When pirates catcher Jason Kendall was smacked by a Shayne Bennett pitch on May 31, it was the 16th time Kendall had been plunked this season, the 62nd in his two-year, two-month-old major league career. At this pace of taking not one but many for the team, Kendall will eclipse the alltime big league record late in the 2005 season or early in 2006, at the age of 31. If he lives that long.
"Don't get me wrong," he says, laughing. "It's not funny. It hurts. I hope I don't get the record. My left arm is pretty much black and blue for six months."
Still, Kendall is well on his way to breaking every major hit-by-pitch record in the books. Last year's 31 plunks eviscerated the season mark (24) for a catcher set by Bill Freehan 30 years ago. Kendall is almost half way toward the career record for catchers, Carlton Fisk's 143.
"Being a catcher helps," Kendall says. "You get that mentality." Maybe you do, maybe you don't: Kendall's catcher-father, Fred, came to the plate more than 2,800 times in his 12-year career and was hit just six times.
Even if Kendall fades down the stretch this season and only matches his 1997 total, that would make him the first man in this century to have two 30-HBP seasons in his career, let alone in back-to-back years, and would vault him well into the career top 100 of all time.
Then there are the Big Three, the Aaron, Maris and Ruth of hit batsmen—Don Baylor, Ron Hunt and Hughie Jennings. Baylor holds the modern career record of 267 and is one of only two batters to get plunked as many as 35 times in a season since 1899. Hunt, whose modern career record Baylor broke, was leveled 50 times in 1971, the modern single-season record, inspiring his remark, "Some people give their bodies to science; I gave mine to baseball." Jennings is first on the Society for American Baseball Research's alltime list for both career (287) and season (51 in 1896).
In the brawl-mad 1990s, where the average hit batsman presumes cause, Kendall has the detached attitude of a lifer. "Never charged the mound," he says. "I've never been intentionally thrown at. It's just that a lot of teams pitch me in; not every-body has Greg Maddux-type control."
Kendall does have active rivals: Craig Biggio has been hit nine times this year and has led the majors three years running, but he turns 33 next winter. Brady Anderson and F.P. San-tangelo are the only other active players to have suffered seasons of as many as 22 HBPs. The field is presumably Kendall's, if he wants it.
"It's not like I go home and practice it in the off-season," he says. "I don't stand in the bating cage and point to my shoulder and say, 'Try over here.' "