BATTER UP AND DOWN
The brush-back is as legitimate a pitch as a sinker, and a lot easier to throw. Its purpose is not to maim the batter but to keep him restless, so he will not be able to dig in and knock the bejeezis out of the ball. A knockdown pitch, on the other hand, is one thrown with malice aforethought at the batter; if he doesn't take violent evasive action he gets hit.
Although pitchers have been throwing at batters since the days of Wee Willie Keeler, historical precedent doesn't make it any more right or make it feel better if you should happen to wake up in the hospital. Knockdown pitches have no place in baseball, which is in no way a contact sport; its beauty and drama are not enhanced by the sight of a man writhing on the ground.
If a batter hits a home run, why should the pitcher be allowed to justify his ineptness by knocking him down? Or, conversely, why should the batter be penalized for his skill or luck by having to test his reflexes against a speeding baseball? Take Rick Reichardt, the Angels' rookie. He has hit 12 homers and, in appreciation, has been hit nine times.
A doubleheader between the Phillies and the Mets last week was beautiful: Richie Allen of the Phils hit a homer, Dick Selma of the Mets hit Allen, Bob Buhl of the Phillies hit Selma and Jack Fisher of the Mets hit Buhl. Great games.
Once upon a time, pitchers piously claimed that the pitch got away from them, but in our permissive era they confess and rationalize, and nobody in the commissioner's office says a discouraging word.
The avowals go like this:
"I didn't start it." No 7-year-old uttered this little gem, but 43-year-old Wes Westrum, manager of the Mets. "You got to protect your ballplayers," he went on. "I believe in an eye for an eye. A thing like that could mean Selma's career."
"I didn't throw to hit Selma," said Buhl. "I just wanted to brush him back. If I don't throw close to him, do you think my team's going to respect me? I just hope he isn't hurt bad."
"I don't enjoy doing it," said Fisher" "but I think the point has to be made. It's all part of the game."