Fisticuffs at Foothills

By IAN WILSON

You can call it baseball’s Battle of Alberta, or the Fracas at Foothills Stadium, or the Cowtown Confrontation.

Whatever you call it, there are few examples of professional baseball tilts ever escalating to the ferocious levels they did between the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League in 2006.

The Battle of Alberta tag is typically applied to National Hockey League (NHL) matchups between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. Those conflicts were defined by their hatred and violence as much as any puck pursuits.

The Vipers and Cracker-Cats tapped into that vein when they took the field on June 13th at Foothills Stadium.

It was an inevitable showdown, brought on by the consistent beaning of star player Greg Morrison by the pitching staff of the Vipers. The first baseman/outfielder jumped ship from the Vipers in 2005 to suit up for the Cracker-Cats in what appeared to be an unpopular decision – from Calgary’s point of view – with each passing plunking.

The situation ultimately came to a head and the fallout was significant. A pair of vicious bench-clearing brawls resulted in the game being forfeited. The donnybrook garnered national attention on The Sports Network (TSN) and ended with a former Major League Baseball (MLB) manager quitting and going home, 76 games in suspensions being levied, and participants being hit with a number of undisclosed fines.

Alberta Dugout Stories has interviewed a number of key players from the melee and compiled comments from reporting at the time to present an oral history of one of the biggest baseball brawls in this province’s history.

DREW MILLER, OUTFIELDER WITH CALGARY VIPERS FROM 2005-2011

“In the first year of the Vipers, Greg (Morrison) and J.P. (pitcher Josh Fauske) were our veterans that took care of us the most. They had played together before, and against each other, which created a friendship. Sometime before the end of the season Greg and a pitcher, Matt Miller, were released. I don’t know the details but it was abrupt and didn’t sit well with everyone. I think the way that it was handled started the bad blood.”

An article headlined “Morrison mystified at his fall from grace” in the Aug. 23rd, 2005 edition of the Calgary Herald detailed the placement of the two players on the suspended list “for what team officials referred vaguely to as conduct detrimental to the club.

The story by Allen Cameron said that the move to suspend Morrison, rather than release him, allowed the Vipers to open a roster spot for slugger Juan Thomas. It also prevented the Medicine Hat native from joining another Northern League team mid-season. Morrison filed an appeal with the league seeking his outright release. Team president Peter Young and manager Mike Busch did not comment on the move.

GREG MORRISON, FIRST PLAYER SIGNED BY CALGARY VIPERS

“They were vague with me, too. That was the interesting thing. I went in on Sunday and my locker was packed up, and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ …. On the radio, they’re making it sound like I’m smoking crack in back alleys or something,” he told the Calgary Herald.

“Busch just told me, ‘We can’t have your negativity, talking about retirement while we’re in a playoff hunt.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? It’s got to be something more than that.’ And he said, ‘No. Would you like to play with guys who are talking about retiring?'”

Morrison was suffering from back problems that season and did not hide the fact he was pondering hanging up his cleats. He told Cameron he suspected a private conversation between himself and Miller that was overheard by a teammate may have resulted in the suspension.

Picture of Greg Morrison in the May 6th, 2005 edition of the Calgary Herald

“We were talking about how we were slumping and how bad we sucked, and how we were going to be retiring at the end of the year. But the end of the conversation … was that if we’re retiring this year, we’d better win a ring. I guess the player … didn’t hear the second half about us trying to pump ourselves up and talk ourselves out of the slump.”

“For them to run me out was very shocking. I can handle the (lack of) loyalty, but the lack of integrity, for Busch and those guys to put my name on the suspended list saying I’m hurting the team … it’s just ridiculous.”

The Vipers were later ordered by the Northern League to take both Morrison and Miller off the suspended list and place them on irrevocable waivers, thus making them available to other teams in the league.

