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October 13, 2008

Prospectus Today

Of Beanballs and Street Brawls

by Joe Sheehan

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The Dodgers and Phillies admittedly had a tough act to follow, but what they gave us was a pretty uninspiring evening as compared to the excitement of Saturday night and Sunday morning. The Dodgers' attacked Jamie Moyer with five first-inning hits capped by a Blake DeWitt triple; a five-run rally that ended the drama early. The Phillies pushed back a bit, even creating some mild excitement in the seventh, but Cory Wade pitched out of it to lock down the game.

The lack of baseball drama left plenty of space for other kinds to take center stage. Following up on Friday's knockdown of Russell Martin, the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda threw a pitch over Shane Victorino's head in the third. Victorino took exception, gesturing pointedly to Kuroda. After grounding out to end the inning, Victorino again engaged Kuroda, apparently trying to to tell the right-hander that if he was going to throw at Victorino, to not throw at his head. At this point, the benches lightly cleared—picture the vacationers at a Catskills resort converging on the dining hall at mealtime—and despite the best efforts of Davey Lopes and Larry Bowa to spark something more, there were no punches thrown.

This is where the game loses me. I don't love everything about baseball, and one area I've never quite come around to grasping is the pseudo-macho "code" surrounding throwing at hitters and the reactions to that. Don't get me wrong—I know that pitchers need to work inside, and a fair amount of the increased offense over the past 15 years is the effect of hitters standing closer to the plate and taking away the outside corner. To counter that, pitchers are supposed to jam hitters, work the inside of the plate to throw unhittable strikes, and go further inside to create some discomfort in the batter. Hey, I pitched, too.

That fairly normal give-and-take has become distorted, however. Batters, hovering over the plate, now dive to the ground on pitches three inches off the inside corner and shoulder-high. There was a game earlier this season—the specifics escape me, although I believe I wrote about it—in which a batter took offense on a pitch that, while very high, cut the heart of the plate. Every pitch that causes this kind of drama is met with profanity, glares, bat-waving, and the kind of posturing you'd expect in some minor league wrestling venue. In some cases, pitchers are trying to affect the behavior of hitters; in some, pitchers are displaying a lack of control. Regardless, the chest-beating and drama that so often accompanies a wayward fastball is uncalled for.

The follow-on actions to this stuff have never made sense to me, either, although I suppose this speaks more to my nature than anything else. The idea is that pitchers have to protect their hitters, so if your teammate has been backed off, knocked down, or hit, then you have to back off, knock down, or hit an opposition player. The player that you hit should be comparable in importance, and you should try to do so in a way that doesn't unduly damage your team's chance of winning—say, with two outs and no one on, which is when the Kuroda/Victorino exchange took place. Pitchers have to do this, lest they be regarded as less than...

See, I can't even write about this, because I don't understand it. The macho tenets of sports have always been lost on me, and if you want to say that made me less of a teammate, I won't argue. I always react badly to these sequences—they did X to us, so we have to do X to them—because they're irrational at their core. You don't beat bad with more bad, and even if you did, what would be the point? What is the end goal of these sequences? To show that you're as tough as the other guy? Yeah, we get it, when you're a Met, you're a Met. Now play ball.

As an aside, I react similarly to the sophomoric antics reported gleefully each year, where rookies are forced to dress in embarrassing fashion as the team travels from location to location. It's childish and demeaning and beneath everyone involved. Why the hell should Clayton Kershaw be shamed for the enjoyment of Brad Penny? Because someone did it to Penny forever ago? We chuckle at behavior that would be considered actionable in other workplaces, and I think it's because we want to believe we're watching kids play a game, and when they act like kids, it feeds that fantasy.

In truth, MLB clubhouses are a workplace, and the fields an office, and it strikes me that we hold the most disdain for the players who treat both as such. The smartest players, the ones with the least use for the illusion that it's more than that, tend to be treated as outcasts. The players for whom it's just a good job, such as Jeff Kent, are ridiculed for their lack of passion. Those are the ones, however, who have the best grasp of the industry as a whole. You can be great at your job, you can be worth every penny you earn, you can contribute to the enjoyment of millions, and you can do all of that while acting like an adult and expecting the same of your peers.

Baseball isn't a test of manhood, and the tendency of the participants to treat it as such on occasion is disappointing. Throwing a baseball at someone with the intent to threaten or injure isn't tactical, it's idiotic. Overreacting to baseballs that clearly are not thrown with that intent—hey, Dodgers fans, you don't try and hit someone with a 78-mph curveball—is the same. We don't need rule changes; we need a culture change in which everyone involved recognizes that the other guy is just doing his job, and stops interpreting every ill-gripped four-seamer as an act of aggression.

