Benches-clearing brawls are fairly uncommon in baseball, but they do happen from time to time, and a doozy took place in Fenway Park on June 4, 2008. Coco Crisp was the focal point, as he charged the mound after getting drilled by a pitch from Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields. Crisp, who has a background in the sweet science, told his side of the story prior to reporting for spring training with his current team, the Oakland A’s.

There are rivalries within the division, including Boston and the Rays, and they’re pretty intense. With my particular incident, I got on first base and my mentality every time I get on is to move forward, go to the next base, steal a base. I had a good jump, and the issue came when I slid into second.

There are unwritten rules in baseball, and one of them is that middle infielders don’t drop their knee in front of the bag intentionally, or in a way that can be thought to be intentionally. It’s one of those unwritten rules; you don’t do it. Now, it’s not illegal within the handbook, within MLB rules, but you don’t want to hurt somebody either. There’s no rule that says I couldn’t just run down to second base and tackle the second baseman, take him out like a catcher. I’m not going to do that, and dropping the knee in front of the bag is something you’re not supposed to do, but it was done to me. I slide headfirst and I jammed my thumb a bit, which is not that big of a deal—I wasn’t in pain or anything like that—but it could have been a lot worse. So I got up and had some choice words for [Jason Bartlett]. He didn’t even look at me.

I had time to think about what happened, and I was like, “Fine, if you’re going to play dirty like that, that’s the way it’s going to be.” I had done nothing to deserve it, so if you’re going to hit me with low blows, I can play dirty, too.

My next at-bat, I get up and I’m like “I don’t care how I get on, but I’ve got to get on.” If he covered the bag, I wasn’t going to slide. I was going to do the dirty, you know, take him out. He didn’t want to say anything to me, fine. You play it dirty, I can play it dirty too. You’ve got to nip stuff right in the bud when it happens.

I got on. I drew a walk and got on base. I’m looking at the infielders giving each other signs, like open mouth and closed mouth, to see who’s going to cover the bag. I took off as soon as the pitch was [delivered]. They knew I was probably going—slidestep, I didn’t care—but I was going anyway. I knew I was probably going to be out, but that wasn’t my intention, to be safe. I did have a good enough jump and was running hard enough that I could have been safe.

Bartlett didn’t cover the bag; [Akinori Iwamura], the second baseman, did instead, so my mentality of how hard I was going in simmered on the last few steps. I still went in hard, because my mentality was to go in really hard, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as I was going to go in on Bartlett.

After that, I ran off the field and manager [Joe] Maddon came out and started looking over to our dugout. He was talking to our manager, but Tito [Terry Francona] had nothing to do with it. So I told him, “Stop talking to him, talk to me. I did this on my own. I don’t even know why you’re out here yelling; you’re supposed to be the defuser and you’re just fanning the flames. Tell your people not to play dirty, and I won’t play dirty.” Those are nicer words than what we were actually saying.

Nothing else happened in that game, but afterward I did an interview where I said “Bartlett did something dirty; he put his knee down, which is something that can injure a player and mess up a career. If he’s going to do that, I’m going to take up for myself. Right now, we’re tit for tat, but if anything changes, we won’t be tit for tat.” Basically, I implied that if they hit me with the baseball, something was going to happen.

I went into the manager’s office and talked to [Terry Francona] and let him know what my thought process was. He told me, basically, “You’re a grown man.” I said, “Okay.” He didn’t tell me to, or not to, turn the other cheek. After that, I had all night to think about it and prepare myself for the next game.

I get there for the game and one of the guys from the other team, who used to play for [us] came up and said, “What’s going on man, you trying to get hit by the baseball?” I said, “No, but if I get hit, it’s not going to be even. It is what it is.” We were just talking, you know.

I talked to my [father] and he was asking “What’s going on, is everything okay?” I told him, “Hey, you guys might want to tune in to this next game. If they hit me with the ball, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He was like, “OK, be careful, whatever you do.”

The next day I’m thinking about what [the Rays] are going to do. When pitchers think they have something that can mess with your focus, they usually hold it over you as long as they possibly can before they actually do the deed. For instance, if they want to throw a curveball, it might buckle me because I think the ball is going to hit me. So I went in there with the mentality that I was going to stand in there. I didn’t care how close the ball got to me, I was going to stand in there and not give up any of my at-bats. I didn’t think I was going to get hit in my first at-bat, but boom, boom, bam, [James Shields] hit me in the leg.

[Getting hit in the leg] was a good thing, because a baseball can kill you. When you intentionally hit somebody, you aim for the armpits down. Really, lower than that, like ribcage down. I give him props, because he hit me in the leg. He didn’t try to end my life.

After I got hit, I was actually kind of shocked, because I thought they were going to try hold it over my head. But I had already prepared myself mentally, like I would as a fighter—as a boxer—for battle. I prepared for battle in a time of peace, and now the battle was here. I was mentally ready for it.

Without thought to how it was going to go down, I took my helmet off and ran out there. Being a former boxer, like my dad was, and growing up with that, I had all the intention in the world to throw the first punch. I ran out there, but things quickly changed. I’ve never run after somebody, first off. When you get in a boxing ring you kind of bounce toward each other, kind of walk up and touch gloves, and it’s game on. Sprinting at somebody is completely different. So I’m running at him and it’s like, “Wow, this is different.” Not with the mentality to kill anybody, but you’re still upset. You’re mad, so you’re going out there to fight.

