“When one of my buddies get hit, we’re going to play beanball war. Beanball. War.” — Red Barons pitcher Brett Myers
The date: June 24, 2002
The place: Lackawanna County Stadium
The situation: This is a list filled with memorable games, tight battles, epic pitchers duels and back-and-forth offensive slugfests. The problem here is, this game wasn’t one of those.
On a sunny Monday night at the foot of Montage Mountain, the Red Barons pounded the Columbus Clippers. Chase Utley knocked in five runs, scored four, had four hits and fell a triple short of the cycle. The Red Barons took a 17-0 lead before the fifth inning ended, had 19 by the time the sixth inning concluded and went on to win, 19-1.
But this moment didn’t come because of the relentless offense, or what turned out the be the best start of prospect right-hander Brett Myers’ Red Barons career.
It came because it all combined to produce one of the ugliest incidents in franchise history, and certainly the most memorable brawl ever at Lackawanna County Stadium.
The lead-in: The game was out of hand, and tempers were getting to that level by the time the Red Barons started putting together an eight-run fifth inning. Clippers reliever Kevin Lovinger walked six in the inning — all those Red Barons runs came with the help of only two hits — and left with the bases loaded and David Doster at the plate.
Hard-throwing right-hander Bob Scanlan came in, and his second pitch of the inning drilled Doster in the small of the back. The fact it forced in a run did little to soothe Myers’ emotions.
In the top of the sixth, with two out, Myers threw a fastball up and in to veteran Robert Perez, so dangerously close to his head, it actually hit the handle of Perez’s bat.
In the bottom of the seventh, with Scanlan still on the mound, his first pitch of the inning plunked Red Barons center fielder Marlon Byrd.
And that, really, is when all hell broke loose.
The moment: Myers made it clear, on the spot, the plunking of Byrd would lead to retribution.
For the record, both Scanlan and Myers said they didn’t intentionally throw at the hitters earlier in the game.
“There’s no reason for me to hit somebody in a game we’re losing 16-0,” Scanlan, a former Red Baron, maintained.
“I didn’t mean to throw at Perez’s head,” Myers insisted. “I don’t want to hurt anybody, to end their career.”
But both sides had their doubts, and the on-field gathering after Byrd was plunked made that obvious.
Umpires and Red Barons coaches stood in front of an angered Byrd, who glared out toward the mound where Scanlan stood tall, protected by Columbus third baseman Drew Henson, the former Michigan quarterback who at that point was one of the top prospects not just in the Yankees chain, but in all of baseball.
From the front of the Red Barons dugout on the first base side of Lackawanna County Stadium, an irate Myers pointed toward the mound, yelling. Later, several Columbus players said Myers threatened Henson, allegedly telling him, “You’re next.”
“When (Scanlan) hit Marlon,” Myers seethed after the game, “he (ticked) me off.”
Henson was due up fourth in the top of the eighth. As he had done all night, Myers attacked the first two hitters of the inning like a buzzsaw, retiring both easily. He then walked the third hitter on four pitches, none close to the strike zone, a curious lapse in control for a pitcher who had complete command of the strike zone all night to that point.
Predictably, his first pitch to Henson wasn’t close, either. It sailed behind him, and after that, it was on.
Henson sprinted to the mound. Myers, a former amateur boxer, stood tall on the hill waiting for him. They collided just before Red Barons catcher Johnny Estrada jumped in, and both benches emptied. A wild melee ensued, and several offshoots of the brawl — one in which Red Barons pitcher Elio Serrano and Clippers shortstop Erick Almonte started throwing haymakers in shallow center field after the initial fight had broken up — popped up throughout the incident. The game was delayed nearly 20 minutes while umpires and coaches cleaned up the messes.
“It’s part of baseball,” Henson said afterward. “One of our guys almost got hit in the head, and it escalated from there. You guys saw what happened. There’s not really a whole lot more to say.”
Myers walked off the mound, his nose bloodied — from a helmet-to-beak collision with the catcher Estrada and not from anything Henson was able to do, Myers insisted it be known. He took off his hat, waved it in a circle three times over his head, then threw it skyward in an adrenaline rush as the partisan crowd cheered him on.
The 21-year-old said, all things considered, he believed he showed great restraint.
“If I hit (Henson) with one of my hands, I’d be in the hospital with a broken hand,” Myers ranted, “and he’d be in there with a broken face.”
HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
Both Myers and Henson, along with some others, paid the price for their participation in a brawl that made national headlines, given the prospect status both players shared.
International League president Randy Mobley suspended Myers five games and fined him $500. Henson, Scanlan, Almonte and Serrano were all suspended four games.
Exactly a month after throwing the pitch that ignited the fireworks, Myers made his major league debut with the Phillies, throwing eight two-hit innings in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. It was the start of a solid, if inconsistent, career for the pitcher who, at that time, was the highest-rated pitching prospect, according to Baseball America, ever to pitch for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He went 73-63 with a 4.40 ERA in eight seasons with the Phils, and while he saved 21 games in 2007 and won 10 games for the World Champion Phillies in 2008, he largely is viewed as a player who didn’t meet lofty expectations. Ultimately, Myers signed with the Houston Astros before the 2010 season and 24 games over the next four seasons before injuries forced him into retirement.
Henson also made his major league debut in 2002, but his promising big-league career never took off. He played in eight games in 2002 and 2003, going 1 for 9, his lone hit a single off of Orioles lefty Eric DuBose in the last game he played in the bigs. He left baseball in February of 2004, returned to football and made one NFL start for the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, against the Chicago Bears. He completed four passes for 31 yards, threw a pick-6, was relieved by Vinny Testaverde, and never made much of an impact again.
Now, both players have gone on to carve out careers in the unlikeliest of ways. Henson works in the Yankees’ player development department, helping to develop modern-day RailRiders players.
Myers began a career as a country musician, who has released songs titled “Yoga Pants” and “Drink This Town Drunk.”
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT