A bench-clearing brawl, sometimes known as a basebrawl or a rhubarb, is a form of ritualistic fighting that occurs in sports, most notably baseball and ice hockey, in which every player on both teams leave their dugouts, bullpens, or benches and charge the playing area in order to fight one another.
In baseball, brawls are usually the result of escalating infractions, often stemming from a player being hit by a pitch, or an altercation between a baserunner and infielder stemming from excessive contact in an attempted tag out (such as a runner crashing into the catcher at home plate in an attempt to dislodge the ball). They are also known to occur when a batter charges the mound. However, few bench-clearing brawls result in serious injury, as in most cases, no punches are thrown, and the action is limited to pushing and shoving.
Since a bench-clearing brawl by definition involves everyone on both teams, it is exceedingly unlikely that all participants will be ejected, but the player or players responsible for the precipitating event are almost universally ejected.
Unlike most other team sports, in which teams usually have an equivalent number of players on the field at any given time, in baseball the hitting team is at a numerical disadvantage, with a maximum of five players (batter, up to three runners, and on-deck batter) and two base coaches on the field at any time, compared to the fielding team's nine players. For this reason, leaving the dugout to join a fight is generally considered acceptable in that it results in numerical equivalence on the field, a fairer fight, and a generally neutral outcome, as in most cases, managers and/or umpires will intervene to restore order and resume the game. In at least one case, the Ten Cent Beer Night, one team left its dugout to defend the other from fans who invaded the field.
Older, less hot-headed players on opposing teams sometimes seek each other out during a brawl and grapple harmlessly, thus showing support for the team without endangering each other.
Fighting in ice hockey by enforcers is an established, if unofficial, part of the sport (especially in North America, where the penalty rules are more permissive); the general procedure in a one-on-one fight is to let it pan out and then send both players to the penalty box with five-minute major penalties. Bench-clearing brawls are more serious, and prohibited.
As in baseball, hockey brawls usually result from escalating infractions; in this case, dangerous hits, excessive post-whistle roughness, taking shots after the whistle, attacking the goaltender, and accumulated hatred from fierce competition in a game with a significant amount of condoned inter-player violence, all contribute to bench-clearing brawls.
In the National Hockey League the penalties include, in addition to in-game penalties, an automatic 10-game suspension and a fine of $10,000 for the first player to leave his bench or the penalty box to participate in a brawl; for the second player to leave his bench or the penalty box, the penalties include, in addition to in-game penalties, an automatic five-game suspension and a fine of $5,000.
The International Ice Hockey Federation rules prescribe a double minor penalty plus a game misconduct penalty for the first player to leave the bench during an altercation and a misconduct penalty for other such players; a player who leaves the penalty box during an altercation is assessed a minor penalty plus a game misconduct penalty. In addition to these penalties for leaving the bench, all players engaging in a fight may be penalized.
These rules have had the effect of all but eliminating bench-emptiers from high-level competition, though they do crop up more frequently in lower-level leagues, where lowest-common denominator behavior is more of a draw.
One of the more notable incidents was the Punch-up in Piestany, a game between Canada and the Soviet Union during the 1987 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. The game was more rough and dangerous than is generally accepted, with 6:07 left in the second period, a wild fight broke out between Pavel Kostichkin and Theoren Fleury, causing both teams to leave the benches for 20 minutes. The officials ordered that the arena lights be turned out, but to no avail, and the IIHF eventually declared the game null and void. Both teams were ejected from the tournament, costing Canada a potential gold medal, and the Canadian team, disgusted at what they perceived to be a conspiracy against them, chose to leave rather than stay for the end-of-tournament festivities, from which the Soviet team were banned.
Bench-clearing brawls have also been known to occur in other sports, and officials in those sports have been cracking down on such brawls; in 1995, the National Basketball Association changed the penalty for leaving the bench to participate in a brawl from a $500 fine to an automatic one-game suspension.
In 2010, the Northern Territory Football League in Australia ruled that any player found to have left the interchange bench to participate in a melee would be ejected from that match; they would also have their melee fine increased by 25% and receive an automatic one-match suspension.
- Rule 72 – Leaving the Players' or Penalty Bench in the NHL Rulebook
- IIHF Rule Book 2006–2010, Rule 564 – Players Leaving the Benches During an Altercation, p. 101
- IIHF Rule Book 2006–2010, Rule 563 – Players Leaving the Penalty Bench, p. 99
- IIHF Rule Book 2006–2010, Rule 528 – Fisticuffs or Roughing, p. 73