Baseball And Fisticuffs: A Bad Combo

By Paul Hagen
Updated: June 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — It was just another ho-hum spring-training day. Blue skies, swaying palm trees, a meaningless exhibition to be played.

At least it was on that March afternoon in 1977 at Tinker Field in Orlando, Fla., until Rangers second baseman Lenny Randle, unhappy at losing his starting position to rookie Bump Wills, emphasized his discontent with a quick flurry of punches that sent manager Frank Lucchesi to the hospital with a broken cheekbone.

Stuff happens, but physical confrontations between players and management don’t occur very often. So the news that Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon had grabbed general manager Ed Wade around the neck and thrown him to the floor in a dining area off the clubhouse Wednesday night naturally got a lot of attention.

The two incidents have some parallels. Randle was irritated because he didn’t think he was being given a fair shot to defend his position. Chacon was disgruntled because he was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen.

Randle said he was provoked because Lucchesi had referred to him as a “punk” a few days earlier. Chacon said he lost it when Wade told him to “look in the [bleeping] mirror.”

Rangers owner Brad Corbett immediately declared that Randle would never play for the Rangers again. Houston owner Drayton McLane promptly voiced his support for Wade and said that, you guessed it, Chacon is through with the Astros.

“We can’t have anarchy. You can’t have rebellion. If he disagreed with what [manager Cecil Cooper] wanted him to do, he should have had the courage to sit down and talk to him,” McLane blustered to the Houston Chronicle.

“If you shoved a policeman down or any other public servant … can you imagine shoving a principal in school? There’s absolutely no way. You can’t defy authority.”

Clearly, Chacon crossed the line. So did Randle. At the same time, when things like this happen, there’s almost always plenty of blame to go around. With hindsight, the Rangers shouldn’t have allowed that situation to linger until the last week of spring training.

And the atmosphere around the Astros has been increasingly tense lately, with some players openly second-guessing Cooper. Management has to take some of the responsibility for that. Randle never played for Texas again, but prolonged his career with the Mets and Mariners.

Hopefully, Chacon will get a similar opportunity.