Baseball fights more bark than bite

Baseball fistfights are a sight to behold.

The Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have almost come to blows over some tight pitches that came close to causing physical damage. On the west coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks have cleared their benches in on-field confrontations.

These incidents have jogged my memory about long ago fist fights that I witnessed on Blair County diamonds.

I was a participant in one of those fights, and my adversary was the shortstop for a Bellwood team in 1952. More about that dustup later.

Actually, the first fistfight I ever saw on a baseball diamond took place at Forbes Field in 1946. The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Bucs in a Sunday doubleheader. Dick Williams, later a Hall of Fame manager with the Oakland Athletics, was a combative Dodger outfielder with a reputation for fisticuffs. When he slid high and hard into Pirate third baseman Frank Gustine, they came to blows. Both were ejected but returned to action in the second game of the day.

Closer to home, in the summer of 1947, Hollidaysburg was hosting Duncansville in a Blair County Baseball League Saturday afternoon game.

Johnny Edwards was the Hollidaysburg shortstop when Ed Brubaker tried to steal second. Brubaker barreled into Edwards, who picked himself off the ground and came up swinging. Base umpire Jerry Spaulding finally separated the two and ejected Edwards. I was a spectator in the old covered wooden grandstand at Dysart Park and heard Edwards, who was not very tall or husky, promise to later wreak havoc on the muscular Brubaker. But nothing ever came of it.

The second brawl I witnessed was at Martinsburg in 1950 at July 4 Blair League game against Williamsburg.

George Kensinger was catching for Martinsburg when there was a close play at the plate involving Lynn Hoffner. They got tangled up and began pushing and shoving. This brought George’s brother, Leon, the Martinsburg manager, into the fray.

When Leon confronted Hoffner, Hoffner retaliated with a ferocious shove that put Leon on his butt. Again, the umpires restored order, and the game continued.

George Kensinger still lives in Martinsburg.

And now the details of the Wentz-Bellwood shortstop brouhaha. The name of the shortstop has been lost in the fog of time. I will call him Shorty.

I was playing for Hollidaysburg during a 1952 Blair County American Legion League game at Bellwood. I got trapped between first and second and was about to be tagged out by Shorty. But I took a wild swipe that dislodged the ball in his glove and it skittered away (Alex Rodriguez did the same thing to Bronson Arroyo in a Yankee-Red Sox playoff game in 2004.)

When the ball rolled into short centerfield, I touched second and took off for third. Shorty, unbeknownst to me, was hot on my heels. He was angry and wanted revenge. When I arrived at third, I turned around to survey the situation.

What I saw were haymakers coming at me from all angles.

I was so overwhelmed that all I could do was duck and cover. Hollidaysburg manager Ray Lamberson grabbed Shorty and urged calm. I was called out for interference.

When the game ended I puffed out my chest, feigned bravado and got the hell out of Bellwood as fast as my car would take me.

The last game I played in Blair County was in 1957, just before I left for a career in the Navy. I’m sure there have been baseball fights since then, but those are for someone else to remember.

Jim Wentz, a retired Naval officer, writes a monthly column for the Mirror and is an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.