Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do it in (belated) honor of Tony C.

With two outs in the ninth inning of a recent Major League baseball game, Dodger pitcher Guillermo Mota drilled Brewers hitting star Prince Fielder with a pitch. It was an apparent act of retaliation for a pitch that grazed Dodger star Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning. When the game ended one out later, Fielder rushed the Dodger locker room, bent on committing mayhem on the Dodger pitcher. Among other things he screamed, "He [Mota] ain't gonna be out there tomorrow!" Fielder, a huge specimen of a man, had to be restrained by security guards and other players. Major League Baseball was said to be investigating; I haven't checked the status of things since. For the record, neither Mota nor Fielder is any stranger to controversy.

I've watched baseball my entire life. As a writer, I've probably expended more words on baseball than on any other single topic except self-help. I've played baseball continuously since 1991.
I've run teams at the Little League level (coaching players, like Eric Chavez, who went on to Major League stardom), helped out at the high-school level, and I manage a team again now in a 45-and-over league. In sum, I think I understand the sport's timeless rhythms and unspoken codes as well as any person—surely any laypersonin America.

I do not understand why this juvenile "retaliation" nonsense goes on and on and on.

A baseball is a lethal weapon. When it's intentionally thrown at another man
especially at another man's headit isn't just a case of "that's how it goes in sports" or "boys will be boys." It is assault with a deadly weapon. Now, before you baseball purists in the audience start groaning and shaking your heads, let me emphasize that there is precedent for taking such a position, from the realm of hockey. In 2000, Marty McSorley, a career-long NHL "enforcer," was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon after "sucker-sticking" and seriously injuring another player, Donald Brashear. The McSorley incident sparked a long-overdue crackdown on gratuitous NHL violence involving the use of sticks, though if you've watched a hockey game recently (so you're the one!), you know that refs continue to stand by for an absurdly comical length of time while combatants pummel the crap out of each other with their fists.

I think baseball needs to man-up and do something similar here.
While it's true that so-called "pitching inside" seldom results in catastrophic injuries, brushback pitches often leave hitters nicked-up: having to play with some nagging, performance-hindering injury to the hands, arms, legs, etc. And, of course, every once in a blue moon you have a Tony Conigliaro-type tragedy. Granted, this would be a lot more difficult than banning high-sticking, because even the best pitchers, we're told, can suffer inexplicable lapses in control. That's why we need to take the discretion out of it: If a pitcher hits a batter above the waist, he's suspended and fined. Not just one of those Mickey Mouse fines they issue now, either. A significant amount of money: say, a nice round sum like $1 million (or, for younger pitchers who don't earn that much, one-tenth of their annual salary). I think you'd be amazed at how much more accurate pitchers suddenly become.

(And seriously, if you think about it, the whole notion of retaliation, as practiced today, doesn't make sense. If you're really "protecting your players" by retaliating, then why are pitchers still hitting batters on purpose in this, baseball's 163rd year? If retaliation is a deterrent, it would carry over from one game to the next, and from one season to the next. Pitchers would've stopped hitting batters long ago.
)

But if baseball isn't going to do something to ban knockdown pitches, I kind of side with Prince Fielder. Let's have meaningful retaliation. A pitcher throws at your head? Hire a few goons to ambush the guy after the game. (Ballplayers have plenty of discretionary income, after all.) Break his thumbs
, as wise guys used to do to pool hustlers they found operating in their neighborhoods, or hyperextend his pitching elbow. Make sure the guy never pitches again. For that matter, why stop there? Whack the SOB, or take your cue from Clint Eastwood at the end of Unforgiven: Serve notice that you intend to go after his wife, his family, burn his house down. Be a man, a real man, not some pretend-tough guy who rushes the mound and flails a few wild, inept punches till the cavalry arrives.

Let a few episodes like that take place, and maybe this nonsense would end once and for all.

8 comments:

Cal said...

I'm going to assume you are being somewhat facetious with the comment about a hit batter attacking the pitcher's family. Here are my thoughts (and I know it will be probably too detailed for a general interest blog):

1) In the American League (and I know this game was a National League game), pitchers don't hit and so don't have to face retaliation for hitting batters. I really don't like to see pitchers batting, because most of them are terrible hitters. So in the A.L., you don't really have the chance to have the pitcher face the music for throwing at someone.

