Five of the biggest fights in Detroit sports


Ty Cobb vs. Claude Lucker
May 15, 1912
Nobody in baseball history quite earned the description of "infamous" like Tyrus Raymond "Ty" Cobb, who played with the Tigers from 1905 to 1926. On the field, he was famous for violence, but off the field it was his almost sociopathic personality that won him headlines. In 1907, a black groundskeeper greeted Cobb in a way the ballplayer felt was too familiar, and hothead Cobb violently attacked the man; when the groundskeeper's wife tried to intervene, he began choking her, and might have killed her had a catcher not knocked Cobb out cold. In 1908, when a black laborer complained to Cobb about how he'd just walked through freshly poured asphalt, Cobb went into attack mode again, earning a battery charge.
But the most outrageous incident might be what happened a little more than a century ago. While playing against the Highlanders in New York, Cobb was so incensed by remarks from a heckler named Claude Lucker that he charged into the stands and attacked the man. As Cobb began beating and stomping the man with those razor-sharp cleats that had punished so many basemen, a crew of his teammates held people at bay. Some in the crowd protested, since Lucker had lost all of one hand and most of the other in an industrial accident, and couldn't defend himself with his fists. A cry went up: “Cobb, that man has no hands!” Cobb reportedly yelled back in a psychotic rage, “I don’t care if he got no feet!” Protected by his teammates, the beating went on until a cop and an umpire led Cobb away. The New York Tribune's coverage of the beating was titled, "Cobb Turns to Boxing."

Alex Karras vs. Dick the Bruiser
Two bouts, one informal, one formal, 1963
Karras, suspended from the NFL for gambling in 1963, earned money as a wrestler and carefully oversaw his stake in the famous Detroit sports bar Lindell A.C. That’s where one of the most outrageous confrontations in Detroit sports history took place. While at Lindell A.C., Karras was visited by Richard "Dick the Bruiser" Afflis, a football player and wrestler like "Killer Karras." But Afflis was something of an outlaw. He had been banned from wrestling in New York for causing a riot that injured more than 300, provoked by his no-holds-barred, break-your-face style of brawling. Wrestling writer Richard Berger called Afflis "a walking riot waiting to happen."
As accounts have it, Karras sat down at the bar with the visiting Bruiser and talked shop for a while — until Afflis took offense at some remark Karras made. Soon, the fists were flying. Karras's friends tried breaking up the fight in vain. The fight raged all over the bar, smashing windows and wrecking furniture. Finally, about a dozen Detroit cops piled on to end the brawl, but not before it had practically destroyed the bar, spilled out into the street, started a small riot, and injured several passers-by. Later, Afflis and Karras fought a brutal grudge match at Olympia Stadium, where, before a capacity crowd, the Bruiser, blinded by blood in one eye, took Karras down for the count.

Tigers-Twins brawl
May 14, 1982
The Tigers were locked in an unusually confrontational contest with the Minnesota Twins. In the second inning, Twins manager Billy Gardner was ejected for disputing a call. In the third, the Twins’ first base coach was also tossed for arguing too intensely. Maybe those vibes had spread among the players, because, in the fourth inning, when Twins starter Pete Redfern beaned batter Chet Lemon, both teams rushed the field. A brief brawl ensued, mostly between Kirk Gibson and a Twins’ pitching coach, but it was over almost as soon as it started. Tied up at 2-2, the game went into extra innings, and tensions were clearly running high. Dave Rozema took the mound and held the Twins scoreless through the top of the 11th inning. The Tigers turned the tide in the bottom of the 11th, putting men on base and getting in position to take the game. Then the Twins’ Ron Davis threw a brushback pitch that was too high and tight for Tiger third baseman Enos Cabell, who responded with “threatening gestures” at the pitcher. The ump tried to restrain him, but Cabell rushed the pitcher, who met him halfway as the benches cleared again and what can only be described as mayhem ensued. For almost 10 minutes, the players tackled, wrestled and pummeled each other on the infield.

Bob Probert
His entire career
An one-man walking melee, Bob Probert had more than 100 fights on the ice. He lost a few, but was never afraid to play the role of enforcer, with punches so hard they'd knock a player's helmet off after a few. From to the way he held Craig Coxe’s head down and dealt him a couple savage blows that made his head snap back at Joe Louis Arena in 1987 to his epic, 100-second battle with Marty McSorley in 1994, Probert was an expert at grabbing jerseys and unleashing quick, short-range punches, dangerous roundhouses, and punishing uppercuts.

Malice at the Palace
Pacers vs. Pistons (vs. fans), Nov. 19, 2004
This free-for-all at the Palace of Auburn Hills became known as “the most infamous brawl in NBA history.” With less than a minute to go in the game, a fight broke out on the court. But what made history was the fact that, after a fan threw a drink at Pacers player Ron Artest, Artest rushed into the audience started throwing punches, re-energizing a fight that stretched onto the court. When it was all mopped up, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games, as well as $11 million in lost salary. 

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.