The announcement could have been broadcast in the middle of homeroom. It was as if American League president Gene Budig had grabbed a microphone and bellowed, " Jaret Wright, report to the principal's office immediately." Thus Wright, a Cleveland righthander who had hit five batters this season and triggered two bench-clearing brawls, was officially condemned as a beanball-throwing bully—a headhunter, as they're known in the hallways of baseball. � Never mind that when Budig called him to league headquarters in New York City last week, Wright had a 7.61 ERA. Never mind that he had allowed 103 base runners in 60? innings and shown worse accuracy than NATO. Never mind that Wright is an unpolished 23-year-old with a 97-mph heater. (Think of a kid with a learner's permit taking a Viper for a spin.) When Budig called him in for a well-publicized meeting he told the world, in effect, that Wright was a very bad boy.
"There were no accusations," says a source close to the participants. "There was talk about throwing inside and how to prevent fights. But even Budig said they should never have publicized it."
At schoolmaster Budig's side was his special assistant, Bob Gibson, a man known for playing splendid chin music in his day. Hall of Famer Gibson could tutor Wright on intimidating hitters without beaning them. In 17 seasons with St. Louis he never hit more than 13 batters. He nicked only seven in 304? innings in 1968, the year he went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA. Wright hit 21 batters in 343? innings since he reached the majors in '97.
Some of the game's best pitchers have judiciously plunked people. Nolan Ryan was so notorious for dusting anyone who dug in against him that rookies were told not to make aggressive movements in the batter's box. When he was with Boston, Roger Clemens shouted into the Yankees' dugout that he was going to hit someone. Derek Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch welcomed Clemens to New York this year by wearing catchers' gear into the batting cage.
Like fights in hockey and promises in politics, throwing at batters is part of the game. The public spanking of Wright recalls the treatment in the early '90s of Pedro Martinez, another guy with a live four-seam fastball he hadn't yet harnessed. Sure, Wright's immaturity showed when he gave Boston's Darren Lewis a let's-go-at-it wave after hitting Lewis in the shoulder. Yes, the kid could use a remedial course in humility, maybe in the minors. But Wright's not the only one who deserves a demerit. Budig and others who cry "headhunter" at the drop of a batter should also work on their control.