A significantly more serious sequel to the Marichal-Roseboro brawl of August 1965 happened in the Pacific Coast League in May 1966. I happened by the story by chance, and it seems significant, so I’ll present it here. Merritt Ranew was catching for the Seattle Angels (a California Angels farm team) and Jim Coates was pitching against the Vancouver Mounties (a Kansas City A’s farm team). It was May 11, in Vancouver’s Capilano Stadium. Sports Illustrated explained what happened:
Seattle Pitcher Jim Coates threw one high and tight and struck Ricardo Joseph of Vancouver on the shoulder. Joseph charged the mound, but before he could get to Coates, he was tackled from behind and had his chin bloodied by Seattle Catcher Merritt Ranew. The ensuing free-for-all finally subsided, but then Vancouver’s Tommy Reynolds bunted up the first base line, forcing Coates to field the ball and tried to run the pitcher down. Again Ranew raced to the aid of Coates. Vancouver’s Santiago Rosario dashed from the on-deck circle and hit Ranew over the head with his bat, opening up a deep three-inch gash. There is internal bleeding in the brain, and the left side of Ranew’s face is paralyzed.
This was the third attack with a bat that professional baseball has produced in nine months. For hitting Los Angeles’ John Roseboro over the head last August, San Francisco’s Juan Marichal received a nine-day suspension and a $1,750 fine. The comparative mildness of the punishment was condoned because 1) Marichal’s team was deeply involved in the pennant race and 2) it was the first such incident in major league baseball, and there was no precedent for punitive action. But a warning should have come immediately from the Commissioner that future attacks would bring drastic punishment. None was sounded. Two weeks later Cleveland’s Pedro Gonzales swung his bat at Detroit’s Larry Sherry; Gonzales was fined $500 and suspended for 13 days.
In the Vancouver case Pacific Coast League President Dewey Soriano acted with commendable vigor and proper severity. He fined the lesser culprits in the incident, fined Rosario, too, and then suspended him for the remainder of the season.
Ranew was apparently not far from dying in the hours after Rosario’s attack. In the Spokane Spokesman-Review on July 1, 1966, Ranew said: “I plan to play next year. . . The doctors said it was touch-and-go for a while. . . But now they call the operation a success.”
And this about Rosario: “Let’s just say I don’t have too much respect for him. I couldn’t understand his actions. He wasn’t involved in the fight.”
In The Seattle Pilots Story, Carson Van Lindt’s book about the Pilots, Van Lindt writes that Ranew had a blood clot form in his skull “and he lied in a hospital for three weeks, drifting near death. Surgery relieved the clot but seventy-two hours passed before he regained consciousness.”
Robert L. Burnes of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing a commentary in the August 1966 Baseball Digest, said:
1. An epidemic of such bat-wielding episodes in organized baseball could have a bad influence on youngsters and amateur players in general. A friend in Mascoutah, Ill., Forrest Flamuth, noted to us that an Army sergeant stationed at Scott AFB was assaulted by a player carrying a bat while umpiring a game recently in that area. There may have been no connection with the organized baseball affairs but such battles do the game no good.
2. It is obvious, of course, that the real matter of concern is the player swinging the bat. This is the trend which has to be stopped. Coast President Soriano took much more drastic action than his major league counterparts. A suspension for the balance of the season should be the minimum penalty.
3. The principals who used the bats in the three organized baseball cases—Marichal, Fuentes [Tito Fuentes, who also wielded a bat in the Marichal-Roseboro brawl], Gonzales and Rosario—are Central Americans. It could be coincidental but the conclusion is almost inescapable that these excitable young men let their emotions go too far.
4. Perhaps the most curious note is that all of the cases stemmed from pitchers allegedly throwing at batters.
Burnes noted the potentially lethal danger of players swinging bats against each other and recommended that “using a bat as a weapon should mean automatic disqualification for a full season no matter the provocation.”
There are a couple postscripts to this ugly story. In his essay on the history of pro baseball in Vancouver, Jim Bennie adds that after the fight, “an ambulance came to take Ranew to Vancouver General Hospital. Lost in all this was the fact Coates was throwing a no-hitter at the time, which is the reason he denied throwing at Joseph. Santiago was banned from baseball the rest of the year. A post-script is that Joseph got his revenge [the next day], waiting for Coates at the Sylvia Hotel and pummeling him there, cutting his nose and chipping a tooth.”
And in The Seattle Pilots Story, Van Lindt writes that in 1967 Ranew named “Vancouver Mounties Holdings Inc., Mickey Vernon, manager of the club, Santiago Rosario and Thomas Reynolds and the Kansas City Athletics (who were then the mother team of the Mounties) in a lawsuit. Before the beginning of spring training he had won his case.”
Ranew, who’s just over 70 years old, wound up his MLB career with the Pilots in 1969, three and a half years after being brained by Rosario. According to this website, Rosario, a Puerto Rican who’s a year younger than Ranew, was “in the minor leagues from 1960-1971 and 1973-1976, he played on 19 teams hitting near or over .300 for 7 seasons. He had 3 years at AAA. . . . After baseball, Rosie lived in Ponce, PR. He now resides in Guayanilla, PR.”