The Massive Brawl Between the Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs on May 22, 1995

I had never heard of this ugly scene until a couple years ago, when I found it on an list of infamous brawls while looking for material for my post on the Marichal-Roseboro brawl. Here’s some of the Durham Herald-Sun’s account of the game:

The hostilities began in the first inning when Bulls leadoff man Andre King cracked his second first-inning homer in as many nights and shortstop Danny Magee was hit — on the second try — by Warthog pitcher Jason Kummerfeldt.

After Bulls starter Jamie Arnold plunked the Warthogs’ Aaron Boone in the top of the third, Kummerfeldt hit Magee for the second time.

Durham responded with homers by Gator McBride and Randall Simon on back-to-back pitches, and Kummerfeldt drilled Johnny Knott in the right shoulder with the next pitch.

Knott made a lightning fast charge to the mound, and all hell broke loose.
By the time it was over, Kummerfeldt and Knott were ejected along with Winston-Salem catcher Paul Bako, outfielder Mike Meggers and shortstop Ricky Magdaleno, and Bulls Andre King, Ken Warner, Manny Jimenez, Jason Green and Scott Pagano.

Winston-Salem pitcher Glenn Cullop got the worst of it all and was taken to Durham Regional Hospital to undergo a CAT scan.

That was the worst news of the night for the visitors.

The worst news for Durham came in the ninth inning, when the Warthogs’ Robbie Robertson hit a three-run homer to right off usually steady closer Matt Byrd (2-1) to give his team a 10-8 victory.

Bulls manager Matt West said after the game he didn’t want to discuss the fight, the ejections, or any aspect of the job done by umpires Jeff Head or Mike Fichter.

Warthogs manager Mark Berry said Kummerfeldt wasn’t throwing at any Bulls batters.

“Believe it or not, none of those hit batters were intentional, but I can understand they may have felt that way,” Berry said. “Unfortunately it takes away from a great comeback by us, and it’s too bad we had this brawl.”

Kummerfeldt also said the plunks were unintentional.

“I had no control and no command of my pitches,” Kummerfeldt said. “I kept trying to go inside. I hate the fact that I hit three or four batters, or whatever it was.”

Kummerfeldt said he expected Knott to charge the mound.
Knott had no surprises for him.

“I don’t even remember where the ball hit me,” Knott said. “The adrenaline was coming too fast — I could see the whole thing coming. I’ve never charged the mound in my pro career or as an amateur, and I might have been justified in doing it a couple of times before. But this one was obvious.

“I guess I got in a few good licks. We didn’t do anything to upset those guys, and Andre was quiet after his home run. I just wish somebody had been warned after he hit Danny.”

Magee, who was icing his elbow after the game, said he figured the Warthogs were upset with King for something and took it out on him.

“I thought [Kummerfeldt] thought Andre showed him up by hitting an 0-2 fastball in the first inning and hit me,” Magee said. “I don’t even think the second time he hit me was on purpose.”

And here’s the account of that third inning:

Durham 3rd: With one out, Warner hit a ground-rule double down the first-base line. King struck out swinging. Magee was hit by a pitch. McBride blasted a 3-0 pitch over the Blue Monster and into Jackie Robinson Place. Simon ripped the next pitch onto the hill behind the center-field fence. Kummerfeldt’s next pitch plunked Knott in the helmet, precipitating a charge of the mound and a bench-clearing brawl to start a 32-minute delay. There were seven ejections, with Magre relieving Kummerfeldt and Arnold coming on to run for Knott. Correa reached on an error by new shortstop Lofton. Wieser hit an RBI single to right and took second on the throw home. Pinch-hitter Weaver fouled out to first. Durham 7, Winston-Salem 2.

The game story underrated the seriousness of the fight. A few days later the Herald-Sun noted that every active player for both teams who were on the field had been suspended and fined: Micah Bowie of the Bulls and Curt Lyons of the Warthogs were in street clothes in the stands charting pitches, so they were the only two to avoid punishment. The worst of it was this:

Earl Nelson’s suspension for six days with a $300 fine was the worst punishment meted out for Monday night’s nationally publicized brawl between the Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The injury was inflicted by Nelson, who videotapes showed kicking Warthog pitcher Glen Cullop in the head as Cullop was on the ground.

Cullop was taken to Durham Regional Hospital with a concussion, a broken jaw and five missing teeth. Surgery to repair the jaw was done Wednesday morning, and Cullop left for his Johnson City, Tenn., home Thursday. He will be on the disabled list indefinitely.

Sources said Nelson would not be making the trip when the Bulls visit Lynchburg for a three-game series beginning tonight and will get further discipline from the Atlanta Braves organization when his league suspension ends Tuesday.

In June, Cullop filed charges against Nelson, as the Austin American-Statesman reported:

“We’re definitely keeping all doors open,” Cullop said Thursday from his home in Johnson City, Tenn., where he is recovering from his injury. He hopes to resume playing baseball by late next month.

The bench-clearing melee occurred May 22 during a game between the Winston-Salem Warthogs and Durham Bulls of the Carolina League.

Cullop, who plays for the Warthogs, filed the misdemeanor charge last week in North Carolina against Earl Nelson of the Bulls.

Videotape of the fight showed Nelson kicked Cullop under the chin. Cullop remained motionless on the ground for several minutes, unconscious.

