Deeply embedded in the culture of Major League Baseball is a series of “unwritten rules,” and based on the strict manner in which players adhere to these concepts, they very well may be scripture.
A great deal of these unwritten rules are harmless and almost always obeyed purely as a sign of respect. Is the opposing pitcher throwing a no-hitter or a perfect game? Don’t bunt. Up or down by a lot of runs? Don’t steal. Jogging back to the dugout after an out? Don’t step on the pitcher’s mound. Why you may ask? It’s the rules — the unwritten rules, of course.
Admittedly some of these rules are incredibly frivolous but that’s a whole other article in and of itself. The particular unwritten rule which absolutely requires attention given the amount of incidents this year is retaliation — baseball’s version of an eye for an eye.
There are a plethora of reasons a team may seek retaliation and attempting to single out one in particular is an impossibility, but the method will forever remain the same: a pitcher on one team plunking a batter on the other with a fastball.
Some instances of retaliation may garner more ill-will than others, but generally speaking, the practice of intentionally hurling a ball approximately 90+ miles per hour at the body of another human being has become so embedded in baseball culture that no one really bats an eye. Through decades and decades of conditioning, the act has become normalized, so much so that both teams can sense when a beanball is brewing.
It’s time to kill this rule once and for all.
The pure amount of idiocy which revolves around this idea is mind-boggling, and the fact that all 30 teams still decide to adhere to this rule is nothing short of blind stupidity.
Logistically, if a team wants to put itself in the best position to win, this act makes no sense at all because of the repercussions. The most obvious being that hitting a batter puts a runner on base free of charge.
Hitting a baseball traveling at such a fast speed is by far the hardest of any sports-related act. Due to the velocity of a pitch and the short distance which separates a pitcher and a batter, hitting a fastball requires batters to literally guess where a fastball will end up before the ball is halfway to the plate.
By virtue, the act of reaching base is a difficult task which requires hitters to exercise a combination of a sharp eye, discipline and instincts, on top of the odds being overwhelmingly stacked against them. Sure, getting plunked may sting, but batters have the satisfaction of knowing they’ll see a minor boost in their numbers and know they put their team in a position to score a run.
A fastball to the back, thigh or ribs may be considered “harmless,” especially in a league where the average player is approximately 6’1” and 210 pounds, but hitting a batter always has the potential to induce an injury. An errant fastball has the potential to, at minimum, put someone on the disabled list.
The defining reason as to why the concept of retaliation should die once and for all lies in the Manny Machado incident earlier this season.
Most incidents of retaliation are formulaic and, in all honestly, a little childish. In a normal fiascos, a batter gets plunked in his side, the benches clear (the bullpens hilariously stand in the outfield confused about whether to jog down to the infield or retreat) and the ballgame continues.
Machado became the Boston Red Sox’s public enemy number one after a late slide resulted in him spiking Dustin Pedroia. Watching the play frame-by-frame leaves Machado’s intent dubious at best and Pedroia acknowledged the slide wasn’t dirty.
Regardless, the Red Sox wanted to avenge their veteran. Up 6-0, reliever Matt Barnes fired away and took aim at Machado’s head. The fastball barely missed Machado’s head, ricocheting off his bat before hitting his back, but the intention was clear as day.
Never mind the fact that a fastball to the head of Machado could have derailed the Baltimore Orioles’ season and potentially cost the star third baseman millions of dollars in his coming free agency; the pitch could have legitimately ended his career.
Matt Barnes throws at Manny Machado for spiking Pedroia on Friday pic.twitter.com/X70Fb3KvgD
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) April 23, 2017
If any team should know what a heater to the noggin can do a player, it should be the Red Sox. Tony Conigliaro was on the path to superstardom before a misplaced fastball to the face derailed his career. By some miracle, Conigliaro returned to the diamond a year-and-a-half after the incident, but he prematurely retired because of his fading vision.
The disastrous effects of throwing at people are well-documented, but even in the era of advanced sabermetrics and technological advancements, baseball’s culture has remained stuck in the past. Managers are more well-equipped than ever before to micro-manage a ballgame and the set of unwritten rules they adhere to must adapt as well.
So, to major league pitchers everywhere, here’s a very simple message: Stop. Throwing. At. Batters.
Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]