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Dugout scuffles might not be bad for teams

Dugout scuffles might not be bad for teams

Confrontations between teammates are certainly not new to Major League Baseball, or any sport.

There have been three such instances in baseball in the past week, starting on Thursday with the Pirates' Lastings Milledge, who got into a heated argument with bench coach Gary Varsho and shortstop Bobby Crosby after he had been thrown out at second on a botched hit-and-run while Crosby was at the plate.

Just a day later, Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano got into a shouting match with first baseman Derrek Lee in the dugout. As a result, Big Z was suspended indefinitely.

And then on Sunday, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and center fielder B.J. Upton exchanged words in the dugout before Upton had to be restrained by Willy Aybar. The two disputed a defensive play in center by Upton that resulted in a triple by the D-backs' Rusty Ryal.

So while it's obvious that in the heat of the moment these types of feuds can occur, one important question is whether it can be turned into a good thing for a team to scuffle a bit to help get back on track.

Count Rays manager Joe Maddon as one of those who thinks it can help bring a team together, if handled correctly.

"It's something that happens in the course of a Major League season," Maddon said. "It's just one of those moments that happened to us, and now it's up to me to handle it properly."

Maddon handled it by having a meeting with Upton about the incident, while also having Upton address the team in a closed door meeting.

Longoria, who approached Upton in the dugout about his lack of hustle to get to the ball, said that these types of instances happen when things aren't going well, as the Rays had dropped seven of their past 10 games before the argument happened.

"It's just the byproduct of a frustrated team," Longoria said. "We're trying to win games, and guys are going to have differences of opinions, and that's the bottom line. We talked about it, and we hashed it out."

The Rays have had other public spats between teammates: Two years ago, right-hander Matt Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro got into an argument in the dugout over pitch selection.

But the Rays bounced back from that June altercation and found themselves playing in the World Series in October against the Phillies.

And that's not the only example of a team bouncing back from a high-profile argument between teammates to make the postseason.

Perhaps one of the most famous altercations came in 2002 between the Giants' Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who got into a shoving match in the dugout in June, before the club turned it around to make the World Series that season.

And the Cubs, who have seen Zambrano lose his cool in the dugout before, had a similar occurrence with a shoving match between Zambrano and former catcher Michael Barrett in June '08.

The Cubs still made the postseason despite that altercation, although Barrett was traded to the Padres just a few weeks after the incident.

Zambrano was suspended indefinitely for his actions in his most recent outburst, in which he criticized teammates for not making plays behind him. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry thinks there is no place for such actions toward teammates, especially considering Zambrano's recent blowup was hardly his first.

"It's a recurring situation," Hendry said, "and every time it recurs it's disappointing."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella also took Hendry's stance, calling Zambrano's most recent actions "embarrassing" and saying "it serves no purpose."

But across the dugout from the incident, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen took a different view of the fight between Zambrano and Lee. He's OK with teammates taking their problems public on occasion.

"I kind of like it," Guillen said. "Boxing is going so bad, if Don King sees that, he will put that in Vegas. Those are two big boys.

"That always happens when teams aren't playing well -- stuff, the intensity of the game. That can happen a lot. Coming out here and playing in this type of game with the fans out there, all the media around, that's part of the game."

The line that it's "part of the game" is often recited by those involved in these types of instances, but sometimes a trade is the only way to settle a feud between two teammates.

Barrett was not the only player who was traded shortly after a feud. The Tigers had a fight on the team plane in '05 and immediately traded Ugueth Urbina to Philadelphia for Placido Polanco.

The Angels had a similar occurrence in '04 with Jose Guillen, who got into an argument with manager Mike Scioscia after being lifted for a pinch-runner. Just a few weeks later, he was traded to the then-Expos for key contributors Maicer Izturis and Juan Rivera.

And in June '08, the Red Sox had a high-profile spat between Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez, after Ramirez took issue with Youkilis throwing his helmet in the dugout and reportedly threw a punch at Youkilis.

A trade happened soon. The Red Sox were tiring of Ramirez's other antics -- he later shoved Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground in a separate incident -- and Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline.

So sometimes players simply can't work it out, but according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a public scuffle between players can be a good thing if it gets everyone on the same page.

"I like players to hold each other accountable," Girardi said. "I think as players you have to be careful how you do it. A lot of times, during the course of a game, there's a lot of emotions. Players can get upset and when you're struggling as a team there's usually more emotions. I think it's a good thing, but you also have to be careful how you do it."

The Yankees, of course, offer a history lesson that teammates don't have to get along to be successful, with the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees winning the World Series in 1977, despite several high-profile feuds, including a very public one between superstar Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin in July of that season.

So while clubs might not want to emulate that team, it's proof that it's possible to win a World Series despite several public blowups and it might just be the best example that sometimes everything can turn out just fine in the end.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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