It's dangerous business, but sadly beanballs are here to stay (cont.)
This is especially true in the face of an alarming rise in pitchers who publicly admit throwing deliberately at hitters, with little or no consequence. In May, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks boasted of throwing behind the back of Kinsler, saying, "I meant to. To send a message. I threw it with intention." In late July, Matt Garza of the Rays plunked the Yankees' Mark Teixeira after New York's Joba Chamberlain had thrown a ball near the head of Evan Longoria. Did Garza feel the need to profess his innocence? Hardly. "I just kind of got tired of people brushing [Longoria] back," Garza said. "It's about time someone made a statement."
The Mets-Giants incident was actually the second beanball chapter of last week. The first came in Boston, where the Tigers' Rick Porcello hit the Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis to ignite a bench-clearing brawl that had its genesis in a back-and-forth episode in the series opener the day before. While Porcello claimed it was unintentional, Tigers catcher Gerald Laird all but confirmed the Tigers had taken aim at Boston's Victor Martinez earlier in the game as retribution for Detroit's Miguel Cabrera being plunked on consecutive days. "The one with Martinez was just to show them, 'You're gonna pitch inside, we're gonna pitch inside,' " said Laird. "That's just the way it is. It's baseball."
Unfortunately, that really is baseball; it's an accepted part of the game, as evidenced by the MLB's slap-on-the-wrist approach to punishment. While Porcello received a five-game suspension, that was hardly a sizable deterrent because he was going to miss four games anyway between starts, and as a 20-year-old pitcher trying to stay fresh (he was recently rested for two weeks), it's doubtful the Tigers were sorry to see him forced into an extra off day. Santana not only was not thrown out of the game for obvious retaliation, but also he has not been reprimanded by major league baseball, nor, in all likelihood will he be. That is in keeping with the game's pitiful reaction to Jenks (a $750 fine and no suspension) and Garza (fined an undisclosed sum and no suspension).
Such weak punishment suggests that the crimes committed were weak, but that is not the case. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once claimed to have consulted with his lawyers on the subject and was told that throwing at hitters "constitutes intent to harm with a deadly weapon." That's one of the charges brought against Cubs minor league pitcher Julio Castillo in a case stemming from an incident last season in which Castillo intentionally threw a ball at the opponents' dugout during a brawl only to have it hit a fan in the stands instead. Castillo was arrested and earlier this month was convicted of felonious assault causing serious physical injury. He was acquitted of the second charge.
In response to being thrown at, hitters often take matters into their own hands, which can lead to fights that cause further suspensions or risk of injury. The Brewers' Prince Fielder was hit by the Dodgers' Guillermo Mota recently. Following the game, Fielder charged the Dodgers clubhouse in a fit of rage, earning himself a five-game suspension and ratcheting up tensions between the two sides. San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval, who has become the Giants' most likely player to be targeted, helped ignite a bench-clearing incident last week when the Dodgers' James McDonald threw inside on him. After the field was cleared, Sandoval got back in the batter's box and eventually walked. When he got to second base, he knew he had overreacted. "I thought, what am I doing?" he says. "It was my fault."
It's refreshing to hear such accountability, even if it came after the fact, but that's certainly not the norm in today's overly aggressive game. And beanballs may be too ingrained to ever be fully eradicated. "It's not something you can prevent," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's gonna happen."
Bochy was speaking to the futility of trying to stop tit-for-tat exchanges, but in a darker sense, his words sound an ominous note. If nothing more is done to prevent beanballs from happening, then it is a virtual certainty that something terrible is gonna happen.
That does not mean that another on-field death is imminent. But you know what is? Injuries that affect the health of the player and of the game as idols act like idiots.
For now, Ray Chapman remains a horrifying aberration, the only player killed in a major league game. The truly horrifying part is that his manager's words were not heeded longer, and that the dangerous practice of beanballs was not buried the same day Chapman was.
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