“What he did, I don’t feel like that belongs in the game of baseball, or anywhere on the streets for that matter,” Cullop said.

Cullop, 23, said he received a letter of apology from Nelson but didn’t think it was sincere.

The charge, assault inflicting serious injury, carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine.

Cullop said he also is considering other action against Nelson, the Bulls and their parent club, the Atlanta Braves.

“I’m going to wait until after the medical treatment and see how the future looks for me,” he told The News & Observer of Raleigh. . . .

Authorities probably would not make an arrest because Nelson has left the state, the newspaper reported.

Nelson had been released by the Braves about a week after he kicked Glen Cullop in the head: again, the damage to Cullop was a concussion, a broken jaw, and five missing teeth, requiring surgery and a three-night hospital stay, as well as a summer worth of trips to the dentist and doctor.

What’s ridiculous about the end of this story is that Nelson, who not only escaped jail time but served just a six-day suspension, and paid a $300 fine, left Durham with extensive praise from his teammates. Thirty years earlier, Dodgers players complained that National League president Warren Giles was being too lenient when he fined Juan Marichal $1750 and suspended him for eight games. Marichal also made a reported payment of $7500 to settle a lawsuit by Johnny Roseboro, but it took Marichal years to get fully rehabilitated and inducted into the Hall of Fame after reconciling with Roseboro.

It apparently took Nelson about a week to get rehabilitated after a much worse attack on a player. Here’s the Durham Herald-Sun reporting on the response to Nelson’s release on the last day of May:

By all accounts, Nelson was a pretty popular guy on the team. His former teammates aren’t saying they’re bitter about what the organization did, but they just wish the whole thing hadn’t happened.

Outfielder Gator McBride and infielder Ken Warner had been Nelson’s roommates since they played together in Macon last season.

“I’ve known Earl for about three years, and we’d gotten to be pretty close,” McBride said. “Earl and I had planned a trip to Mexico together after the season, and we’re still going to do it — just hang out down there.

“We got to be good friends my first year at Idaho Falls [1993], and we stayed in contact during the off-season. He’s just a great guy. I was surprised Earl did what he did, but when I went out there I didn’t know what I was going to do myself.”

Warner said Nelson is the kind of guy who was just fun to be around.

“He’s one of my greatest friends, and I think of him as sort of a big brother,” Warner said. “When he got released, it was sort of like a part of me was released too. I’m hurting on the inside because he’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known.

“We talked about [the fight] a couple of times after it happened. He didn’t go out there wanting to kick somebody, and he’s sorry about it. It’s just that when you get in a fight that big, you just don’t know what you’re going to do. Nothing makes any sense. . . . He’s a great pitcher and I know he’ll get another job. I just hope I’ll never have to hit against him.”

Outfielder Scott Pagano emerged as a clubhouse leader during the Bulls’ recent losing streak. He said Nelson had become a good friend during their short time on the same club.

“I really can’t say whether I agree with [the release] or not, but I guess they thought the punishment fit the crime,” Pagano said. “Earl’s a great guy. He just made one big mistake.

“Really, he took the [release] much better than I expected him to. He didn’t seem to be surprised, though. We’re all going to miss him. He was really a fun guy to be around. I’m sure he just wishes he could take back those five seconds of his life, but he’s got to move on with it. I don’t expect him to do anything like that again.”

Pagano, who received a four-day suspension for his role in the brawl, said there just isn’t much thinking going on during a baseball riot.

“You don’t really know what’s happening to you, the adrenaline’s flying so fast,” he explained. “But the first guy you run into in that situation, for that second you hate him and he hates you. And people do things they’re sorry about later.”

Infielder Kevin Webb said he felt awful about the whole situation.

“I feel bad for Earl and I feel bad about what he did on the field,” Webb said. “I’m sure he’s been over the thing a thousand times in his mind, and he’d take it back if he could.
“He’s a great guy who always works hard out there. He’s got great ability and everybody seemed to like him. He’d give you the shirt off his back. I just hopes he gets a job with another team.”

Shortstop Danny Magee played with Nelson last season in Macon.

“He’s great, and we had a lot of laughs together,” Magee said. “We were always picking each other up when we were down. We’re all going to miss him.”

Bill Slack, the Bulls’ pitching coach, said watching Nelson’s recent troubles has been watching like one of his own children in a jam.

“I’ve got four kids, and they’ve all had scrapes and problems,” Slack said. “I think Matt [West] and [coach Brian Snitker] feel the same way, too. We don’t agree with what he did, but basically he’s a good kid who was involved in an unfortunate incident.

“We hope he gets a job with another club. He’s got a lot of ability. He had been losing weight lately, and he’s got his fastball up about 89 [mph]. When he was throwing good, he might have had the best curve ball and the best fastball on the club.”

Cullop, as far as I know, received no such send-off from either Winston-Salem or Durham. I am not sure what Cullop is doing now, but his baseball career ended in 1995. Aside from Nelson’s assault on him, Cullop is probably best known, as a pitcher anyway, for giving up the last home run of Michael Jordan’s baseball career. Jordan homered for the Birmingham Barons for the third time, at home, on August 20, 1994, vs. Chattanooga: Cullop gave up Jordan’s solo homer to left field to lead off the 7th inning of that game. I don’t know what’s happened to Earl Nelson, but 1995 was the end of his baseball career as well.

Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 3:58 am  Comments (3)  
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