Assault can be a jailable offense. So if you find yourself running headlong towards a tormentor spewing slurs and cocking your fists, you better hope that you’re a professional baseball player. That’s because when you wear stirrup socks, a simple assault isn’t criminal, it’s “old school.”
Sport has a strange relationship with the law. Historically leagues have policed themselves, doling out suspensions and fines instead of calling on the judicial system. Players brawl at will—within certain limits. Meanwhile, the same teams have expanded surveillance and security to insure fan safety often by arresting fans themselves. (Admittedly, most if not all are drunk, belligerent, or caught mid-brawl.) At least one team went so far as to allow an ad hoc court to be set up “in house” to expedite legal proceedings against their own fans. Yes Philly, I am looking at you.
But even baseball can’t always shield its players from the law, as seen recently when Jose Offerman was arrested and now faces two counts of second-degree assault. “It was one of those moments that you want to forget. I lost it for about 10 seconds,” Offerman told the Connecticut Post.
The former Met and All Star didn’t spontaneously combust. He came swinging after being plunked by a pitcher whom had coincidentally given up a homer to Offerman earlier in the game. Assuming the pitch was payback, it’s not such a stretch to imagine that in the real world it would be easy for Offerman to claim self defense. But this isn’t the real world. It’s professional sports.
In baseball the unwritten rule is, drop the bat before assaulting anyone. No player has run afoul of this commandment since 1965. That’s when Juan Marichal, a pitcher ironically, brained the opposing team’s catcher. Marichal was suspended for eight games. No arrest, but the catcher, John Roseboro, took the law into his own hands later suing.
Looking at precedent, the Sports Law Blog asks “Is there really much difference between a raged Jose Offerman charging the mound with a bat, and any other raged player charging the mound with just his fists? What if that player is trained in martial arts?”