Sunday Notes: The Meaning of Luke Scott, Tigers, Dodgers-Giants

The South Korean media should love Luke Scott. The outspoken outfielder will be playing for SK Wyverns this season and there’s a good chance not all of his bombs will come via his bat. Controversy and Scott have gone together like hand in glove.

That is not an indictment of his character. In a politically-correct climate where many athletes coat their opinions with vanilla, Scott’s candidness is refreshing. You may not agree with his views, but they’re dead honest. The erstwhile Astro, Oriole and Ray doesn’t shoot from the hip so much as he shoots from the heart.

Talking with Scott last summer, I learned that a pair of events helped shape not only his career, but also how he approaches life.

Scott suffered a noteworthy injury early in his minor league career.

“I blew out my quad,” explained Scott, who had been drafted by the Indians out of Oklahoma State University. “It was completely ripped. That’s something that needs to be surgically repaired within 24 hours and I didn’t even see a doctor for three days.

I asked Scott why.

“Poor treatment. I was in A-ball and wasn’t a top prospect. That type of deal. I was a 4.4 40 guy, too. I was a runner. I could play center and steal bases. I could jump out of the ceiling. I had really good combine-type numbers. The injury really affected me, but by the grace of God I was able to maintain a decent amount of athleticism afterwards.”

Event No. 2 occurred when Cleveland traded Scott to Houston at the outset of the 2004 season.

“It was March 31st and I was packing my stuff for some cold weather up in Buffalo,” said Scott. “Triple-A Buffalo. When I got traded, the Astros actually sent me to high-A. I was not pleased. Going from Triple-A and knocking on the door to the big leagues, down to high-A where I’d already been an all-star, was kind of a disgraceful thing for them to do.

“The first thing I did was give myself 24 hours. Twenty four hours to vent and rage, break things. I punched my door and put a crack in it. I broke a few boat oars out back of the house. I was mad, because I felt I was being stolen from. I felt I was being treated unjustly, and I was.”

I asked if he was given a reason.

“They gave me a stupid, political BS response. They said the rosters were full and they’d move me up to Triple-A, or at least Double-A, in two weeks. Two months later I was still in A-Ball, wearing it. I was pissed.”

What followed was some soul-searching. Rather than remain angry at the world, Scott looked to the heavens for some strength.

“I had a one-on-one with God. I got it all out. I told the Lord I was disgusted, because I’d worked very hard. I also told Him I trusted He had control over my future and that I knew nothing happened without His approval, so I wasn’t going to complain. I was going to work even harder and be thankful for my opportunity. I shifted my attitude to appreciation.

“After two months and three weeks in A-ball I was moved up to Double-A, and hit bombs there. The next year I was playing left field for the Astros and we went to the World Series.”

I asked Scott if there is a relationship between his faith and his outspokenness. In other words, is he comfortable enough in his own skin to freely share his beliefs, regardless of ramifications? He responded in the affirmative. In inimitable Luke Scott fashion, he then elaborated in a way sure to ruffle feathers.

“I’m a very open and honest person,” said Scott. “But I don’t… I’m not like the liberal left, who go out looking to verbally assault people. I don’t go out of my way to do stuff like that. I’m not saying there aren’t some on the right who do the same thing, but from my experience, it’s a very small percentage.

“When people ask me a question, I give them a straight answer. I don’t sugarcoat things, I give them an honest answer and I do it respectfully. It just happens that if you have a different opinion than them, the mainstream media and liberal left persecute you. They’ll slander you and lie about you. They’ll say nasty things, just because they disagree. That’s been my experience for years. People label me these things, that I’m this radical animal and lunatic. I’m not.

“I tell people what I think. You’re entitled to yours and I‘m entitled to mine. We all have to answer to the Lord God Almighty for every decision we make and every word we speak. How we live our lives is an individual responsibility. I don’t judge people. If they want to judge me, that’s up to them.”

——

Some stern judgment was rendered at Comiskey Park on April 22, 2000. The White Sox pounded the Tigers 14-6 that day, and fists were flying nearly as fast as baseballs. A pair of brawls resulted in 11 ejections and 16 suspensions.

The storm began brewing in the bottom of the sixth when Detroit’s Jeff Weaver barked at Carlos Lee after hitting him with a pitch. Chicago’s Jim Parque responded by plunking Dean Palmer leading off the top of the seventh. Palmer charged the mound and the benches emptied. Six were ejected and Tigers catcher Robert Fick was doused with beer after taunting fans from the visiting bullpen.

