Former Major League Baseball All Star Mike Piazza has written a new book where he discusses many things – including that memorable 2000 World Series confrontation with Roger Clemens after Clemens hurled a half-broken bat back at Piazza. After some jawing at one another, Piazza went back to the plate and eventually grounded out to end the inning. Piazza discusses this incident in his book, offering his reasons for not going after (fighting) Roger Clemens immediately after Clemens threw a chunk of broken bat in his direction.
Some baseball fans thought he should have raced after Clemens and begun throwing hay-makers (or at least try to, as in the infamous Robin Ventura – Nolan Ryan fight), while others respected Piazza’s ability to refrain violence and keep his cool.
The Piazza – Clemens fight that never was actually opens up a wider discussion that applies to just about everyone involved in sports. When is it OK, justified, and/or appropriate to “take things into your own hands” and use intimidation and physical aggression to make a point (or get even)? As we all know, sports can be very “mental,” and getting in another athlete’s head is often something coaches teach and preach to their players in order to gain a competitive advantage.
In sports we do often see the “eye for an eye” mentality — ironically, we really see this a lot in baseball where it is not only common, but often expected, that a pitcher on one team throw at a player on the opposing team if one of his own players was hit by a pitch the inning before. In hockey, there are specific players on teams known as “goons,” with their primary role being to protect — even if that means beating up an opponent in order to gain a mental edge. In basketball, some players are known to “protect the paint” and knock down any opponent who tries to get to the rim.
When discussing sports aggression there are many layers to examine, including safety, legal, and moral considerations. On top of this is the fact that most sports aggression occurs when emotions are high (and logic and reasoning is low). Should Piazza have done more than jaw back at Clemens? If Piazza would have charged the mound would it have changed the tone of the game (and series)? Because Piazza didn’t do anything, did his team (the Mets) lose a potential “mental edge” as a result?