The Story Behind Baseball's Ugliest Brawl

One Sunday afternoon in August 1965, as baseball’s most storied rivals, the Giants and Dodgers, vied for the pennant, a fight broke out on the field. Giants pitcher Juan Marichal was at bat with Dodgers catcher John Roseboro behind the plate when their 14-minute brawl began. The fight immortalized by an iconic photo: Marichal’s bat poised to strike Roseboro’s head. But, as author John Rosengren explains, the brawl had roots in the racial prejudices against blacks and Latinos both men faced and surmounted.

On the culture shock that Latino players, including like Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, experienced:

“The Latinos coming to the United States encountered racism that they hadn’t known at home. I mean, there weren’t Jim Crow laws in the Dominican. So it was quite a shock for Marichal to realize that he couldn’t stay in the same hotel with his teammates or he couldn’t eat in the same restaurants.”

 

On the racial lines drawn on major baseball teams at the time:

Rosengren notes that the Dodgers were one of the more welcoming teams. “And there were, interestingly, lines drawn between the African American players, the Latinos and the whites. And so, on teams like the Giants, there was a lot of racial division…It got to the point where Alvin Dark, the Giants manager, said he banned Spanish in the clubhouse.”

 

On the impact that the Watts riots, which had happened the week before, on Dodgers catcher John Roseboro:

“He was, as a black man, very troubled by what was happening. And someone who hadn’t really shown a concern about racial issues to that point, it suddenly hit home for him.”

 

On how the Watts riots and the civil war in the Dominican Republic played a role in the 14-minute brawl:

“These guys are humans first, right? So they bring their emotions and as much as you might want to have people say, ‘Well, when they step on the ball field, they become ball players and they leave everything else behind.’ I mean, Marichal told me it was very hard to be thinking about baseball on the mound when he’s worried about his family’s safety back home.” 

John Rosengren's book is The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption