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June 12, 2013

Pebble Hunting

How Beanballs and Brawls Could Be Avoided

by Sam Miller


I’m a scaredy-cat, and a pacifist, so I come to these sorts of discussions from a place that won’t appeal to everybody. When I see a pitch going toward Zack Greinke’s face, for instance, I think of it as the culmination of a violent series of events that could have easily killed a man; that it didn’t kill a man makes me only marginally less queasy about the whole thing. At the risk of going into unnecessarily macabre territory, I want to imagine that it did kill a man; the difference between that universe and ours is perhaps mere inches. Had it killed a man, there would be reckoning, soul-searching, panels to study the issue. There would be vigorous discussion about whether the criminal justice system should be brought in. There would be, mostly, an attempt to figure out how this happened, and what went wrong, and where we could have prevented it.

So how did the beanball that touched off a brawl between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks on Tuesday night happen? What went wrong? Where could somebody have prevented it?

The final act

I’m going to assume the best about everybody’s motives, as much as possible, and so here I’ll assume Kennedy wasn’t aiming for Greinke's face (or even shoulder), but threw a pitch that was supposed to be a bit lower but got away from him. One might note that Kennedy is a control specialist; a couple years ago, when Jered Weaver threw a pitch head-high, I saw some suggest that he must have been head-hunting because a pitcher as good as Weaver would never miss by such a wide margin. But of course pitchers miss by eight or more inches constantly, on practically every pitch, and on top of that throwing at the numbers on the batter’s back means throwing to an unfamiliar target at an unfamiliar angle. So it’s very easy for me to imagine that Kennedy missed his target, that this wasn’t an attempted murder. Just simple, common-law-sanctioned assault.

That’s just the point, though: throwing anywhere near a batter’s upper body is reckless. Reckless drivers aren’t trying to crash into things; they’re just driving recklessly, and the law holds responsible those whose reckless behavior leads to damage and/or injury. Pitchers are pretty good, but they’re also pretty terrible at throwing the ball precisely where they want, and aiming for a spot close to a face isn’t much different than aiming for a face.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Overthinking It: The E... (06/12)
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Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Wo... (06/10)
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