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June 19, 2014

Skewed Left

The Missing Mound Charge

by Zachary Levine

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You know that scenario that you dreamt up in your backyard for when you someday play in the big leagues? The one that you had to dream up because baseball announcers in every high-leverage situation were telling you that you dreamt it up?

It’s not the one I dreamt up. I couldn’t hit the ball far enough even to picture that trot around the bases after hitting the bottom-of-the-ninth, down-by-three, bases-loaded, two-out, full-count home run. So when I played baseball in the street with my brother and whomever we could find in the neighborhood, there was only one situation that I lived for.

He’d lob the pitch in at twenty-whatever miles per hour and *WHACK* it would hit me on the shoulder because I didn’t bother getting out of the way. And then for that moment every time, I was a goddamn big leaguer. First, I’d throw the bat down, then I’d probably do the “hold me back” thing, but if not, I’d get a few whacks in and then start laughing a lot more than Robin Ventura did when he came to regret baseball’s most famous charge of the mound.

I was a weird kid, but that was one of my favorite parts about baseball, and now baseball players are ruining childhoods. Childhoods of children.

To rewind a little bit to an incident that most likely remains in your memory: Just outside of 14 months ago, Carlos Quentin took a 3-2 fastball in the upper arm from Zack Greinke, who had hit him twice previously. Quentin charged the mound to take on his division rival and his combatant, who was 40 pounds lighter. Greinke tried to (and I guess did) absorb the force by lowering his shoulder. Vin Scully can walk you through it better than I can if by any chance you’ve forgotten.

Quentin was suspended eight games by Major League Baseball. Greinke broke his collarbone and missed one month.

Nobody has charged the mound since. It’s been 3,300 games.

It’s a rather curious disappearance of a part of the game that has produced the occasional serious consequence but usually lives on in impact only on the blooper videos that play in the middle of the third inning at your local ballpark. That or it’s a fluke, like any streak can be, but it’s getting to be a little long.

If we’re trying to eliminate factors behind the dearth of mound charges, we can start with the fact that players are very much still throwing at each other. Just two weeks after Quentin charged the mound, Jonathan Sanchez became the next player to be suspended for one of these incidents.

Most recently, the Diamondbacks were the ones playing beanball, with Evan Marshall getting ejected for hitting Ryan Braun after throwing behind him.

No charge of the mound in either case. Sanchez’s victim Allen Craig gave it a really slow walk with Russell Martin strategically interceding over the course of the first few steps. Braun had better things to do.

In addition to the fact that players are still throwing at each other, there are still bench-clearing fights and “fights.” You don’t have to go back more than a couple weeks to find one, as the Rays and Red Sox threw at each other all night, prompting this incident:

Even the most violent game of the last 14 months—one that had every opportunity to have a charge of the mound—didn’t ever see one materialize. Yasiel Puig trotted calmly to first after getting up from his nasal rearrangement. Miguel Montero looked like he wanted to fight but made no attempt to get around Tim Federowicz as the benches cleared just for moral support. And when things finally escalated with Ian Kennedy’s beaning of Greinke, the ensuing fight was 100 percent spurred on by the benches rather than anything the pitchers did after the HBP.

Other plays since last April that featured ejections, supplemental discipline, or an emptying of the benches have also failed to produce the classic images of batter-pitcher immediate conflict. There are some menacing actions once in a while, but usually it’s just for show.

June 1, 2013: Jason Hammel is tossed for hitting Matt Tuiasosopo. Nothing happens. (Watch video)

July 11: Luke Putkonen throws behind Alexi Ramirez. Ramirez has a clear path to the mound for several seconds but points and waits for the catcher to arrive and hold him back. (Watch video)

August 17: Stephen Strasburg throws behind Andrelton Simmons and other than his being ejected in the middle of a live play, nothing happens. (Watch video)

August 18: Ryan Dempster hits Alex Rodriguez on his fourth try. Dempster would be suspended, but nothing happens. (Watch video)

August 18: Julio Teheran hits Bryce Harper. Harper and Brian McCann yell at each other on Harper’s way down the first base line. Benches empty. Nationals announcer Bob Carpenter calls Atlanta fans “blood-thirsty.” (Watch video)

September 3: John Axford hits Tony Sanchez after a warning. Nothing happens. (Watch video)

April 18, 2014: Cesar Cabral hits Logan Forsythe for his third HBP of the inning. Nothing happens. (Watch video)

May 12: Bud Norris hits Torii Hunter, Hunter and Norris yell at each other on Hunter’s way down the line with a catcher trying to play peacemaker, and the benches empty. (Watch video)

June 12: David Carpenter hits Corey Dickerson, who had just taken out catcher Gerald Laird with a swing. Dickerson stands there and waits for the umpire to hold him back. He wasn’t going anywhere. (Watch video)

Yes, catchers and umpires have been somewhat proactive about trying to facilitate peace in these matters, but if these videos show anything, it’s that they aren’t really preventing hitters from charging the mound. The hitters just aren’t really into it.

It’s hard to say that it’s a result of players being scared off by what happened in the Greinke/Quentin situation. Charging the mound had been a declining art form since before that evening. From 2008-2011, there were eight instances of charging the mound. In the last 2 ½ years, it’s been only two, and the second—Troy Tulowitzki’s spring-training-level effort in spring training to get to Ubaldo Jimenez, who ended up doing most of the work—was iffy to begin with. Maybe there’s only been the one in the last 6,000 games plus pre- and postseason.

Where have you gone, Nyjer Morgan? And for that matter, Gaby Sanchez’s flying clothesline?

Unless we start importing our mound charges from overseas, the next generation of American youth will just be left pointing their bats at each other. Or if the trend catches on, maybe throwing them at each other instead.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Charging The Mound,  Brawls

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