ANONYMOUS VIPERS PLAYERS

“They were great teammates … Morrison was the leader of our team, he was the Derek Jeter of the Yankees for us. Both guys might have ended their careers after this year, but not once did they ever give the impression that they weren’t going to bust their ass for our team.”

Two players with the Vipers spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity. Their comments appeared in the Aug. 25th, 2005 edition of the newspaper.

“Not once through the year have I heard anything negative from either of these guys that would be detrimental to the team …. I’ve never questioned their commitment. I never saw anything that would warrant a suspension. They did not deserve this, and obviously the league felt that way, too.”

“A lot of guys were surprised, and a lot of guys were really hurt … I saw a lot of guys frustrated. When you lose two guys who have been there all year, and good team guys, you’re going to get that reaction. We were dumbfounded.”

TERRY BEVINGTON, EDMONTON CRACKER-CATS MANAGER

“Morrison is a three, four, five guy on any team in this league,” he told the Edmonton Journal after the Cracker-Cats added Morrison as a waiver pick-up from the Vipers ahead of the 2006 season.

“He’s a veteran, hard-nosed guy who likes to win and you like to add guys like that.”

REGGIE RIVARD, STARTING PITCHER FOR CRACKER-CATS FROM 2005-07

“He was a great player leaving Calgary and coming to Edmonton. As far as the bad blood there I don’t know. I don’t know what went on in that clubhouse the year prior and how it all shifted and frankly it’s none of my business.”

“That was quite the start to that season … the first series was in Edmonton and (Morrison) was our cleanup hitter. He had gotten drilled every game in that series. Three games in a row there was some bad blood there and we had gone back to Calgary … and we had a rookie pitcher on the mound … and Morrison gets drilled again … and (Brad) Bissell, the pitcher, said, ‘Should I retaliate? Should I hit somebody?’ …. I was starting the next game and I said, ‘No, you just throw your game, we’ll look after it tomorrow.'”

MORRISON

“There was a lot of balls back and forth. As a hitter, I think I got hit a few times.”

RIVARD

“How long was that going to go on for? Morrison didn’t need to get hit by any more baseballs. We knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when.”

“It needed to stop and Morrison didn’t deserve what he was getting and it had to get down to let’s finish this once and for all.”

June 13th, 2006, Vipers vs. Cracker-Cats at Foothills Stadium

“First inning, we go three up, three down in the top of the first, and I go in the bottom of the first and I get a couple outs and drill a guy and get out of the inning and Morrison leads off and he gets plunked, first pitch, right in the back and this is like five games in a row.”

“So, there’s some yelling across the diamond saying, ‘You guys wanna play that way? We can play that way, too.’ Enough’s enough. Something is gonna go down.”

“Sure enough, go into the bottom of the second and get a couple guys and then Drew Miller comes up. I get him basically between the numbers … Drew’s a big farm boy. It didn’t really faze him. I think he got hit and probably expected it and he went to first base … probably like a mosquito bite to him.”

MILLER

“For me I have never been bothered by getting beaned no matter what the circumstance is. I had been taught it helps the team by getting on base and shows that you don’t have fear in the batter’s box to the pitcher and other team.”

RIVARD

“The baseball rolled, I think it was to Javier Ortiz, Colombian pitcher on the Vipers roster. It rolled to him, I got the ball back from the umpire and then a ball kind of hit me in the foot. It rolled from the dugout’s direction and I realized somebody threw this frickin’ ball back to the mound, so I picked up the ball and I walked towards their dugout and I said, ‘Who the eff threw this ball?’ Ortiz tapped his chest and then there were some words exchanged and then shit went down.”

MILLER

“After I got hit, the ball bounced off my elbow and rolled to our dugout near Ortiz.  Since it was pretty blatant that it was intentional that I was hit, Ortiz has a few choice words for Reggie as he threw the ball back at Reggie. Reggie understandably didn’t like that either and had more choice words for Ortiz. As both are yelling back and forth they are walking towards each other and met at first base.”

