeply regret.

Although social media would put increased pressure on baseball to punish Marichal -- #ReinstatePeteRose #BanMarichal4Ever -- perhaps the pitcher would be able to appeal his suspension today and delay it enough to change the pennant race. The Giants went 3-6 (with a rain-induced tie) during Marichal's suspension. Marichal was 19-9 with a 1.78 ERA before the suspension and 3-4 with a 3.55 ERA after he returned.

"The biggest impact on Marichal and the Giants is when he came back -- he wasn't the same pitcher," Rosengren said. "He lost his effectiveness. He was afraid to pitch inside. He didn't want to hit anybody. I think it was more of a psychological effect on him."

The Giants and Dodgers swapped the National League lead down the stretch, with San Francisco in first place by four games with 12 remaining. The Giants went 5-7 the rest of the way, while the Dodgers went 11-1 to win the pennant by two games.

"We were real pissed," Lefebvre said. "Our catcher was hit, so OK, we're going to go out and beat these f---ers. They have Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, but we can beat them. They jumped out and took a four-game lead with 12 games left, and we came back and beat them by two. 'That's the way you want to play? OK. We'll come back and beat you.'"

Whatever the immediate reaction in today's culture, it would be important for people to take sufficient time to consider and understand everything that was involved and not just that violent, tweetable incident. Which brings up the significant subtitle to Rosengren's book: "How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption."

Rosengren noted how both players were undergoing considerable emotional distress at the time of the brawl -- Roseboro from the Watts riots near his home and Marichal from a civil war that would kill 3,000 people in his native Dominican Republic. It also must be remembered that throwing at batters was much more acceptable back then.

More importantly, though Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 (he settled for $7,500), the two eventually became friends. When Marichal pitched briefly with the Dodgers at the end of his career, Roseboro told Los Angeles fans to forget about the incident. After Marichal failed to get elected to the Hall of Fame his first two years on the ballot, he reached out to Roseboro for aid. The two received media attention at a charity golf event, and Marichal made the Hall of Fame the next ballot.

Marichal also served as an honorary pallbearer and spoke at the catcher's funeral in 2002. As Rosengren described in his book, Marichal took the microphone in front of all the funeral attendees and said, "I'm sorry. I wish I could have pulled back those 10 seconds. ... Johnny's forgiving me was one of the best things that happened in my life."

"That," Rosengren said, "speaks more for him than anything else he did."

By the way, Roseboro's funeral program had the two-page photo spread of the fight that was in Life magazine.

Old media can resonate just as much as -- and perhaps longer than -- new media.

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