2) I remember reading somewhere that Bob Gibson (a famous pitcher from the '60s who had no problems pitching inside to a hitter) felt that if a batter was hit in the head, it was their fault. I don't think many hitters are taught how to really dodge pitches.

3) The ridiculous strike zone in the majors, which bears no resemblance to what the rule book states, allows batters to dive over the plate to hit. Pitchers have to be able to use both sides of the plate.

4) Kinda related to the previous two points-- hitters get upset it seems on any inside pitch. I agree if it is aimed at the head, that should not be allowed. But getting hit below the waist is just part of the game.

5) Prince Fielder is a hothead. I'm not sure if it stems from his anger at his father (who was also a major league player) over the divorce from his mother.

It is interesting that you coached Eric Chavez in Little League. It is too bad that his career is in jeopardy from so many injuries. He was one of the few people that the Oakland A's and Billy Beane signed to long-term contracts. They usually don't do that.

I know it is pointless sometimes to try and project how good kids may be, but were you able to tell that Chavez had great potential even in Little League?

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: I am being semi-facetious in my statements at the end there. By now you know my theories about how sometimes it takes catastrophic violence to bring an issue to the fore, and get it fixed. I don't "like" violence. I just think humans are wired to ignore many issues until something terrible happens. Apparently Tony C. wasn't enough. Nor was the incident a few years ago that cost Mike Piazza half a season. Or before that, the season-ending injury to Andre Dawson, if memory serves...

You know, the great Sandy Koufax--whom I much admire, in general--famously said that pitching is "the art of intimidation." Bullcrap. Pitching is the art of throwing your best stuff up there and seeing if they can hit it. The way I see it, using a baseball as a purposeful weapon of intimidation is no different--none--from telling a guy that if he throws too close to you, you're going to be "visiting with" his kids at school. Both are intimidation. Neither has any place in the sport. And that old argument, "You have to pitch inside to win," is the biggest canard in sports. If all pitchers were prohibited from pitching inside, the only difference is that the ERA crown would be won at 4.50 or 5.00 instead of 2.00 or 2.50. No individual pitcher would be at a disadvantage to any other.

I was fortunate enough to coach and/or mentor both Eric Chavez and Eric Munson, who's been up and down with a number of clubs, most recently the A's, where he was reunited with his childhood best friend, Chavez. We had an amazing Little League in Rancho Penasquitos, and for years our local high schools, Mt. Carmel and Rancho Bernardo, ranked in USA Today's top 10, and were known wellsprings of future pro talent. My own son, a hard-throwing lefty pitcher, was being scouted for a time, till he self-destructed. That's a story for another day.

And yes, it was obvious from the beginning that "the Erics," as they were then known, were in a class by themselves. Munson was hitting balls 350 feet as a 12-year-old.

Cal said...

Well, I'll disagree with you on the need for pitching inside. The way things are going, there may be a pitcher with that high an ERA who finishes in the top 5. The games are too long as it is (especially when the Red Sox and Yankees play). Between the hitters diving into the plate on every pitch, and the pitcher and catcher having to have a discussion it seems on every batter, they might as well make the games like cricket matches that last for days.

By the way, I did a search on baseball-reference.com and it indicates that Munson has not played for the A's. He's currently in their minor league system at the Triple A level. The same site also showed that Chavez played a few games last year at Triple A. I assume that was a rehab assignment. So they probably played together there last year for a few games.

I also did a Google News search on Munson to see if maybe he had been called up in the last few days. I didn't see any indication of that, but I did see an article mentioning that he played catcher for his Dad in Little League. So I assume that you were the coach and his Dad was the assistant, or vice versa. Anyway, I know this matter was not the gist of the original post. I just thought it was interesting that you coached several players that made it to the bigs. Munson (and I'm assuming Chavez) would be what Dr. Mike Marshall would call chronologically 12 year olds, but biologically older than 12. He thinks these leagues should be grouped by biological age, as kids who were like Munson I know I shouldn't have been on the same field when I was 12...LOL

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: When I said Munson had been reunited with his BFF, Chavez, I simply meant that he'd ended up with the A's after several years of floundering with the Tigers and Astros; I didn't mean to imply that he'd actually taken the field for the team or played alongside Chavez in the same (MLB) game. All I meant was that he was in the organization. Btw, I think it's a good bet that Chavez had some say in the matter, at least in the form of a personal recommendation, once Munson became available. ("Yeah, pick him up, he's good people" or whatever.) And I think the team felt that being together again might serve as a mutual inspiration for both players. Of course, Chavez himself is sidelined with yet another injury, as you point out.

