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Law Talk: The Dodgers’ brawl at Wrigley Field, 23 years later

Or “Reflecting on the infamous brawl at Wrigley Field.”

Scenes from a brawl in Wrigley Field, May 16, 2000.

Disclaimer and Introduction

Mandatory Disclaimer: I am a licensed California attorney in good standing who is also a (literal) professional Dodgers’ fan/travel writer/long-form essayist. I do not practice criminal law, although I did work in the field for six years prior to law school. I did practice in civil litigation for about two years before my current gig.

The views expressed herein, especially the opinions, are my own and not representative of my firm (or anyone associated with it), nor are they the official position of TrueBlueLA, Eric Stephen, SBNation, Vox Media, or any of their subsidiaries or other legal entities.

Anyone who wants my CV, well, the following link is close enough.

I have a bit of a confession about this event: Until I saw the above tweet, I had no idea that this event actually happened! Admittedly, I would have been finishing up my Junior year of high school when the brawl happened and I was likely busy with school. In an Open Letter to Dodger Security, I alluded that there was a period in the early 2000s when my Dodgers fandom had a hiatus at the start of the 2000s, which explains why I had no idea that this brawl had happened.

The brawl

Chad Kreuter, among others, during the brawl. May 16, 2000.
Courtesy of the Sporting News

On May 16, 2000, the Dodgers were at Wrigley Field to play the Chicago Cubs. After the Dodgers had taken a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the 9th, Jeff Shaw came on to close out the Dodgers' victory. After getting a quick groundout from professional troubadour (as he played for four different teams in 2000)/current Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez, the inning spiraled for Shaw.

Three straight batters reached base, culminating in Julio Zuleta’s double that made the game 6-5, scoring Jeff Reed, putting the tying run of Damon Buford on third, with Zuleta on second as the winning run. Understandably, the folks at Wrigley were quite excited about these developments.

However, things however took an immediate turn, as demonstrated by the video feed from that night. About fifty seconds into the video, the evening takes a turn literally seconds after the Zuleta double when the Dodgers bullpen entered the stands and the now-infamous brawl ensued.

What started the brawl

Josh Pulliam started the brawl when he reached into the field, and yanked Chad Kreuter’s hat off the top of his head from his perch in the Dodgers bullpen. Mr. Pulliam apparently struck Mr. Kreuter in the back of the head per multiple reports, including Chad Kreuter.

Regardless, the then-27-year-old Tribune Company subsidiary employee was sitting by the Dodgers bullpen at Wrigley Field, and later described the act of taking backup catcher Chad Kreuter’s hat as a “stupid prank gone horribly wrong.

Washington Post, Dave Sheinin, May 21, 2000:

[Mark] McGuire [the Cubs’ executive vice president of business operations (no, not that one)], who has reviewed videotape of the incident, said the video shows someone stealing Kreuter’s cap, but it does not show anyone punching Kreuter. However, he stopped short of saying that Kreuter was not punched. “The fan should not have reached over and tried to grab a player’s hat,” McGuire said. “That was wrong, and we are embarrassed by the incident that took place after that.”

Mr. McGuire also stated that Wrigley Field had no uniformed police personnel at the ballpark on the night of the brawl, instead opting for plainclothes security personnel.

Regardless, Mr. Pulliam attempted to stroll for the exit with Kreuter’s hat. Kreuter had other ideas and bounded into the stands, along with several other Dodger relievers and managers. Depending on accounts, Kreuter allegedly throttled either Mr. Pulliam or Mr. Ronald Camacho, one of three fans who were arrested for disorderly conduct after the brawl. Other Dodger players also allegedly struck Mr. Camacho in the fracas.

Ultimately, play was suspended for about ten minutes as fans threw beer and other debris at the Dodgers and onto the field from the outfield. The Dodger bullpen ended up emptying into the visiting dugout for the remainder of the game. As a postscript, it is worth noting that the Dodgers ultimately won 6-5 once play resumed about ten minutes later.

Courtesy of ESPN by way of the Associated Press / Fred Jewell

The brawl’s aftermath

Multiple suspensions and fines to various Dodger players and managers. As previously stated, three fans were arrested, but notably, not Mr. Pulliam. Per the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Malone stated at the time of the brawl he was disappointed in the lack of security in the area. “There has to be better security measures down there,”

Malone said. “There has to be better protection for the players because there was no one down there to police those fans. It [the altercation] just kept going on and there was no security there. Our players were at risk, and they were just protecting themselves. That was just self-protection.”

