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Original Issue

Inside Baseball

The Fights of Spring
Two bench-clearing brawls showed that bad blood and retribution
can flare up even in exhibition games

Spring training games may not count in the standings, but they
conform to the code of frontier justice associated with
beanballs. And baseball's hanging judge, Bob Watson, was in
midseason form last week, acting on two bench-clearing brawls.

"It's all about bad blood," says Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella.
"Most of what's going on started a while ago, so the bad blood
was there already. It doesn't matter that they are spring
training games. If there's bad blood between two teams, it's
going to show up."

Last year, for instance, Mets catcher Mike Piazza grabbed Dodgers
pitcher Guillermo Mota by the collar of his shirt an inning after
Mota had plunked him with a pitch. Red Sox pitcher Pedro
Martinez, a friend of Mota's, said Mota was criticized by fellow
Dominicans over the winter for not fighting back. "Someone tries
to choke me," Martinez said, "I'm fighting."

Mota apparently retaliated last week with two inside pitches to
Piazza, the second of which hit him on the back of the left
shoulder. Piazza charged the mound. Mota flung his glove at
Piazza, then backpedaled furiously. Piazza later stormed the
Dodgers clubhouse looking for Mota, who had already left the

Watson, an MLB vice president, suspended Piazza and Mota for five
games each on Monday. Last week he suspended Expos outfielder
Vladimir Guerrero for three games and Marlins pitcher Brad Penny
for five games after a brawl on March 10. Guerrero charged Penny
after being hit with the second of two straight inside fastballs.
(All suspensions apply to regular-season games.)

"There is no game awareness anymore," says Yankees manager Joe
Torre. "Anytime a pitcher misses up and in, the batter likes to
think the guy is throwing at him. I once had a guy--not with the
Yankees--charge the mound when he was hit with the bases loaded."

The two recent incidents notwithstanding, charging the mound is
not becoming a trend. Over the past decade, there have been no
fewer than four and no more than eight incidents (in spring
training and the regular season combined), with a decrease in
each of the previous four years, from eight in 1999 to four last

"These things happen," Martinez said. "Don't make it out to be
too big. It's as much a part of the game as hitting and pitching.
Bob Watson, let it go."

Union Weighs in on Ephedra
No Ban, but Not Recommended

After a medical examiner determined that ephedra contributed to
the death of 23-year-old Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler (who died
of heatstroke), the players' association took a stance on the
supplement that was hard and soft at the same time. Its message:
Don't use the stuff, but don't ban it either.

Union executive director Donald Fehr issued a memorandum to
players, but he made no recommendation for, or mention of, a ban.
He referred to a recent investigation by the Food and Drug
Administration into whether ephedra should continue to be
available as an unregulated supplement.

"As we told you in our March 5 memo on this subject," Fehr wrote,
"such dietary supplements are currently undergoing a more
intensive scrutiny by the federal government, and we urge you to
avoid supplements containing ephedra pending the results of that

The NFL, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee have
taken steps to ban ephedra. The baseball union historically has
resisted banning substances that are available without
prescription. For instance, it rebuffed a request by Major League
Baseball in the last collective bargaining agreement to include
androstenedione in a comprehensive drug-testing plan.
Androstenedione is a legal over-the-counter supplement that is
readily available, though andro is classified as a steroid
precursor because it raises the level of testosterone.

Read Tom Verducci's Inside Baseball column every Tuesday at

COLOR PHOTO: TIM SHORTT/FLORIDA TODAY/AP (TOP) Guerrero took exception to being hit by Penny, and Piazza took another run at Mota (inset)

COLOR PHOTO: MSG/AP [See caption above]