A Brief History Of Bees Attacking Players At Spring Training

When Jason Heyward was swarmed by bees during a spring game, it marked the latest battle in the long-running and complicated war between bees and baseball.

by Joseph Flynn
Mar 30 2016, 5:31pm

Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The human race has always had a rather complicated relationship with bees. They make our honey, they pollinate our flowers, but also they're a bunch of sting-crazy assholes. We fear them, but we need them.

Never is the contentious dance between man and bee more readily apparently than during spring training. It seems like the winged devils find their way onto the field every March, just as teams are playing their first few exhibition games. They descend upon the ballparks of Florida and Arizona around the same time as the pasty Northern tourists, and like the fans, they are eager to greet their favorite players:

Perhaps Jason Heyward and the Cubs should rejoice. Ballplayers are notoriously superstitious, so it's highly doubtful the defending world champion Royals were complaining that they were attacked by bees for the second year in a row. Perhaps bees know winning baseball when they see it, although it's more likely that they are just sting-crazy pain merchants. Either way, it's difficult to imagine spring training without them.

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In honor of our insect partners in spring baseball, let's look at some of the classic contests between ballplayers and bees.

2012 And 2014: The Giants And Their Even-Year Beeshit

If you doubt that bee attacks can be harbingers of good fortune for baseball teams, consider for a moment the San Francisco Giants. Twice in the past four years they have endured bee-related delays during a spring game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (The 2014 incident technically happened during the regular season, but it was April 3, which is more or less still spring training.) In both years, the Giants ended their season with a World Series title. It's science, people!

The most delightful aspect of both of these bee-related delays was the presence of ultra hardass former Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, a man who opted not to attend his son's high school graduation because "you're supposed to graduate." Aw, was wittle Kirky afwaid of the big, scawy bee? Should've sucked it up, charged out on the field, and showed those bees who's boss! In my day we didn't delay games because of a bunch of bees! Hell, we chewed on bags of live hornets instead of sunflower seeds! I once found a wasp nest in my jockstrap and kept on wearing it for nine straight days because we were on a winning streak!

2014: Mark Teixeira Matches Wits With The Bees

Your average regular-season Yankees-Red Sox matchup is a slog, a five-hour gauntlet of 10-pitch at bats, compulsive pitching changes, longer-than-normal commercial breaks, and John Kruk's heavy breath. At least during spring training there's a chance they'll get the game finished before your eyes start to bleed.

Unless, that is, the bees show up. A swarm of our friends descended upon Steinbrenner field during the third inning of a 2014 spring training contest between the eternal rivals. Thankfully the Yankees had Mark Teixeira on the case:

The veteran first baseman knew what exterminators have known for centuries: to defeat the bee, you must think like the bee. Per Sporting News' Jesse Spector:

"I'm a big peanut butter-and-honey guy," Teixeira explained after the game "Love it. So I always know where the honey is (in the clubhouse)."

And what was the purpose of bringing the honey out?

"What I thought was, if you could just do a line of honey out to the parking lot, the bees would maybe follow it, and then just leave us alone."

Eminently logical. Teixeira already looks like an overgrown boy scout, so it should come as no surprise he follows their famous credo: Be prepared. A good ballplayer knows where to find the clubhouse honey stash at all times, just in case he needs to lead bees away from the ball field. It's one of the little things that doesn't show up in the box score.

1936-1940: Bees And Baseball Join Forces

When the Boston Braves franchise hit a bit of a rough patch in the mid-'30s, ownership decided to shake things up by changing the team name. Keep in mind, this was a less civilized era in pro sports, when owners had not yet learned the lessons of Daniel Snyder, that names of this sort honor the proud heritage of our Native American brothers and sisters, and therefore should never ever be changed.

Because modern branding science had not yet been invented, and because the team was eager to drum up public support, team president Bob Quinn had the fans choose the new nickname. And what nickname did the good people of Boston pick for their National League club? You bet your ass they chose Bees.

The Bees played their spring training games in St. Petersburg, Florida, alongside the Yankees. As you can see from this March 13, 1937 issue of the St. Petersburg Evening Standard, this was kind of a big deal:

evening stand.JPG

"We are happy to have you in our midst and we fervently hope that as long as there is major league baseball—and spring training camps—that you will always come back to us. We feel that the Yankees and Bees belong to St. Petersburg. We look upon you as institutions, never to be replaced."

That's one thirsty city! It should be noted that during the five-year lifespan of the Boston Bees, their spring training opponents from New York won the World Series four times. There's no point in pretending this is an accident.

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