When is it Ok to Hit People With 90 mph Fastballs?
According to a number of sportswriters, it’s ok for a pitcher to bean a batter for the sake of sending a message, all in keeping with the storied traditions of baseball. Interestingly, many actual athletes, from hall-of-famers to managers, seem to think you might need an actual reason.
It was the first inning of the nationally televised game Sunday between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals and all-star Philly Pitcher, Cole Hamels, drilled young 19-year-old phenom, Bryce Harper, in the back with a 93 mph pitch. Harper handled his “welcome to the big leagues” moment with great aplomb. Advanced to third base on a hit where most players would have stopped at 2nd. And then as Hamels threw to first base to check the runner, the Kid took off and stole home- a rather spectacular event that rarely happens in the game.
Hamels committed the cardinal sin of admitting publicly he purposely threw at Harper and was promptly suspended by the league for five games, at an estimated cost to his pocketbook of about $400,000. Hamels told reporters he was just being “old school.”
Sports Illustrated columnist, Jason Turbow thinks this was a swell thing to do:
This is the Code at its deepest and most ingrained levels. It is the confluence of ability and pride and hype and the concept that all men must earn their stripes. It is the old guard welcoming the new — player and team alike — with an unmistakable challenge: Welcome to the big time. Let’s see if you can hack it.
Fox Sports analyst, Ken Rosenthal, also thinks it was a really cool, “old school” macho act:
Players tend to take care of these things themselves, and Harper sent his own message on Sunday night, stealing home. That is exactly the way the game should be played, the way it used to be played, the way it was played when Frank Robinson would get knocked down and get up and hit a home run.
Funny, but real men- baseball men, that is- beg to differ with these tough-guy sportswriters who have more experience with cushy offices, lap-tops and press room buffet tables than actual combat in the field of battle.
Cal Ripken, the former Baltimore Oriole hall-of-famer, points out that, no- what Hamels did was not old-school. The unwritten rules of baseball as understood by most normal people is that you hit a batter when he’s been a jerk and Harper had not violated any of the unspoken rules of the game.
Usually there’s a spark for why you do it. Somebody bunts when you’re up eight runs, or you’re stealing third base when you’re up 10 or 11 runs in the seventh inning. There are real reasons on how you play the game, and embarrass the game. That’s old school. But just to come up and drill somebody for no reason, I don’t remember that being old school.
Detroit Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, whose picture could well be in the dictionary next to the term “old school,” also disagrees with our sportswriter gladiators and thinks Major League Baseball was way too lenient in its five-day suspension of Hamels.
I know he’s a very good pitcher and a very talented guy but when you come out and admit it like that. … You know, that ball could have missed and hit him in the head or something else, I mean, when you come out and admit that I think five games is way too light, is my personal opinion.
There’s an important distinction to make here. There are many ways for a pitcher to send a message to a batter. Usually, he throws what is commonly referred to as “chin music.” A nice, high fastball, so close to the hitter that he sprawls to the ground in self-defense. This has been the more common approach in recent times.
It’s interesting that those who thought Hamels was justified in his particular welcome of Harper to the big leagues, say he threw an innocent pitch to his backside where there is plenty of “padding.” Others called it a pitch to the “small of the back.”
Those who think Hamel was being a jerk point out that’s pretty much where the kidneys and the spine reside.
The point, in my mind anyway, is that while it is cool for a pitcher to claim his territory by throwing close to a batter to back him off the plate- launching a hard-ball at 90 mph at a guy 60 feet away with the intention of hitting him is no act of bravery. It’s actually pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not hard to do.
National’s pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, hit Hamels in the legs as the pitcher squared to bunt a couple of innings later and I actually think a brush-back pitch would have accomplished the same, but at least Zimmermann had the good sense to not admit he was throwing at anyone, and more importantly, he was not the instigator.
But in regard to the guy who started it all, Cole Hamels- National’s General Manager, Mike Rizzo, has it about right, in my opinion. Only slightly paraphrasing- throwing hard balls at people for no particular reason, is kind of a chicken-shit thing to do.