Baseball lore is filled with amusing stories about headhunters, pitchers like Sal (the Barber) Maglie, Ewell Blackwell and Stan Williams. Early Wynn used to say he'd knock his own mother down if she was crowding the plate. Dizzy Dean once flipped (knocked down) eight guys in a row. Heh, heh.
Whatever it's called—the knockdown, beanball, purpose pitch, chin music, smell of the hide or the Rawlings lobotomy—it's not funny. And neither are its aftereffects. Detroit's Al Cowens wasn't laughing the night of June 20 when he grounded to short and charged to the mound to attack Chicago Reliever Ed Farmer. It seems that on May 8, 1979, when Cowens was a Royal and Farmer was a Ranger, Farmer broke Frank White's hand with one pitch and Cowens' jaw with another. Cowens never accepted Farmer's apology, and 13 months later he tried to exact revenge by crawling up Farmer's back and bloodying his nose. Both benches emptied, and Cowens was fined and suspended for seven games. He now faces arrest on assault and battery charges, if and when he again sets foot in Chicago. Detroit's next game there is Aug. 26.
The Montreal Expos see no humor in being a target for National League pitchers, but that hasn't stopped them from meting out punishment of their own. On May 3 Third Baseman Larry Parrish was struck on the right wrist by the Giants' Ed Whitson and missed 31 games. On May 30 Rightfielder Ellis Valentine took a pitch on the cheekbone from the Cardinals' Roy Thomas and won't play again until this week. On June 12 Centerfielder Andre Dawson was struck on the right wrist by San Diego's Eric Rasmussen and missed five games. "We think the Dawson and Parrish cases were deliberate," says Montreal Manager Dick Williams. "We don't like people throwing at our people. There will always be a time to get back for something. It may take a year or two, but these things aren't forgotten."
In that case, Williams' team better be on the lookout, too. Expo Pitchers Bill Gullickson and Scott Sanderson sent Mets Mike Jorgensen and John Stearns, respectively, reeling with knockdown pitches last week, and neither hitter got up smiling. Jorgensen is particularly sensitive to this kind of tactic because of a beanball incident that occurred on May 28 last year when he was with the Rangers and Andy Hassler of the Red Sox hit him in the head. The pitch was behind him, and Jorgensen ducked right into it. Four days later he entered the hospital, complaining of headaches. He and his wife and daughter were watching The Bad News Bears in his hospital room when he suddenly passed out and went into convulsions. He had a blood clot on the brain, and if oxygen hadn't been administered immediately Jorgensen would have joined Ray Chapman as the only major-leaguers to die as the result of being hit by a pitch.
Last Saturday, Jorgensen came to bat just after Joel Youngblood had hit a two-run homer off Gullickson. When Gullickson's 0-2 pitch came right at his head, Jorgensen went down and came up pointing his bat at Gullickson. Before he could stalk the pitcher, he was restrained by Montreal Catcher John Tamargo. But then Stearns came charging out of the dugout, and both benches cleared. After Stearns was ejected and order was restored, Jorgensen gave Gullickson a sharp rejoinder. He singled to right. But the next night the beanball hostilities continued when Sanderson knocked down Stearns. This time Stearns responded with a single to left.
There's something in the air this season, and it's not just pitchers' errant deliveries. It's a mad-as-hell tension. During a rhubarb Pittsburgh's Bill Madlock gives Umpire Gerry Crawford a glove facial. The ugly behavior of Detroit fans causes the temporary closing of the Tiger Stadium bleachers. White Sox broadcaster Jimmy Piersall grabs a sportswriter by the throat. But those are just the preliminaries; the main event is right out there on the field. There have been at least 13 occasions this season on which a hitter charged the mound. And usually one man is just the vanguard of a bench-clearing attack.
"Something has to be done," says the Expos' Dawson. "I'm fed up with being thrown at. If I get hit again, I'm going to be dishing out some bucks, because I'm going to be thrown out of the game."
Some pitchers are getting itchy trigger fingers. Whitson, who hit Parrish and later admitted throwing a "purpose pitch" over the head of the Expos' Gary Carter, says, "If a player needs to see the stitches of the ball, I'll be glad to show them to him." Milt Wilcox of the Tigers is even more explicit. "I've always led my team in hit batters," he says. "Never worry about hitting a guy, unless you do it on purpose.... I've hit them in the head lots of times. Sometimes it gets away. That's what batting helmets are for."
Hostilities reached a peak on June 20. That was the night Cowens went after Farmer. Over in Texas, Ferguson Jenkins was throwing at Blue Jay rookie Damaso Garcia, who had homered off Jenkins five days earlier. Jenkins' first pitch whizzed behind Garcia. His second delivery came inside and brushed Garcia back. His third offering hit Garcia on the upper part of the left arm. This is the same Jenkins who averages all of two walks every nine innings. "I wasn't trying to hit him," said Jenkins. "I just wanted to get him off the plate a bit. Now he'll be thinking. And so will Rick Bosetti." Bosetti had sinned by hitting a double and homer off Jenkins in that game. "If Jenkins is going to throw at everybody who hits a home run off him," said Blue Jay Manager Bobby Mattick, "he's going to be awfully busy." Last year Jenkins gave up a major league-leading 40 taters.
On the same night, in Atlanta, Al Hrabosky brushed back the Cubs' Ken Henderson and then smiled and taunted him. Henderson headed toward the mound, and the benches cleared.