- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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NEW-AGE CHIN MUSIC
Every week seems to bring another bench-clearing incident. As of Sunday there had been eight big ones this season, all triggered by a hit batsman. Hitters, it seems, are charging the mound more frequently, even though pitchers appear to be more reluctant to throw at them. "The game has been changing for years," says Oriole manager Frank Robinson, who was hit 198 times with pitches during his 21-year playing career but remembers charging the mound only twice. "Players have become very sensitive if someone throws inside. We knew it was part of the game."
Clearly, the antibeanball rules instituted in 1988 have not worked as well as had been hoped. They allow an umpire, after issuing a warning against brushback pitches, to eject a pitcher and his manager when a subsequent too-tight pitch is thrown. "Before the rule change, before the game became overregulated, players were better at getting out of the way of pitches because they had more practice," says Angel manager Doug Rader, who played from 1967 through '77. "And they learned how to get hit by pitches. The manly thing to do once you were hit was to go about your business, to walk to first base. If the pitchers saw that throwing close affected you, they'd keep throwing at you. The game ought to be deregulated."
Red Sox manager Joe Morgan did some deregulating of his own on June 3 in Cleveland. The night before, Indians reliever Doug Jones had thrown close to the head of Boston's Tony Pena, who after the game predicted that his team would get even. Sure enough, Roger Clemens, the Red Sox starter the next day, hit Cleveland's first batter, Stanley Jefferson, above the right elbow. Both benches cleared, and Pena and Chris James of the Indians squared off. Both were ejected, though Clemens was allowed to stay in the game. Afterward Morgan said, "I loved it. We got even, didn't we? After last night, this was inevitable. We, as a team, voted 34-0 [to retaliate]." The reference to the vote is what earned Morgan a three-day suspension from American League president Bobby Brown. Morgan's appeal of the suspension was to be heard on Tuesday.
Contrast the Red Sox's attitude with the story a National League manager tells about trying to get one of his pitchers to work an opponent inside because the batter had been leaning in toward the plate and hitting everything in sight. The pitcher told the manager, "I can't pitch him inside. He's a friend of mine." The manager said, "I'm not asking you to hit him—just get him off the plate." The pitcher repeated, "I can't."
Can you imagine Bob Gibson saying that?
MUST BE THE SHOES
If you think that offense is on the rise this season, you're right. Consider last Friday. In 14 games that day, there were 171 runs scored, 284 hits and 42 home runs. Six teams got 10 or more runs, including the Giants, who had 23 against the Braves, who scored eight. That all added up to quite a display of firepower, but it came as no surprise. Through Sunday homers had increased 12.1% in the American League over last season and 17.2% in the National League. Runs scored were about even in the American League, but were 10.4% higher in the National. Why?
"I said in April the balls were juiced," says Twins pitcher John Candelaria. "Now people are talking about it." Says Toronto pitcher Duane Ward, "The ball is definitely more lively. It's not like it was last year. It looks like a reenactment of 1987 [when major leaguers hit a record 4,458 homers]. Guys who aren't home run hitters are hitting them. I haven't seen a broken-bat homer yet, but when we see one, we'll know something is going on."
But just as many scouts, managers, coaches and players think the ball isn't juiced. Of course, the people at Rawlings, who manufacture the baseballs for the majors, insist the ball is the same as it was last season.