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On This Date in Sports May 20, 1976: Rumble in the Bronx

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The rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox explodes into one of the ugliest bench-clearing brawls in the history of baseball. The fight is sparked when Lou Piniella crashes into Carlton Fisk while trying to score on a single by Otto Velez in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Nettles was out on a perfect throw by Dwight Evans. The fight would lead to Bill Lee suffering a severe shoulder injury.


Coming off a heartbreaking seven-game loss in the Fall Classic against the Cincinnati Reds, the Boston Red Sox were suffering from a World Series. Six weeks into the season, the Red Sox had a record of 13-16 as they began a four-game series in the Bronx against the first-place New York Yankees. Managed by Billy Martin had a record of 18-11. The Yankees were in the midst of a renaissance in 1976 as they returned to a renovated Yankee Stadium after playing the previous two seasons at Shea Stadium. The Red Sox were playing well heading into the series as they won eight of nine after starting the season with a dreadful 6-15 record over the first 21 games.


The Thursday night game was a pitcher’s duel early as Bill Lee had the Yankees tied up in knots, while Ed Figueroa matched him zero for zero over the first three innings. In the fourth inning, New York took a 1-0 lead as Thurman Munson scored on a throwing error by Rick Burleson at short, after Chris Chambliss slid hard into second to break up a double play.


The Yankees started a two-out rally in the sixth inning on a single by Lou Piniella, Craig Nettles followed with a single as Ozzie Velez came up with two outs and runners on first and second. He followed with a single to right field. Dwight Evans made a perfect throw home to Carlton Fisk. Piniella looking to jar the ball lose steamrolled, the Red Sox catcher. Fisk held on to the ball and was tangled up with Lou Piniella, who would not let go. This led Fisk to throw a punch that ignited the brawl. After the two were separated, Fisk held up his glove showing he still had the ball even after the first round of the melee.

 During the pile-up pitcher Bill Lee was shaken up and angry. He began spouting off at the Yankees when Craig Nettles deliver a punch that relit the fires as the teams started brawling again. This time multiple fights broke up as Mickey Rivers was viewed delivering sucker punches to several members of the Red Sox, while other members of the Yankees were kicking at Lee as he battled Nettles at the bottom of the pile. The pitcher nicknamed Spaceman would miss two months with torn ligaments in his shoulder. As Bill Lee left the field holding his left shoulder, fans cheered. Nettles would be the only player ejected from the brawl.


Carlton Fisk led the seventh inning with a walk, as Tippy Martinez came in relief. Martinez was greeted rudely by Rick Burleson, who hit a two-run home run to give Boston the lead. The Yankees would tie the game in the bottom of the seventh as Mickey Rivers singled home Sandy Alomar. In the eighth, the Red Sox got two more runs as Carl Yastrzemski took Tippy Martinez deep. In the ninth, the Red Sox added four more runs off rookie Ron Guidry, including another home run by Yaz winning the game 8-2, as Reggie Cleveland got the win.