Photo from the June 14th, 2006 edition of the Calgary Herald

“I got hit all the time in college and it didn’t slow down in pro ball, so me getting hit was no big deal, intentional or not. I just jogged down to first and walked a little past the bag with their first baseman, Terrence McClain, walking beside me. Before I turned around he said: ‘I think we are about to brawl.'”

“When I turn around both benches are at first base, being divided by the foul line, both managers in the front holding their teams back. A lot of shouting is going on and for a moment it looked like the managers were going to be able to stop it. Then, as the players are pushing the managers closer, someone from the Cracker-Cats reaches over and pulls Busch into their group. It seemed like Busch was swallowed by their group and I didn’t see him again until the first brawl was all over.”

RIVARD

“They came out and so did our bench and the managers went at it, Bevington and Busch. It was quite chaotic, as baseball brawls can be. Your head’s on a swivel, you’re trying to protect your teammates and shit’s going on all over the place. People that have seen the video see that it was pretty chaotic but it doesn’t capture everything. It was pretty intense, especially two managers going toe to toe, Bevington being an old school guy and same with Mike Busch.”

MILLER

“I do remember tying up Terrence in the first brawl in the beginning. We had played against each other for a while and we figured we would make sure neither of us got cheap shots by someone else. Then, as it went on, I went to the scrum and tried to pull people out of the pile … I don’t know how long the first brawl lasted. It could have been five minutes or ten minutes. It was all such a blur. Everyone was already in two big groups before the brawl started, so when it got going it was like a huge scrum of players punching, pulling and holding others back. When everything was finally broken up and each team was separated to their dugouts the umpires were on the mound trying to figure out who to throw out. They decided on the managers, Reggie, Ortiz and a few others.”

RIVARD

“It gets broken up and some of the guys are getting ejected. We’re waiting around the dugouts and here comes this Ortiz and he’s walking like he’s gonna head towards their dugout but he’s walking in front of ours close and … he’s walking close and it’s like, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ And he suckers me in the side of the head with a left and I obviously lost track of time and went ballistic and here we go again and fists are flying all over the place.”

MILLER

“So, Busch and Ortiz are walking from our dugout to the locker room, which you need to go past the visitors dugout. As they got halfway down the third base line Busch changed direction and headed to the mound to talk to the umpires. A little after, Ortiz veers off and walks toward Reggie and they are talking. Then, next thing we know Ortiz punches Reggie, (Cracker-Cats player/coach) Stubby (Clapp) tackles Ortiz, and the second brawl starts with players running to the visitors dugout … the second brawl was such a surprise. I just ran in and don’t remember much other than being in the pile.”

RIVARD

“To have a second one, that’s up there for sure. There was some blood shed and a lot of fists thrown. A lot of the baseball brawls are basically a lot of pushing and shoving, so when there’s fists flying and stuff …”

MILLER

“It was really bad compared to some of the other brawls I have been in. In all the other brawls, there were a few that got out of hand but were in the heat of the moment reactions. They didn’t have the history all our participants had with one another that played a part in how it escalated to the point it did and created a second brawl.”

Reports in the Calgary Herald said that Bevington tried to throw the first punch of the dustup at Busch, and Fauske attempted to kick Busch in the head while the skipper of the Vipers was laying on the ground.

“I didn’t see Bevington or Fauske go after Busch but I wasn’t in the middle where that supposedly happened. It’s hard to see much of what happens inside the melee as there are just so many bodies there and moving all the time. Lots of pulling, punching and shoving throughout the whole thing.”

MORRISON

“Once guys get hit, a couple guys on each team, it was quite the brawl … it was one of those things where we went at it a couple times on the field there and I think those teams had a lot of Canadians on each team, so I don’t think there was too much shying away from fisticuffs.”

MILLER

“It was my first and only walk-off beanball.  When Edmonton went to the locker room and refused to return to play we were given a 9-0 win, with everyone getting a hit and RBI.”

