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Posted: Tuesday August 18, 2009 10:58AM; Updated: Tuesday August 18, 2009 3:18PM
Tom Verducci Tom Verducci >
INSIDE BASEBALL

MLB needs to curb macho culture that has taken root in today's game

Story Highlights

These days, every hit by pitch becomes a challenge to your manhood

A batter today is about 40 percent more likely to get hit than 50 years ago

How'd we get here? Diving hitters, body armor, expansion and a tiny strike zone

David Wright
Matt Cain's accidental plunking of David Wright triggered a retaliation from Wright's teammate, Johan Santana.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Giants starter Matt Cain was locked in a scoreless duel Saturday with the Mets' Johan Santana when Luis Castillo opened the New York half of the fourth inning with an infield single. The Giants are playing in a pennant race with a popgun offense, so every run, especially facing an ace like Santana, drips with importance. David Wright was the next batter, and Cain worked ahead 0-and-2. Wright fouled off the next pitch.

The subsequent pitch triggered another episode in what is seriously and dangerously wrong about the way baseball is played these days. Cain threw a 94 mph fastball up and in. Wright hardly moved from its path. The ball smacked square off the side of his helmet, just above the ear hole.

Was Cain trying to hit Wright? Of course not, not with a runner already on base and no outs in a 0-0 game. Cain was visibly shaken by the violence of the impact. No matter. The Mets were going to retaliate -- for an accidental beaning. And that's where baseball is going scarily off the tracks: a vigilante culture has taken root in which teams are retaliating even when it was obvious that a pitcher wasn't trying to hit a batter.

Memo to commissioner Bud Selig, discipline czar Bob Watson and especially to major league players: It's time to knock off the punkish stuff in which every hit by pitch becomes a challenge to your manhood. One of the most dangerous eras in baseball history could become even more dangerous.

"It's getting out of hand," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Every time somebody gets hit they think it's on purpose and they're going to retaliate.

"It seems these things go in cycles. And it seems it's getting to the point where teams have a short fuse. It's becoming a macho thing. It's probably going to continue for a while.

"Obviously, you get your core player hit you feel like you have to do something. It's over. [But] it's going to get ugly at some point."

Of course, Santana wouldn't rest until he hit someone in "retaliation." He buzzed the tower of Pablo Sandoval twice in the seventh, with one of his fastballs actually whizzing behind his back. But he missed both times (and Sandoval proceeded to belt a deep home run on the very next pitch), so he kept trying -- even after umpire Brian O'Nora warned both sides. Santana took aim at the next batter, Bengie Molina, which is akin to hitting the broad side of a barn. This time he didn't miss. Amazingly, O'Nora didn't even toss Santana. Apparently Santana would have had to have grabbed the public address microphone and actually announced his intent to hit Molina for O'Nora to actually enforce his own warning.

In today's game, that act of "retaliation" made Santana a tough cookie. You know, "protecting" and "standing up for" his teammate, and whatever other code words for this pseudo-macho game players want to invent. Must every hit by pitch set off alarms? The umpires get antsy. The crowd starts buzzing and wonders who will get hit next. (Star for star? Number three hitter for number three hitter? First baseman for first baseman? Ugh.) And everybody wants to get into the head of the pitcher to decipher why he was trying to hit the batter.

After the game Saturday, Molina, a 12-year veteran, shook his head in disgust about the way the code of the game has deteriorated.

"That's what's wrong about it," Molina said when asked about how retaliation has become virtually automatic even for accidental hit-by-pitches. "The game has changed lately. If you hit somebody, even if it's not on purpose, they come back and hit somebody. You have to be professional, take the hit and go to first.

"Yeah, it's changed a lot. But you can do nothing about it. Just keep going."

Look at the nonsense that happened at Fenway Park between the Tigers and Red Sox. Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera got hit by a pitch that was very nearly over the inside corner of home plate, and the Tigers have to buzz Cabrera's Boston counterpart, Victor Martinez. And then Kevin Youkilis, a classic diver, overreacts to getting hit in the back, charging the mound and lamely throwing his helmet at pitcher Rick Porcello.

Listen to all the rhetoric. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen promised to hit people at a rate of two-for-one if his players keep getting hit -- even though Sox first baseman Paul Konerko admitted "at no time did I think I was getting hit on purpose." Guillen's punishment for such threats? Nothing.

Likewise, pitchers Bobby Jenks and Matt Garza openly admitted to throwing at hitters at purpose -- and neither one of them was suspended. Hello, Watson? Anybody home?

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