ESPN, Peter Gammons, May 17, 2000:

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong, and everyone involved in the Wrigley Field fiasco Tuesday night was wrong. The “fan” who snatched Chad Kreuter’s hat, the Dodger players who climbed into the stands, the Cubs security people who were caught asleep, the louts who threw beer, Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone for going on the field. “He’s the Sheriff,” cracked a fellow GM Wednesday morning. “He was there to make peace. In his Dodger jacket.”

Players will be disciplined, fans arrested, Malone lectured. But Major League Baseball feels something good will come out of this — that Wrigley and all baseball officials will give more attention to alcohol consumption at ballpark. “I believe,” says Kevin Hallinan, baseball’s vice president of security, “that in the end that this will help prevent a more serious situation.”...

This is not only about fans, however. Kreuter can get another cap, and even if he were punched by the fan, he should have called on security to grab the offender and insist that the Dodgers and MLB press assault charges. The Dodger players should have moved onto the field under the leadership of bullpen coach Rick Dempsey. It didn’t happen, as Dempsey did not lead them to the right place. As for Malone’s claim that it was about the team ... everyone involved will be properly disciplined for their lack of responsibility.

[emphasis added.]

The legal ramifications of this incident were felt for years. On a factual note, by the start of the 2017 regular season, the bullpens at Wrigley Field are now located directly under the outfield bleachers. One day after MLB levied its punishment against the Dodgers, the Cubs announced the number of beer vendors at Wrigley Field was to be reduced by 10% and inventory cut by 50% for their last visit into the stands for sales. Furthermore, beer sales were cut off at the first pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning, rather than at the start of the seventh.

From what I was able to determine, this reduction was phased out over time. Moreover, the scheduling change was phased out in later years as currently at Wrigley Field, after the brawl alcoholic beverages were not sold after the last out of the eighth inning during day games and the last out of the seventh inning or 10:30 p.m. for night games.

The suspensions

On May 25, 2000, sixteen players and three coaches were ultimately suspended for their participation in the brawl, which were scheduled to be staggered rather than be served all at once. All of the participants involved were fined a total of $72,000 collectively among active players and coaches.

Eight Games

  • Chad Kreuter ($5,000)
  • Coach Glenn Hoffman ($5,000)
  • Coach Rick Dempsey ($5,000)
  • Coach John Shelby ($5,000)

Five Games

  • Carlos Perez ($5,000)
  • F.P. Santangelo ($5,000)
  • Gary Sheffield ($5,000)

Four Games

  • Mike Fetters (who was on the injured list at the time of the brawl) ($4,000)

Three Games

  • Terry Adams ($3,000)
  • Darren Dreifort ($3,000)
  • Eric Gagne ($3,000)
  • Onan Masaoka ($3,000)
  • Alan Mills ($3,000)
  • Antonio Osuna ($3,000)
  • Chan Ho Park ($3,000)
  • Todd Hundley ($3,000)
  • Eric Karros ($3,000)
  • Geronimo Berroa ($3,000)
  • Shawn Green ($3,000)

Total games: 84

Total fines: $72,000

It is worth noting that non-roster Dodgers’ bullpen catcher Travis Barbary (now the manager for Triple-A Oklahoma City) was also suspended for five games and fined $5000, which was paid by the team.

Response to the suspensions was immediate and severe as everyone involved appealed.

“It’s very unfair as far as I’m concerned,” then-Dodgers manager Davey Johnson said. “My whole coaching staff was trying to keep our people from getting smoked. Some guys who got suspended didn’t even go into the stands. They also didn’t talk about security (at Wrigley) and that’s disappointing.” ”We’re going to appeal it. We’re stunned by it. We thought it was kind of harsh,” Hoffman said. “The appeal process will go on. We go from there.”

‘’The penalties [for the suspended Dodgers] are just intolerable,’’ Gene Orza, a high-ranking official with the players union, said. ‘’What would have happened to these players if they didn’t do anything? What would their reputations within the sport have been? I don’t know a manager or general manager who wouldn’t have fired them.’’

In a statement, the Dodgers said: ‘’Although we fully accept and support the notion that fans belong in the stands and players belong on the field, we are extremely shocked and concerned about the severity of the punishments.’’

Orza also said that baseball’s logic was askew and that baseball should have backed the players’ response. “If this rule applied in the military, we’d have court martial [sic],” he said. ”Players are human beings. When you hit someone, they hit you back. I can assure you if Frank Robinson saw someone assault a family member, he’d leave the field and he’d be right to do so.” In response, Robinson said that “[a] family member wasn’t assaulted.”