The game was recorded as a forfeit when Edmonton did not take the field after the second-inning fireworks. Fans were given vouchers for a future game.

BEVINGTON

“We didn’t have enough pitching to play. Why go back out there? There was no choice. I mean, I don’t know what other way you could do it,” the former Chicago White Sox manager told the Edmonton Journal.

AL COATES, ASSISTANT GM & MEDIA RELATIONS DIRECTOR FOR CRACKER-CATS

“Now that ain’t no accident,” he told the Journal about Morrison being repeatedly hit by pitches versus the Vipers.

“Morrison played here (Calgary) last year, and I don’t think he got along particularly well with the manager. So our guy came back and hit one of their guys, which he has to do. It was a pretty good brawl though, I’ll tell you that.”

BEVINGTON

“A guy’s been hit, like, four or five times in six games, and they threw behind him twice,” he told the Herald.

“We know for a fact that their guy (Busch) orders guys to be hit. We have guys on this team who were on that team last year, and they heard it. We know that for a fact. There you have it, the proof’s in the pudding.”

MORRISON

“I don’t want to speculate,” he told the Herald about accusations Busch was intentionally having pitchers target him.

“But after a couple times, you wonder what’s going on there. But I can say that we didn’t initiate that brawl. Every time I got hit, I just went down to first base. You don’t like going out there and brawling; we’re out here to play ball. But there’s a point where you have to defend yourselves, and that’s how I see it. We went out there and backed each other up, and that’s how it went down.”

EVAN GREUSEL, STARTING PITCHER WITH VIPERS FROM 2005-09

“Nope, absolutely not,” he told the Herald after he was asked if Busch had ever ordered him to hit an opposing batter.

MIKE BUSCH, MANAGER OF VIPERS FROM 2005-08

“There are guys that you have to pitch inside to keep them honest, and that’s a fact of the game. How you respond to that is on your own accord,” he said in the Herald.

Manager Mike Busch signs baseballs for young fans … photo via Calgary Vipers Facebook page

RIVARD

“You don’t want guys getting hurt and, if we’re not retaliating we’re accepting it, and it’s not acceptable behaviour. It’s gotta come to a clash and be put behind us and that’s basically what happened. After that brawl, it’s competitive obviously, it always is between Edmonton and Calgary, but what needed to be done was done and then both teams can just focus on playing baseball.”

NORTHERN LEAGUE ANNOUNCEMENT

“The players and other field personnel whose actions wildly exceeded the standards of professionalism and self-control that should be fairly expected from all Northern League personnel will be swiftly and appropriately disciplined,” read an excerpt from the press release that was sent out by the league on June 14th, 2006.

DOUG SIMUNIC, FARGO-MOORHEAD REDHAWKS MANAGER

“It’s just a terrible black eye for the Northern League … it didn’t need to happen,” he told reporters.

June 16th, 2006

The Northern League announced the following suspensions, as well as undisclosed fines for all parties involved:

  • Reggie Rivard, Cracker-Cats: 20 games
  • J.P. Fauske, Cracker-Cats: 12 games
  • Javier Ortiz, Vipers: 12 games
  • Mike Busch, Vipers: 8 games
  • Terry Bevington, Cracker-Cats: 8 games
  • Carlos Duncan, Vipers: 5 games
  • Josh Carter, Vipers: 5 games
  • Stubby Clapp, Cracker-Cats: 3 games
  • Greg Morrison, Cracker-Cats: 3 games

In total, 76 games in suspensions were handed out, with the Cracker-Cats receiving 46 games and the Vipers getting 30 games.

GARRETT GOSSELINK, NORTHERN LEAGUE VICE-PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS

“We tried to assign discipline that was appropriate for the situation and appropriate for the offense … our goal was to be fair and impartial.”

Gosselink told media the decisions were made after reviewing umpire reports and video footage of the incident.