Steve Munson (Eric's dad) was his principal coach during his Little League career; he was also Chavez's principal coach. However, Steve and I worked together on several teams, including two all-star teams (i.e. on the path to Williamsport), and I ran an all-star "clinic" league one summer where I directly coached both Erics.

Aside from that, I can't even tell you how many times I pitched BP to one or both Erics. In fact, Munson once broke my nose with a foul tip. (Yes, stupidly, I was catching without a mask.) After he signed for 10 gazillion dollars, it occurred to me that I should send him a bill...

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - IMO, trying to eliminate intentional "inside pitches" with penalties is akin to cauterizing chancres (pre-penecillin treatment for syphilis). MLB isn't a sport any more so much as a very lucrative business. Players know that their livelihood depends upon their performance, which - to a pitcher - can also involve compromising the performance of batters. Got a power hitter in front of you? Why take a chance by giving him something he might hit? Better to intentionally walk him or render him physically unable to play or rattle him so badly that he'll choke.

If someone intentionally threatens my livelihood, I'm probably going to retaliate. If they do so by way of attacking me physically, my retaliation is likely to be violent. And I'm not a violent person... not any more, anyway. The threat of a penalty for such retaliation would be, at that moment, a hypothetical, where the immediate circumstance would be very real. When the adrenaline is pumping, hypotheticals simply don't exist.

Bottom line is that there probably isn't any realistic means of eliminating intentional beanings, short of legalizing field-of-honor duels or sanctioning cage fights. Besides, I've got the feeling that many spectators actually look forward to the occasional rumble, just as racing fans salivate at the idea of a grisly pile-up (though few would admit as much).

Anonymous said...

Steve:

I don't agree with you on this point. Baseball is a self-regulating game. Both teams have pitchers - and in the National League, the pitchers have to bat, too. Remember the Juan Marichal - Johnny Roseboro conflict?

And it's just not pitchers who hand out the retribution - anyone can slide high and hard into second and wipe out the short stop.

I agree with Cal: the strike zone is a joke, allowing the batters to crowd it. And Fielder is a hot-tempered jerk who doesn't have the respect of his teammates to hand out the retribution - so he felt compelled to do it himself. Think of a younger Joey (Albert) Belle - called by Bob Costas as "the man Will Rogers never met" - and you have Fielder.

Baseball is just fine with the current system - not perfect. Let the conflicts rage and be settled on the field. Besides, the Tony C incident was (Sam Kinison scream here) 42 FREAKIN' YEARS AGO!!! How many millions of pitches have been thrown since then?

Yes, baseball can be dangerous. But the circus wouldn't be exciting if the lion didn't bite the tamer occasionally.

There is no crying in baseball. And no lawyers, either.

Steve Salerno said...

What I'm saying here, really, is that it's faux "self-policing," with the "punishment" administered by a bunch of pussies who, in their pathetic attempts to give the appearance of being actual men, occasionally do some serious damage, and often to other players who've done nothing more provocative than hit a home run, which is part and parcel of the game. Why is a pitcher allowed to "retaliate" or "make a batter less comfortable" or even just "make a statement" when that batter's only sin was to successfully complete one of the core elements that Abner Doubleday designed into the game? If the pitcher strikes a guy out, is the batter supposed to rush the mound, flailing at the pitcher's head with a bat? Because that's the equivalent, folks.

And although yes, Tony C. was many decades ago, there have been any number of serious (or at least performance-crippling) injuries caused by errant pitches since. I name just a few in one of my comments above (Piazza/Dawson), and there are a half-dozen or more in any given season.

Anonymous said...

I knew a professional hockey player in his twenties who, when I expressed my shock at his battlescarred body and complete lack of teeth, said that the fights, not the game, winning or the money, were the major attraction for him and for many of his colleagues.

A fair proportion of young men enjoy violence and the chance to prove their 'manhood' in a legitimised arena.