By Ken Reed
July 4th. One thinks of barbecues, burgers, brats, and baseball. In fact, scheduled MLB double-headers used to be a staple of Independence Day until greedy owners decided that two-for-one deals were not good for their profit-first mentalities — America’s traditions be damned.
But greedy pro sports owners isn’t the topic today. The 4th of July means we are in the heart of baseball season and there’s one “B” word that needs to be addressed: beanballs. Pitchers throwing 90-95mph fastballs at hitters — often around the head area — is an old-school tradition. It’s a retaliation tactic. And it’s a childish tradition that has to go.
Retaliation for what, you might ask. That’s one of the problems. It’s unclear what actions deserve a beanball in the ribs. Most of the reasons are in the Unwritten Rules of Baseball. Of course, since they are unwritten people are free to interpret them however they’d like to.
From observing the game through the years, here are some ways you can invite a beanball:
• Hit a long home run. The pitcher might intentionally throw at you the next time up in order to stop you from digging in at the plate.
• Hit a home run and take too long to watch it. If you watch your homer too long you could take a hard sphere in the body at 95 mph your next time up for “showboating.”
• Same thing if you hit a home run and take “too long” to circle the bases.
•If the hitter stares at the pitcher, the opponent can take that as breaking the ‘Unwritten Rules’, and drill you.
• If you bunt too late in a game in which a no-hitter is still alive (when “too late” is up to one’s interpretation), you must pay with a fastball to the body during your next at-bat..
• Other reasons can be up to the players and managers involved. Some managers and pitchers can be very creative when determining if an ‘Unwritten Rule’ has been broken or not.
For example, earlier this year, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly had his pitcher throw at the Los Angeles Dodgers Brett Eibner. Why? Mattingly was mad that Dodgers’ shortstop Corey Seager had swung on a 3-and-0 count with his team leading by five runs! Oh, of course. Off with his head!
Just like the NHL condones fighting, MLB condones beanballs. If that’s not the case, why wouldn’t Kevin Towers (former Arizona Diamondbacks general manager) be suspended and fined for these public comments about beanballs on KTAR 620 AM in 2013: “I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” said Towers.
“If not, if you have options, there’s ways to get you out of here, and if you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”
Wow, there’s a franchise general manager sanctioning beanballs and MLB executives didn’t even bat an eye, let alone fine or suspend him.
This old school (I prefer Stone Age) thinking has to stop. The pitcher’s job is to try and get batters out. If he can’t do that, then he needs to go to the bullpen and work on his craft. If he or his manager doesn’t like how long a hitter stares at home plate after a home run, tough. Pitch better and you won’t have to watch him stare. If a hitter swings at a 3-and-0 pitch while his team is up five runs late in a game and that makes you angry, tough. Play well enough so your team isn’t down five runs late in the game and it won’t happen.
Sure, intent is hard to determine sometimes when it comes to beanballs. But some are blatantly obvious. In those cases, the managers and pitchers involved need to receive long suspensions and big fines. And, for God’s sake, if a team’s general manager publicly boasts about his team’s pro-beanball philosophy, suspend him for half a season.
The message has to be loud and clear: In 2017, MLB will no longer tolerate old-school frontier justice.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.