SI Vault
Mark Kram
August 18, 1975
Every time a player comes up, he risks a run-in with that specter of death, the beanball. Only one major league hitter has ever been killed, but fear and fractures have snuffed out numerous careers
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August 18, 1975

Their Lives Are On The Line

Every time a player comes up, he risks a run-in with that specter of death, the beanball. Only one major league hitter has ever been killed, but fear and fractures have snuffed out numerous careers

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The Barber paused, stroked his chin and said sagely, "Yes, Jim. But sometimes you have to do it two times."

In contrast, there are pitchers who are intransigent pacifists and will not throw at hitters in any situation. The great Walter Johnson would never pitch tight, and Cobb always crowded the plate on him. Bucky Walters once told his manager that he would hang up his glove before he would hit anyone. Among more modern pitchers, Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, Billy Pierce and Ferguson Jenkins rarely hit anyone. McLish remembers a pitcher for Montreal who refused to knock hitters down; he is now in the minors with another organization.

"When Ernie McAnally first came up to us from Winnipeg, he was as mean as he had to be to win," says McLish. "But in his last couple of years with us he found religion and became reluctant to push a batter away. It was against his principles. Well, I respect a man's religion, but when you're trying to earn a living, you must use the weapons at your disposal. I tried to tell him it was his right. He wouldn't listen."

Few agree on who orders the knockdown pitch. For the most part, it is an understood professional code, and the pitcher does not have to be told what to do. But some players think there are managers who issue directives from the bench, among them Mauch, Alvin Dark of the A's and Dick Williams of the Angels. "You want to know about bean-balls," says Catcher Barry Foote of Montreal. "Go ask the expert over there. Gene Mauch." Mauch is one of the reasons why Maury Wills never did well at Montreal. "I felt funny playing for a manager I had learned to hate," Wills once said. "When he was with the Phils and I was with the Dodgers, he used to order them to throw at me all the time."

Billy Martin, the new Yankee manager, always seems to be at the epicenter of beanball brawls. When he was a player, he broke the jaw of a pitcher who threw at him. As a manager, he is like a frontier general who gets a Gatling gun for the first time: he'll turn it on anything. Insiders laughed when Martin, then with the Texas Rangers, said he was angry with his pitcher for throwing at Elliott Maddox of the Yankees earlier this year. A few nights before, Martin had said that he hated Maddox, that he considered him gutless and that he would eventually take care of him.

"Would you order a retaliation?" Dark is asked.

"I don't even like to talk about it," says Dark, who sometimes reminds one of the Reverend Davidson in Rain. If pressed, he might come up with something like this: "Hurt is a purgatory and a revelation."

Beaning is not without its comedy, though it is not of the sort that produces a full belly laugh. Who can ever forget the sight of Ruben Gomez after hitting big Joe Adcock of the Braves? A sensible fellow, the Giants' Gomez took one look at Adcock charging toward the mound, the bat in his hand looking like a toothpick stuck in a side of beef, and ran to the clubhouse with Adcock in pursuit. Once inside, Gomez sputtered weakly that he would not return to the game. Ray Sadecki of the Braves recalls hitting Orlando Cepeda. "I remember a terrible scuffling around the plate, like two bulls fighting. Cepeda was wrestling with my catcher, trying to get the ball. He wanted to hit me in the head but all he managed to do was give me a few choice words in Spanish."

Then there was the time Charlie Grimm tried to use a little foresight. Walking toward the plate after several hit batsmen in a row, Grimm looked out to the mound and he did not like what he saw. "I could see the big pitcher's neck swelling and getting red," he recalls, "so I laid down on the ground in the batter's box. The umpire asked if I was trying to be a comedian. 'No,' I said, 'this first one's gotta be a beanball. Let's get it over with—then I'll get up.' "

Alex Grammas recalls a time on the Cardinals when he batted in back of Ken Boyer, who used to wear out Dodger Relief Pitcher Jim Hughes. "Each time Boyer got a hit I would go down as the next hitter," says Grammas. "Well, we're in Ebbets Field, and there's Boyer against Hughes again. Boom! He hits one off the wall. Now, I know what's going to happen. Hughes is steaming, pacing the mound like a caged tiger. I figure if I stall in the on-deck circle, maybe Walter Alston will take him out. Sure enough, here comes Alston. But before he can get to the mound, Hughes turns and throws at me in the on-deck circle. I swear it happened that way. Mad as he was, he had to throw the ball somewhere."

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