Baseball brawls are as old as the game itself. In fact, they used to be much more common than they are today. Anyone who thinks the flare-up in Detroit on August 23rd this year between the Yankees and the Tigers was the first time those American League rivals engaged in such extracurricular activity should go back sixty years ago when there was another dandy.
Yes, it started when the Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera shoved Yankees catcher Austin Romine, then Gary Sanchez and several others joined in. But there was a precedent for this kind of stuff going back to 1957.
Not the first time
According to an Associated Press report, sixty years ago there was an incident then that involved the same teams playing in the same city, though in a different ballpark.
That game featured some well-known names of the day, such as Earl Torgerson, Ray Boone and Frank Bolling of Detroit and the Yankees’ Bill Skowron, Tom Sturdivant, Hank Bauer, Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard and, of course, the battler, Billy Martin.
You probably will never hear about this from Yankees’ radio voice John Sterling when he does “This Day in Yankees History.” It certainly is not one of the proud “Yankees Classics” as shown on YES. But why ignore what actually happened? Let’s bring it out in the open, right now.
June 9, 1957
It was the third inning of a game played before 41,189 at old Briggs Stadium in what was often referred to as the Motor City. The Yankees went on to win, 5-4, but right now that is irrelevant to this story. Perhaps nobody remembers the score or the actual game itself. There might be some baseball fans still around who were kids or teenagers at the time and who remember the fight.
On that afternoon New York pitcher Tom Sturdivant was probably seething after giving up successive home runs to Frank Bolling and Charley Maxwell that gave the Tigers an early 3-0 lead.
The next batter was Ray Boone, and Sturdivant delivered a fast ball high and inside that narrowly missed his head. The American League did not require players to wear batting helmets until the following year and the Major Leagues went until the 1971 season to do so. The pitch didn’t hit Boone directly, but after ducking to avoid it, the ball hit his bat and then struck his shoulder.
Boone then went after Sturdivant and they met halfway between home plate and the mound where they exchanged three or four punches. Both ended rolling around on the ground while the benches emptied.
Boone ended with a “mouse” under his right eye, and later remarked, “I don’t mind a duster (but) no one can throw at my head. They can throw at my legs and dust me off, but they can’t throw at my head.”
Sturdivant, who was unmarked, gave the same kind of explanation we’ve been hearing ever since. “The pitch just got away from me, that’s all.” That may have been true, but did you ever hear a pitcher say otherwise?
Of course, the famous umpire Bill Summers ejected both players. Later they were fined the “astronomical” sum of $100 each. That would be about $750 in today’s economy. However, ballplayers were not making in the millions as they are today, either.
More fighting soon followed
Four days later the Yankees were involved in another skirmish when they went to Chicago to play the White Sox. It was even worse, a full-scale brawl, delaying the game for 28 minutes. It began in the first inning when Larry Doby, former Cleveland star, landed a sharp left hook on the jaw of Art Ditmar, whose wild pitch was perceived by Doby to be aimed at him.
Among those participating in this affair was Walt Dropo, the former UConn three sport athlete who spent most of his Major League career with the Red Sox. The “Moosup Moose,” as he was known, battled (“Country”) Slaughter, a former St. Louis Cardinal hero, who finished his career in New York. Dropo was Connecticut bred in the small community of Moosup.
And so the Yankees were not, even 60 years ago, a team to avoid the activity of pugilism. Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez. and some of their teammates in 2017 merely followed suit. Strange that the other guys in 1957 were also playing for Detroit.