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THEIR LIVES ARE ON THE LINE
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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Back when Grammas was playing, somewhere was at the head—with sincerity. Up until the early '60s, beanball wars were as common as the antiwar rallies that came later in the decade. Players today like to think that those times are gone, but that is all it is, wishful thinking. Despite the batting helmet and Rule 802d, which requires a warning, then automatic ejection for such tactics, baseball has never been able to cope with the problem. The helmet helps immeasurably. But the rule has only made execution more stealthy while forcing umpires into nearly impossible judgment calls. "I've only warned one guy in the last three years," says Umpire Ron Luciano, even though this season alone there have been at least five beanball brawls, including one between the Dodgers and Padres.

Leading 10-1, the Padres tried to squeeze in a runner. Annoyed at the overkill, Dodger Pitcher Charlie Hough hit the next batter, signaling hard times for all, especially his catcher, Joe Ferguson, who later said he had ordered the pitch. In the next half inning, Dodger Willie Crawford was sent sprawling by four pitches. With debate not on his mind, Crawford went out and punched Pitcher Greif. Ferguson then joined in and suffered a fractured wrist. "I hope he enjoys his stay in the hospital," Greif said.

All a part of the game, most players will reply, until one of them is the "hit-tee." Caught between club ethics, practical necessity and what they know inside to be wrong, players look away, certain that their frontier law—swift and sure justice—can tolerate headhunting well short of open warfare. Their ostrich view is all they have, must have, through the long summers. It is the nature of the pitcher to throw at a hitter, and before he changes, or the practice is stopped, there is better chance of the surreal world of Magritte's paintings becoming real: mountains turned into eagles, clouds of granite and commuters who rain down from clear skies.

And always there will be casualties of the kind that remain forever burned into the mind: Don Zimmer unconscious for 13 days, hospitalized for 31, his weight dropping from 170 to 124, unable to talk for six weeks. Zimmer again in 1956, hit in the left eye, wearing a blindfold and pinhole glasses for 12 weeks, unable to bend over or be around his children. Former Kansas City Manager Jack McKeon riding to the hospital with one of his players who faced emergency brain surgery and had a 50-50 chance to live, staring blankly at the player's head, "which had an indentation in it that looked like a deflated basketball." Paul Blair, before he was helped by hypnosis, his heart racing, his breath coming in short heaves, his body going limp whenever a pitch came in close. All of those who never made it up, or back, and became only shadows walled in by shadows.

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