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When is it Ok to Hit People With 90 mph Fastballs?

Harper Gets Beaned (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

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.

Baseball: Closing the Deal is the Hardest Task of All

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment


The Bruins are the defending NHL champs. The Celtics regularly make the playoffs. The Patriots are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Bosox have won two World Series titles over the past decade.

But the entire city has been humbled recently and Sunday was particularly tough on the psyche of the Boston sports fan. Their beloved Patriots lost to the heretofore lowly Buffalo Bills and the Red Sox are teetering on the edge of an epic collapse that would set a new standard for epic collapses.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek but sharing the general angst being felt by the city’s sports fans, Boston Globe sports columnist, Dan Shaughenessy, went so far last Friday as to ask the Commissioner of Baseball to disqualify the Red Sox from the playoffs even if they do somehow manage to back into post-season play, saying they just don’t deserve the honor given the horrific way they have played in September.

Their brilliant centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, may have saved their season with a two-out, 14th inning, 3-run homer that beat the Yankees last night, but even so, they cling to a 1-game lead over Tampa Bay and the paranoia in Bean Town is palpable. Their starting pitching is in tatters, their dugout demeanor has been deflated and defeated.

On Saturday, the horror of this September that they opened with a 9-game Wild Card lead, was in abundant display as Red Sox leftfield bust, Carl Crawford, botched a line-drive out that led to a pair of 2nd-inning runs, followed shortly thereafter by a Derek Jeter 3-run blast that put the Bosox hopelessly behind 6-0. Carl Crawford was supposed to be one of their free-agent saviors after the Washington Nationals unexpectedly stole the guy they wanted, former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, in an off-season acquisition.

Aside from accidently screwing the Red Sox by forcing them to pick up Crawford, the Nationals have had a good old time over the past couple of weeks derailing hopes and planting doubts in otherwise, really good baseball teams. They took four games from the Phillies in Philadelphia after the Phils had clinched the division. Oh, big deal, you say, the games were meaningless. Yes, but that set the stage for baseball’s best team to go into an 8-game slide they finally ended Sunday. Probably not the way you want to go into the playoffs.

And the Nats took two out of three this weekend from the Atlanta Braves who are vying with the Red Sox for an almost equally disastrous National League epic collapse.

Getting the last three outs in a baseball game is a famously difficult task. Getting the final victories at the close of baseball’s marathon 162-game season is even more difficult. White knuckles and fear seem to overwhelm the emotions of normally rational and competitive men.

For perspective, here in Washington, D.C., we are immensely proud that our baseball team is about to finish in third place in their division. We are ecstatic that our football team has started the season with two victories and we appear to be on the road to a .500 season. For all those Phillies, Braves and Red Sox/Patriots fans accustomed to the rarefied air of constant success- this week in sports is proving that, at the very least, you should be really grateful your teams are even in the position of disappointing you.