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How Writing the Unwritten Rules Impacted Wednesday's Brawls

Baseball players threw more punches in one Wednesday than Zach Britton threw pitches in the 2016 AL Wild Card game. There are definite consequences of baseball fights like those, such as ejections (eight players were tossed in Wednesday's fights) or the imminent suspension of Nolan Arenado. There are those outcomes that are more loosely tied to fighting, which seem to be more conjecture than anything else, like the increase in MLB's viewership. There are the potential causes of fights, like toxic masculinity. Then there are the more direct causes of fights, like those headshots noted in Sheryl Ring’s March 14 article, The Law of the Headhunter.

As in most baseball brawls, pitches that could be construed as headhunting stirred emotion. The Padres and Rockies collided after a typical beanball-war buildup. Manuel Margot was on the disabled list with bruised ribs from a Scott Orberg pitch no more than 24 hours before Arenado charged the mound after avoiding a Luis Perdomo pitch. The Yankees and Red Sox melee was a two-part production, with the sequel carrying more punch(es) than the original. Brock Holt took exception to Tyler Austin’s slide, yelling and causing the benches to clear. Four innings passed before a 97 MPH Joe Kelly fastball found Austin’s back elbow. Austin jogged toward the mound, Kelly motioned him forward, and the fight was on.

It turns out, the unwritten rules that catalyzed these brawls are actually written by the California Supreme Court as reasons that baseball players assume the risk of getting hit by a pitch when getting into the box. Though “a person can be held liable for recklessly hitting somebody with a golf ball, even if it’s not intentional,” according to Ring, hitters aren’t afforded the same legal protection. Based on the legal definitions of assault and battery, as Ring teaches us, as Perdomo’s pitch approached Arenado, he was assaulting him, and if it had hit Arenado, it would have been battery. However, because the California Supreme Court thought to write the unwritten, Arenado can’t sue Perdomo because Arenado assumes the risk by stepping in the box.

Ring says the laws around the ensuing brawls may be different. So, though the beanballers are legally insulated, the punch throwers of the ensuing ruckuses might not be so lucky.

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