To honor the opening of the Major League Baseball season, we present you with one of the most infamous “jewelry” stories in MLB’s history. It’s the now-legendary tale of how a pair of diamond stud earrings nearly ignited a bench-clearing brawl between the Seattle Mariners and the Cleveland Indians.
The date was August 25, 2001, and the sun was low in the sky at a sold-out Safeco Field in Seattle. The score was tied at 2-2 in the top of the ninth, and the Mariners’ fire-balling relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes was summoned from the bullpen to face the Indians’ shortstop Omar Vizquel.
As the burly relief pitcher warmed up his 96 mph heater, the diminutive batter complained to plate umpire Ed Rapuano that he was being distracted by the sun reflecting off the pitcher's diamond stud earrings.
"It was blinding," Vizquel said. “It was like the headlight of a train coming at me.”
When Rapuano approached the pitcher’s mound and ordered Rhodes to remove his earrings, the pitcher became enraged.
"I told the umpire I've been wearing them the whole year," he said. "So why should I take them out?"
Rhodes argued with Rapuano and refused to back down. Rhodes then turned his anger on the batter, pointing at Vizquel and calling him out. Then, predictably, the two teams poured out of their dugouts and onto the field.
The pitcher agreed to remove one earring, but then the drama spun wildly out of control when Rhodes intimated by pointed at Vizquel’s head that the next pitch would have him bailing from the plate.
Third-base umpire Tim McClelland ejected Rhodes from the game before he could throw a single pitch.
"It became a shouting match between Vizquel and Rhodes," said McClelland. "To stop anything further, I asked Arthur to leave."
The banished Rhodes tried to go after Vizquel, but was restrained by manager Lou Piniella. Vizquel had to be held back, as well.
"I'm not going to let a guy who weighs 125 pounds tell me to take my earring out," Rhodes said.
"I don't know why he acted the way he acted," Vizquel said. "I think it's in the rules anyway that you're not supposed to wear any jewelry out there.”
TV commentators covering the game, in which Seattle prevailed 3-2, could hardly believe that earrings could spark a baseball brawl. Said one, “This is supposed to be baseball. It’s more like Ken and Barbie go to the beach.”
Despite the incident, Rhodes never abandoned his ear bling. He continued to wear the earring studs throughout his career, which spanned 20 years and nine major league teams. His diamond earrings are in clear sight in this 2009 shot when he was playing for the Cincinnati Reds.
MLB's Rule 1.11, which deals with uniforms, includes a clarification that states, “a pitcher’s person cannot include any unessential or distracting thing (including jewelry, adhesive tape, or a batting glove), especially on his arm, wrist, hand, or fingers.”
MLB seems to maintain an unwritten policy, however, that jewelry on a pitcher is OK — unless the batter makes a specific complaint.
Credits: Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Getty Images; Chris J. Nelson via Wikimedia Commons.