Before the start of the 1999 season, Angels fans had reason to be optimistic. The team’s roster was filled with many bright, young stars: Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Gary DiSarcina, Jarrod Washburn, and Troy Percival, to name a few. The spots in the roster that weren’t taken up by the bright, young stars were filled by key veterans whose performance could contribute to a victory on any given night. These were players like Randy Velarde, Chuck Finley, Ken Hill, Omar Olivares, and Shigetoshi Hasegawa. But the key veteran who brought the high voltage to the coming season’s possibilities was the newly-signed free agent, Mo Vaughn.
Vaughn played the first eight years of his career in Boston, and he was a beast. In his four years prior to joining the Angels, the mighty Mo Vaughn averaged 40 home runs and 120 RBI per season. He was only 30 years old and still in his prime. Angels fans were salivating.
But then the games came, and the Angels struggled to string victories together. The hitting was flat. The pitching was flat. And when inter-league play started in June, the Angels, in their Disney periwinkle pinstripes, were mired in mediocrity, having recorded only 26 wins against 28 losses.
It was this team that faced their first inter-league opponent of the year, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who themselves were having a disappointing season, their record only a slightly better 27-26.
The pitching matchup for the Saturday, June 5 game at Dodger stadium was Chan Ho Park for Los Angeles versus Tim Belcher for Anaheim. Both pitchers were having difficulties that year. Park’s ERA was hovering close to 5.00, and he was particularly susceptible to the grand slam. He had given up three of them so far that season, two of them to St. Louis’ Fernando Tatis in the same inning of a game played on April 23!
Tim Belcher was a 37-year-old player at the end of a commendable career who was seeing if he had anything left in the tank. On June 4, he had a 3-4 record with a 7.08 ERA.
When the game began, both pitchers breezed through their first run through the opposing lineups, but then the fourth inning happened.
As the visiting team, the Angels were up first, and Park suddenly seemed off his game. The first two pitches to second baseman Randy Velarde were so high and tight that Velarde had to hit the deck in order to avoid getting hit in the head. He eventually flew out to center, but then Vaughn and Anderson singled. Next up was right fielder Todd Greene who flew out to center, but then Glaus hit a single. The bases were loaded with two outs, and Angels’ catcher Matt Walbeck came up to bat. Walbeck laid off of the first two pitches, and home plate umpire Charlie Reliford called them balls. Walbeck was in a great hitter’s count and was looking for his pitch to hit, and Park gave it to him. Walbeck swung and hit the 2-0 offering far beyond the outfield wall in the gap between right and center fields. Chan Ho Park had just allowed his record-tying fourth grand slam of the season and had given the Angels a 4-0 lead.
Later in the fifth inning, Park had a chance to help the Dodgers get back into the game. With the score still 4-0, Park was up to bat with one out and catcher Angel Pena on first base. On the second pitch of the at bat, Park was able to punch a bunt up the grass near the first base foul-line. Belcher ran to the ball, picked it up cleanly, transferred the ball to his throwing hand, and tagged Park in the chest. Belcher kept the tag on and wrapped his arm around the Dodger pitcher as he started to walk back to the mound.
It was at this point that all of the various frustrations that had been brewing inside of both men burst out of them. What we saw next was Park elbowing Belcher, and then Belcher yelling at Park while pointing his glove to the Dodger dugout. Park respond by shoving Belcher in the face. Belcher recovered and then quickly came after Park. The Dodger pitcher defended himself with a move straight out of a martial arts movie. Park was three feet in the air, horizontal to the ground, while scissor-kicking Belcher. Park’s kick nailed Belcher on his upper thigh. Park fell on the ground and Belcher, undeterred, jumped on him and landed a few punches before being pulled off of the 210-pound, six-foot, two-inch right-hander.
Players emptied onto the field from both dugouts, but no further fighting ensued. After everyone returned to where they belonged, the umpires huddled together and decided that Park would be ejected and Belcher would be allowed to remain in the game.
After throwing a wild pitch that allowed Pena to advance to third, Belcher got second baseman Eric Young to fly out to center for the third out of the inning.
Belcher was unable to get an out in the sixth inning and was replaced with the score now 5-4, Dodgers. The Angels would go on to lose the contest 7-4.
After the game, Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina commented, “The last time I saw someone kick somebody in a fight, it was my little sister kicking my brother for taking her Barbie doll.”
Chan Ho Park explained his actions by saying, “He pushed the ball in my chest. That’s not normal. It feels like he was trying to hurt me.” Park also claimed that when Belcher pointed into the Dodgers dugout he cursed at Park, using a racial epithet.
Belcher had this to say about the incident: “Hard tags and men cursing have been a part of our game forever. When players and teams fight, there are certain unwritten rules of engagement. His adolescent exception was to attempt to kick my face with his spikes. My reaction was self-defense and justified.”
For his actions on the field, Chan Ho Park was suspended for seven games and fined $3,000.
Thanks to the indefatigable baseball-reference and Bill Plaschke’s June 6, 1999 Los Angeles Times article “Dodgers Rev Up After Kick-Start.” And since we’re on the subject of Chan Ho Park, there’s also this from when he was with the Yankees.