On June 30, 2000, Paul Beeston, baseball’s then-chief operating officer, overturned twelve of the nineteen total suspensions levied by Robinson, leaving the fines for all in place. Ultimately, the suspensions of Kreuter, Perez, Sheffield, Santangelo, Dempsey, and Shelby were upheld in full. The suspension of Mike Fetters was reduced to one game to be served when he was off the injured list.

Kreuter and Shelby were ordered to begin their suspensions immediately with the remaining suspensions to be staggered with the Dodgers unable to replace the suspended players on the roster.

The Wrigley Three

As previously stated, three fans were arrested as a result of the brawl. Five days after the brawl, one of those fans, Ronald Camacho, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the Dodgers, the Cubs, and all 19 suspended Dodgers individually for his alleged injuries and detention after the brawl.

“I said something like, ‘You guys don’t belong here—you need to get the hell out of the stands,’ ” said Camacho, a 32-year-old construction supervisor. Kreuter “might have said a few choice words back. And then I was surprised . . . to find his hands around my neck. If you want to do that you join ‘Ultimate Fighting’ or something.”

Per the Los Angeles Times, at the time of the brawl, Camacho was a lifelong Cub fan who lived a block away from Wrigley Field. Camacho said he “never balled a fist or anything” during the bizarre altercation but was struck several times. “I felt like I got hit by a truck,” he said, before being carted off by security guards, held for three hours at the park, and then turned over to the Chicago police. At the time of the suit, Camacho sought damages of $50,000 and a public apology from the Dodgers.

At the time of the Times’ report, the two other arrested fans, Charles Carlin of Des Plaines, IL, and James Maness of Chicago, stated they did not intend to sue and did not claim injury. Maness, a friend of Camacho, stated he only sought to have the criminal charges against him dropped.

Information as to the ultimate fate of Carlin’s criminal charges is not publicly available.

On August 27, 2000, it was reported that Carlin and Camacho had subpoenaed 21 members of the Dodgers organization. Ultimately on December 12, 2000, it was reported that Maness and Camacho were acquitted of the criminal charges when Judge Marvin Luckman stopped the trial after the conclusion of the presentation of the government’s case at trial.

Judge Luckman: “I have an obnoxious guy, who probably had drinks, making some comments. That’s not unusual,″ Luckman said. “Unfortunately, we have two obnoxious guys at a ball game.″

As for Camacho’s civil suit, on February 14, 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Dodgers settled with Camacho for $300,000, which was paid by the team’s insurance. Public information as to what happened with the other individual parties that Camacho sued is not available.

The Cubs did not settle with Camacho and that case went to trial. On June 16, 2001, it was reported that a jury sided with Camacho who accused the Cubs of malicious prosecution and was awarded $475,000 by the jury.

Kreuter v. Pulliam, a lawsuit that never came

An astute reader will notice that Josh Pulliam’s name stopped appearing in this essay, even though he was the undisputed instigator of the brawl. He was never arrested. He was never sued, even with Chad Kreuter publicly threatening to do so in July 2000 after his suspension was completed.

“The guy that hit me, I want to serve notice that I’m coming after him,” Kreuter said. “I’ll make him accountable, and I will definitely seek him out to see that he is accountable for his actions. He’s gone into hiding again, but he will resurface. When we find him, he’ll find a lawsuit.”

From what I am able to tell, no lawsuit ever came.

Kreuter was a Dodger until 2002, and last played in the League in 2003, before retirement and coaching at the collegiate level.

Pulliam eventually became a Democratic political consultant in California and, as previously stated, has called the brawl “a stupid prank gone horribly wrong.” In 2011, SFWeekly reached out to Pulliam about Supervisor David Chiu’s San Francisco mayoral campaign and Pulliam stated that when journalists reach out to him, invariably they are usually asking about the 2000 brawl,

What have we learned?

Ironically enough, the entire brawl itself was turned into an interesting bit of legal scholarship, which you can read here. As this event was over twenty years ago, gathering all the information was a bit of a challenge, unlike the multiple views and live stream commentary that would arise under a similar situation today.

Fast forward over twenty years, and the Wrigley Brawl only arises in peoples’ memories on the anniversary of the Brawl or when the Dodgers return to Wrigley Field. With the recent incident of Anthony Rendon at the soon-to-be-vacated Oakland Coliseum, it should be noted that no possible good can be had if a player enters the stands while the game is going on (unless he’s chasing a foul ball/homerun ball). One day, the league might finally learn this lesson.