I saw his two hands separate, and I saw his chest, quickly, which meant I wasn’t in a position to throw the first punch; I wasn’t in a stance to throw an effective punch. When I saw him break, I knew he was coming up with something. I didn’t know what. When I saw how far he was separating… I mean, it has to come back equally as far, so it’s just not going to be a straight punch. I had to maneuver out of the way of the punch, and try to connect.

I was in the air, awkward and off-balance; I was floating through the air while I’m trying to dodge this punch, while the catcher, [Dioner Navarro], is behind me. If you can throw the first punch, you get it off, but if you’re dodging a freaking 95-miles-per-hour arm that’s throwing a haymaker, the catcher has time to catch up to you. When I threw my punch, [Navarro] kind of pushed me in the back, which got my punch a little off target and it grazed [Shields’] back instead of being on target, which was his cheek or chin. Anyway, he spins off, because he threw a haymaker and missed, and Navarro wraps me up.

My thought process was “Don’t go down, don’t go down.” I was doing a good job of that, and Shields turns back around and throws a second punch, which was aimed for my chin, which was probably going to be a pretty good shot, but I put my chin down and he hit me in my chest. I went down and Navarro got on top of me. [Jonny] Gomes came over the top swinging, but he didn’t even hit me, I don’t think. He hit Navarro most of the time. Iwamura, who I took out, came in and threw like a little bitty punch, but it was one of those unsure ones, like “Ah, I don’t really want to hit him, but I’ll throw one anyway.” I think one of their coaches got me in a headlock underneath there and tried to bridge my neck. I had to get out of there, so I hit him in the arm and he let go, and that’s when Carl Crawford slid in.

What surprised me was Carl Crawford. He slid in there and hit me three times on top of my head, like pow, pow, pow, and he was pulling my braids and scratching my eyes. You know, it was tough underneath that pile. It’s not a place where you want to be.

The people on my team… well, the only person who surprised me was Sean Casey. He went over there throwing haymakers and blows, and he’s like the nicest, funniest, most easy-going person. You’d have never thought he’d be running out there like a fool to try to help me out. I think he shocked me from my side, and Crawford shocked me from their side.

It’s crazy you know, but within the game… all that being said, it’s done. It’s over with, you know. There are no hard feelings. I’m not mad at Shields, I’m not mad at Gomes. The very next year, Gomes and I ended up working out at API. Carl Crawford and I have talked and it’s been like, “Yeah, my bad; it’s cool.” I talked to Shields the very next day.

It wasn’t that big of an ordeal, per se, afterwards. It probably was to everybody else, who doesn’t know what goes on after the fact, the making up and the process where it becomes “Everything is cool.” It’s just one of those things where there are unwritten rules and you have to try to get that line back clear after it’s been blurred, or smeared.

I felt like they hit me on purpose. I don’t really get hit by pitches. I think I’ve been hit three or four times in my entire career, so if you hit me, that means it’s on purpose, because I get out of the way. This one was on purpose for me doing something dirty, and me charging the mound was the rebuttal to the initial dirtiness. I had to even things out.

When all was said and done, underneath the pile I got the worst of it, but it had to be done. I wanted people to know, and not just by me saying something but by the actions I took, that it wasn’t acceptable to me. Actions speak louder than words within the game when the lines get blurred. Some people probably don’t feel it was the right thing, but I feel like it was.

 This was just a baseball thing. It was the type of ordeal where there was a lot of hype and hoopla, but when all is said and done, it’s not about the fight. It’s about playing the game right. That’s the good thing about stuff that happens within the game, and that’s what it is. It’s a game and we go about it that way. It’s not personal, if you know what I mean.

Thank you for reading

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In one paragraph Crisp says "So I went in there with the mentality that I was going to stand in there" and later on remarks "so if you hit me, that means it’s on purpose, because I get out of the way". It appears to me that Mr. Crisp brought the fight on himself by standing in when he normally would have been dodging. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

And nowhere in his discussion of the post-fight conversations does he mention talking to Bartlett, the instigator (presumably) of all this; why not go to the source and find out what he was thinking?
Most awesome, David. Thanks much for this...
I don't think I've ever seen a Q&A before with so much A and so little Q. :-) Most enjoyable to get what amounted to a Crisp stream of consciousness on this one. Did you actually ask him questions that don't appear here, David, or was this incredible torrent the result of a single inquiry that opened the floodgates? Crisp seems like the kind of guy who'd be willing to just let it go. (Truthfully, I'd sorta like to meet him.)
Bill: It was done as a straight Q&A, but I felt that it flowed better with the questions edited out. I did the same a few months ago with a Bob Kipper Q&A.

This series is all about the interview subjects, not me -- I'm kind of the anti Deborah Solomon -- and with Coco and Kipper I simply opted to become invisible.
David, the way you said this: "Crisp, who has a background in the sweet science, told his side of the story ", and how everything was in the first-person, I presumed that this was an op-ed kind of piece, that Crisp was asked or offered to write up a first-person account. If instead this is you transcribing or interpreting what Crisp said, at the prompting of various questions of yours, you should make that much clearer.

Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed the piece.
And what is "the sweet science"?
Boxing -
Fun piece. I don't mind the questions being edited out, since the piece was labeled as a Q & A, after all.
I guess from a journalistic point of view, you probably should have mentioned that you edited out the questions, but from a reader enjoyment perspective, I liked that format a lot and would like to see more of it.

Thanks for this. Very interesting and entertaining.
No complaints at all about the way you structured this. It reads like a great narrative. I wish more "Q&A"s read like this. Well done.
I loved this, partly because when my dogs woke me up at 4 AM today, I was doing Fantasy research and was pondering both Crisp and Crawford.