One of the main arguments in favor of violence in hockey goes something like this, according to my esteemed former men’s hockey reporter:
If the other team has a player you want out of the game, it’s strategically wise to hack at him or her. Why? Because you either injure them and get them out of the game or they snap and get sent to the penalty box.
So if I follow that logic, it would be strategically wise for Randy Johnson to hurl fastballs at Ken Griffey Jr. early in a game. If Junior gets plunked, maybe he’s hobbled for the rest of the series. If he gets pissed and charges the mound, maybe he gets tossed for the rest of the game.
So why hasn’t baseball, or any other professional sport, seriously adopted the violence of hockey? Because it’s not sportsmanlike.
Yes, I guess I’m a new-wave jerk who doesn’t like senseless violence in sports — though I do like some of the sensible violence, like a bone-crushing hit in football. Don’t worry, our numbers are withering away. Some day, football players will punt each other’s heads up and down the football field as well as the ball.
But until that glorious day, the violence in hockey is meaningless, even overboard.
When I was a little kid, I was fascinated by hockey brawls. I still remember my favorite one. In the late ’80s, the North Stars (or Stars, if you will) were skating against the Blackhawks. While the announcers talked before the game about the matchup, viewers could see the teams skating in warm-ups below.
Suddenly, while an announcer was talking about one thing or another, I saw the Blackhawks and North Stars converge at mid-ice in a full-scale brawl. Naturally, the TV station broke away from the announcers to show the mayhem down on the ice.
I was about 10 years old then — fights don’t do anything for me anymore.
But let’s make this clear: we’re not talking just about fighting. We’re talking about players slashing each other with their sticks. We’re talking about players who know it’s strategically beneficial to try to start fights with certain members of the other team. We’re talking about Marty McSorely.
Just because violence has been in hockey since the good ol’ days on some pond somewhere doesn’t mean it has a place in the game. Other sports have evolved. Football has limited the amount of pounding quarterbacks can take. Basketball forces benches to stay put during fights. Boxing has dropped the number of rounds in a championship fight from 15 to 12.
In no other sport has anything that even rivals the sick brutality of McSorely’s slash — it’s simply not even thinkable.
But it is thinkable with hockey. It’s possible, vaguely, something like that could happen again.
It’s time for hockey to evolve.
Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]