- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"I don't respect a pitcher as much who throws at me," says Reggie Smith of the Cardinals. "If he throws at the head, he should be ready for the consequences. They say a batter is a coward if he steps toward the pitcher with a bat in his hand. That's a lot of bull. The pitcher has a weapon in his hand, too. If anyone throws purposely at me, I'm going to do anything to get back at him, maybe even go after him some night in a dark alley. Somebody's going to pay for hitting me."
Retaliation is high on the list of motives for throwing a knockdown pitch or hitting a batter. Recently, after having abused the Orioles with his bat the night before, the Yanks' Munson took a pitch on his arm from Mike Torrez. Soon, the Oriole catcher, Elrod Hendricks, was buzzed under his chin and hit on the chest. That made the next move purely academic; his next time up Munson got a pitch that hit him on the shoulder. Catfish Hunter waited an inning and then let Bobby Grich have it on the shoulder; no one could recall the last time Hunter hit two batters in one game. His next time at the plate Munson tapped to third, but he did not run to first. He peeled off and went straight for Torrez. Munson said later that he was mad because Torrez "blew a kiss at me."
This business of retribution is a sensitive subject. The hitters want to be protected by their pitchers. In fact, they insist on it. When the pitcher does not support them, bad feelings often arise. When Frank Robinson was with the Reds, he once stopped a game and began running toward the mound from the outfield. The pitcher knew what he wanted and waved him back; his next pitch plopped off the hitter's rib cage. Recently, Willie Davis—in a snit because his pitcher did not "back me up"—went out to center field and sat on his glove. "When I was pitching, I had an automatic thing," says Drysdale. "It was 2 for 1. One of our guys, two of theirs."
Ken Forsch of Houston admits having hit Tito Fuentes with premeditation. "I thought it was necessary to protect my club. He went out of his way to get Joe Morgan [then with the Astros] at second base. Morgan asked me to get him, and I got him. But I was aiming below the waist, so I would be sure not to hit him in the head. Besides, he scored and ruined my shutout."
Maury Wills, the retired Dodger, used to spend a lot of time on his back because, he figures, the opposition felt humiliated by his base running. "My pitchers," Wills says, "would meet me at the top step of the dugout and say, 'We'll get him for you.' Sometimes I'd tell them to wait, to just put them on the list. When Drysdale retired, he owed me two. Larry Sherry owed me three. Stan Williams, he was up-to-date. He lived for that sort of thing. Williams once hit Henry Aaron and knocked his helmet to the backstop. Aaron would take a toehold against Drysdale, but not against Williams. He had the feeling Williams was crazy."
Along with Drysdale, Williams was more than an ordinary black hat. Like the Emperor Domitian, who impaled flies with a bodkin when bored, Williams seemed to feel a certain ecstasy at the sight of a sprawled hitter. "He hit me on the head with a 3-and-0 pitch," says Aaron. "I was just standing there. I had the take sign, and he conked me. He told his teammates, 'As long as I'm gonna walk him, I might as well hit him.' I've heard that he kept a photo of me in his locker and threw balls at it. Maybe that's why he didn't become a great pitcher." But Williams was a perfectionist, and if he was not satisfied with his work the first time, he would hit the same opponent with his pick-off throw to first base.
Drysdale once hit Johnny Logan with a pitch, then nailed him at first on a pick-off, starting a riot. With a delivery that seemed to come from somewhere near third base, Drysdale's work was inspired. A myth at the time was that when Drysdale was pitching, Willie Mays would drop in the batter's box even when Drysdale threw to first. "When a catcher flicked his fingers," says Drysdale now, the fire of memories in his eyes, "it was like a red light turning green."
One of baseball's more storied intimidators was Ryne Duren, whose glasses were as thick as the bottom of a soda bottle. Entering a game, he would sail the first warmup pitch high up on the screen. The Reds' former First Baseman Ted Kluszewski recalls this moment. "One day Duren gives up three straight hits. What's he do? With a magnificent gesture, he lifts those thick glasses off his face, sticks them in his pocket and then steps back on the rubber to pitch. I think he hit the guy in the on-deck circle."
Among active pitchers regarded as decidedly inhumanitarian are Bruce Kison of the Pirates, Greif of the Padres, Singer of the Angels, Nolan Ryan of the Angels, Torrez of the Orioles, Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Larry Dierker of Houston. And then there is Philadelphia's Jim Lonborg, who as a young pitcher on the Boston Red Sox studied under the Marquis de Sade, better known as Sal (The Barber) Maglie, a tonsorialist noted for superfine precision on heads.
The story goes that Lonborg once knocked Mickey Mantle down, and Mantle hit the next pitch into the seats. Disgusted, the pitcher came back to the bench and said to Maglie, "I did what you told me to do, and still he hits one in the seats."