DAN ORLICH, OWNER OF EDMONTON CRACKER-CATS

“The league has rules and we have to live by those rules,” he told the Journal.

BEVINGTON

“I was in the big leagues for 10 years and the longest suspension I ever got was three games. I find the suspensions excessive and the lack of appeal process very frustrating,” he told the Journal.

“That’s ridiculous … Reggie was going to start 14 games, but with that big of a suspension how can he even pitch a season?”

He announced he was stepping down as the manager of the Cracker-Cats and going back home to Collierville, Tennessee.

“My decision to leave has nothing to do with the owners and management of the team. I’ve had a great time in Edmonton and I’ve made some good friends. But it’s something I had to do.”

JIM WEIGEL, NORTHERN LEAGUE COMMISSIONER

“I was surprised he decided to do that,” he said of Bevington’s departure in the Journal.

“Terry Bevington has big-league experience with the Chicago White Sox, and that’s nice to have for the recognition of the club. But a lot of managers who don’t have experience in the big leagues have done very well in the Northern League.”

“The problem was the managers didn’t do anything to restrain their players. In fact, the managers were probably the ones who instigated the problem.”

“It was a major-scale confrontation and the Northern League needs to prevent those kinds of occurrences … it was one of the biggest brawls in the memory of the Northern League.”

Image from June 15th, 2006 edition of the Edmonton Journal

MILLER

“They were very heavy suspensions for the players and coaches when you only play 96 games. I believe the league wanted to make an example out of us. It didn’t want two brand new teams to start just a hated rivalry that might affect the rest of the league. I also think that since most of the players were pitchers they wanted them to miss starts, so a guy like Reggie got longer so he would miss four to five starts.”

RIVARD

“I got the worst of it. I got a 20-game suspension, which was ridiculous and it’s a quarter of the season. It’s like a big leaguer getting 40 games.”

“I think Bevington got suspended and said, screw it, I’m not going to serve this thing and he basically called it quits, which was unfortunate because he was an awesome manager.”

“It was chaotic and ridiculous at the same time because you get 20 games and maybe should’ve gotten three, but at the end of the day you’re protecting your teammates.”

MILLER

“I do believe that this really helped to create the same feeling that the Oilers-Flames have for each other. Everyone after that moment who joined either team had a dislike for the other when they stepped past the white lines, even if they just came from the other team. It gave the fans a team they could see as a rival, that no matter how bad the season was going you just had to beat the other for a successful season.”

RIVARD

“I ended up playing for Calgary … I had a terrible year in Edmonton in ’07 and signed with the Vipers and spent three years with them. I played for Busch after that and I liked him, I did. You know, you hear all these stories but he was fine, just like Bevington, just an old-school type guy and obviously there were some differences of opinions and whatnot, but I’ve played with Morrison and I’ve known Greg for quite a while and he’s an awesome guy and a guy that you want to go to battle with.”

MILLER

“I don’t think I have any enemies from the brawl. I keep in touch with Greg. He is still someone that since I was a kid I looked up to.  He is the best ball player to come out of Medicine Hat and is still trying to give back to the baseball community there. When I get the chance, Reggie is still a great guy I like to hang out with. He became a Viper later on and is such a great person. These are guys that were more of the big names in the brawl, but baseball is such a small and close-knit community. There are so many teammates and opponents that we keep in touch in one way or another. The list of guys in this game alone would be way too long because you have built a lasting kinship with all of them.”

Drew Miller waits for an at bat at Foothills Stadium … photo via Calgary Vipers Facebook page

Special thanks to Reggie Rivard and Drew Miller for sharing their version of events from this infamous brawl with Alberta Dugout Stories. And thank you for reading! We encourage you to leave a comment or share this article on social media. As well, if anyone has photos or video from this altercation, please feel free to send them our way at albertadugoutstories@gmail.com. We would love to be able to share full video clips with our followers.

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