Animosity remained. Tanyon Sturtze came in to pitch the ninth for the White Sox and promptly drilled Deivi Cruz. Brawl No. 2 ensued, as did more banishments. Among those tossed was Detroit’s Doug Brocail, a tough-as-nails right-hander who earned six ejections over his playing career. Brocail — currently a special assistant to the GM in Houston — remembers the events this way:

“It’s funny, when I brawled, I blacked out,” Brocail told me last summer. “So I don’t really remember much outside of watching the videos. I do remember telling Dean Palmer they’re about to start hitting our guys and we’ll need to go out there.

“I remember Gibby walking in after the brawl and saying, ’Oh my God, you guys have to see Broc.’ Which wasn’t a good thing, because I think I was the guy who delivered the punch that just about ripped their third baseman’s ear off.

“The game was over. They had a big lead, so I knew something bad was going to happen when I saw they had relievers up. My main concern was protecting my teammates. Had I been on the mound afterward, my approach would have been to start hitting guys until I got ejected. It never got to that.

“Looking back, you think ‘How stupid.’ But the one thing that wasn’t stupid is we knew we had to protect our teammates. As pitchers, that’s what we do. I didn’t hit guys for hitting home runs against me. They did their job. But if Tony Clark or Bobby Higginson went deep, and they responded by whacking us, somebody had to pay the price. That’s how it works. If you hit one of our guys for doing his job, I was going to make sure, some how, some way, there was a payback.”

——

Baseball’s most infamous altercation occurred on August 22, 1965, at Candlestick Park: Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants chopped Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro over the head with his bat. A wild melee ensued and Roseboro required 14 stitches. Dodgers manager Walter Alston said at the time, ‘There was nothing but blood where his left eye should have been.’

There is more to what happened than a heated rivalry and an act of violence. That is true not only from a baseball perspective, but from a sociological one as well. A new addition to my bookshelf — The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption — tells the story well. I asked the author, John Rosengren, for a snapshot of the incident.

“The fight was on a Sunday, the fourth day of a four-game series,” explained Rosengren. “Leading up to it were a series of events. Maury Wills had squared around to bunt, then reached back at the last minute and nicked Tom Haller’s glove. That angered the Giants, because the umpire called catcher’s interference. So Matty Alou tried to do the same thing, and while he didn’t nick Roseboro’s glove it was enough of a distraction that the ball missed Roseboro’s glove and hit him in the chest. When Roseboro yelled about it, Marichal shouted from the bench ‘Haller doesn’t complain, why are you complaining?’ Roseboro told Alou, ‘Tell Marichal if he doesn’t shut his mouth, I’ll shut it for him.’ After the game, he sent a message through Orlando Cepeda saying, ‘I’ll get Marichal if he doesn’t shut up.’

“During the game where the incident occurred, Marichal knocked down Wills and Ron Fairly. Sandy Koufax threw a pitch over Willie Mays’ head in retaliation. The home plate umpire warned both sides that any more inside pitches would result in an ejection. When Marichal came up to bat in the bottom of the third, the Dodgers didn’t want to give up Koufax that early in the game. Roseboro said he’d take care of it. He deliberately dropped the second pitch, picked it up and threw it back past Marichal’s face. Marichal claims it was so close it actually nicked his ear.

“Marichal turns and sees Roseboro — who had a reputation as one of the toughest guys in the league — advancing toward him. Marichal takes a step back and brings his bat down in self defense.”

I also asked Rosengren about the sociological and psychological aspects of the incident. He explained that Marichal’s homeland, the Dominican Republic, had erupted into civil war. There was violence in the streets of Santo Domingo and he was worried about family that remained there. Mays said Marichal was so distraught he shouldn’t have been playing. He was on edge and it wouldn‘t take much to set him off.

Roseboro was an African-American living in South Central LA. He had just watched Watts burn. The smoke could be seen from Dodger Stadium. Roseboro was wondering why they were even playing baseball at a time like that, with all the rioting. He sat up one night with a gun to protect his family.

As Rosengren told me, “When you throw that into a Giants-Dodgers rivalry and a pennant race, it wasn’t going take much to ignite those tensions in a brawl.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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