The Great Brawl of ’84

Not since the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre had Chicago seen an eruption of violence like the one on May 27, 1984 at Wrigley Field—okay, not quite an apt comparison.

A three-run homer in the second inning of a Cubs-Reds game ignited the fury.  With Leon Durham and Mel Hall on base, Ron Cey smashed a Mario Soto pitch into the left field stands.  Umpire Steve Rippley called it fair, which prompted outrage from the Cincinnati bench.  Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune cited the viewpoint of Reds third baseman Wayne Krenchicki.  “I was the first one to confront him.  I could see in his eyes he wasn’t sure.  He didn’t say one word when I protested,” said Krenchicki.

The wheels fell of the wagon.  Immediately.  While the Cubs celebrated, the Reds protested that Cey’s knock was foul.  A reversal of the ruling triggered outrage from Cubs manager Jim Frey and third base coach Don Zimmer.  Wrigley Field’s famed bleacher bums responded by throwing debris onto the field.

Cubs announcers Harry Caray and Steve Stone debated the validity of a protest.

Caray:  “I would imagine that this game is going to be continued under protest by the Cubs, though.”

Stone:  “Well, I don’t think you can protest a judgment call.”

Caray:  “Well, whose judgment call are we talking about?  The judgment of the third base umpire or the judgement of the home plate umpire?  Now whose jurisdiction is it?”

Stone:  “Well, it’s still a judgment call at any rate because it’s not an infraction of the rules and you cannot protest a judgment call.”

Caray:  “Well then why don’t you let the plate umpire call them all?  Why do you have the third base umpire who’s that close, who runs down the line because the jurisdiction of the call is his, otherwise he wouldn’t even bother to go down the line?”

Stone:  “But he can and has been on many instances overruled as is the case right here.”

Caray:  “Well, what I’m saying is if you can’t protest a judgment call, you certainly can protest the fact that one umpire’s judgment says it’s fair and the other umpire’s judgment, who is not the umpire who is empowered normally to make the call, says that it was a foul ball.  The other guy who usually is empowered to make the call says it’s a fair ball.  And he was much closer to the play than the other guy.  I would protest anyway.  I don’t care whether…how many times do you win a protest anyway?”

Stone:  “You’re never going to win the protest.”

As Caray and Stone bantered in the WGN broadcast booth and the Cubs manager, coaches, and some players argued with the umpires, Cey remained on the bench, observing the chaos.

And the rage escalated.  Soto had already bumped Rippley before his teammates held him back.  Ultimately, he got ejected, which set him off further—he sprung out of the dugout.  Further, he tried to go after fans with a bat before being restrained.  Jim Frey and Larry Bowa shouted at the umpires so loudly, passersby on Sheffield Avenue could hear them.  Cubs outfielder Mel Hall held back his manager.

Frey’s Cincinnati counterpart, Vern Rapp, then discussed the situation with the umpiring crew:

  • Home Plate:  Paul Runge
  • First Base:  Randy Marsh
  • Second Base:  Bob Engel
  • Third Base:  Steve Rippley

Things cooled down for a few minutes.  And then a bench-clearing brawl broke out with the force of February winds off Lake Michigan.  “What a rhubarb!” exclaimed Caray.

The umpires reversed Cey’s home run.  In the do-over at bat, Cey lined to Reds shortstop Tom Foley.

Soto received a five-game suspension from National League president Chub Feeney, the Cubs lost the game 4-3, and Chicago’s North Side had yet another ignominious moment in its baseball annals.

Wally Altmann, a St. Xavier College sophomore, caught Cey’s home run ball.  “From the position that he might have been standing the ball did look fair from where he was.  But where we were standing, it was foul,” explained Altmann to Caray and Stone.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 18, 2016.

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