It would also help if the people around the game stopped treating these incidents as important. The post-game interviews last night weren't of Blake DeWitt and Hiroki Kuroda, the game's heroes, but of Victorino and Martin. Maybe that's what sells, but the game deserves better.

We deserve better. Now play ball.

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

Related Content:  Hiroki Kuroda

41 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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cubfan131

Very well written article. On a related note, I've always been amazed at what managers/coaches can get away with. If I displayed similar behaviors when arguing with my co-workers I would be unemployed and facing lawsuits.

Oct 13, 2008 10:53 AM
rating: -1
 
Joey Matschulat

"There was a game earlier this season—the specifics escape me, although I believe I wrote about it—in which a batter took offense on a pitch that, while very high, cut the heart of the plate."

Richie Sexson/Kason Gabbard, perhaps?

Oct 13, 2008 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Henry F.

I vaguely remember the specific pitch you're referring to. It brings up the rarely enforced "You have to make a real effort to get out of the way of the pitch" rule that people like Jason Kendall blatantly ignore. It seems to me that more consistent enforcement of this admittedly vague rule would allow pitchers to throw inside while still allowing hitters to stand close to the plate to protect the outside pitch. There may be too many problems with determining when the inside pitch is too far inside, but you never know unless you try.

Oct 13, 2008 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

But what do we do in those knotty situations where it really looks like a pitcher appears to be aiming for a batter's head? Anyone who watched Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson pitch knows there's a fine line between establishing the inside half and being malicious.
If a batter can't charge the mound after an 0-0 fastball buzzes his head, and the opposing pitcher doesn't buy into macho code of retaliation, then what's to stop some rogue pitcher from getting away with whatever he feels like doing?

I agree with Joe that it would be better if baseball didn't have such a macho culture about this, but since it's not going away anytime soon, what should be done to contain it?

Oct 13, 2008 11:15 AM
rating: -1
 
Noel Steere
(965)

As an aside, I react similarly to the sophomoric antics reported gleefully each year, where rookies are forced to dress in embarrassing fashion as the team travels from location to location. It's childish and demeaning and beneath everyone involved.


Which is why I've always thought Chan Ho Park had it exactly right.

Oct 13, 2008 11:15 AM
rating: 3
 
SFC B

Chan Ho Park's reaction was to throw a tantrum, throw a plate of food, and then throw a chair and that is considered exactly right?

Oct 14, 2008 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Certainly much closer to being right than the idiots that destroyed his suit.

"Exactly" was too strong, but I remember when this incident occured. At the time, what I heard was that Park was upset at having his clothes destroyed, replaced with a clown suit, and that Piazza acted like this was no big deal. From that information, it sounded to me like Park was completely in the right, and that Piazza was an asshole. I admit that the details of Park's reaction make him seem pretty immature, but that's nothing compared to a culture that finds it amusing to destroy someone's property, and acts offended when that person objects. That's pretty screwed up, if you ask me, so when I heard that Park stood up and objected, I thought: "Good for him!"

Oct 14, 2008 20:55 PM
rating: 0
 
SFC B

So if his teammates had, say, hidden his travelling clothes rather than destroying them, and left the clown suit for him that would have been alright? I'm trying to figure where the line is between acceptable bonding activities and hazing.

Oct 15, 2008 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
bristol

I would agree with you more, except that there are real times when a pitcher intentionally throws at a batter. You make it sound like all of these occasions are just pitches that slipped, but sometimes it's out of frustration on the pitcher's part. That said, even in some of these real cases, the offended team can act a little too offended. There is a place for some beanball once in a while, but should be reserved for legitimate occasions.

Oct 13, 2008 11:18 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

Myers threw behind Manny. Myers buzzed Martin's coconut, and that wasn't a case of Martin overreacting. Martin got some more chin music yesterday. And the response among this comunity is to ignore it.
I'm glad Kuroda did what he had to do re Vizcaino. The pitch wasn't close to hitting him...it was way over his head. It just let the Phillies know that the Dodgers have taken notice of their pitchers' intimidations.
This is one of the ways baseball is a team sport. Players have got to stand up for and protect other players. If they don't, it will be tough living with guys you live and travel with for seven months a year.
I for one was glad to see for one brief instant last evening a pause in the increasing feminization of our society.

Oct 13, 2008 11:23 AM
rating: -3
 
BillWW

dodgerken is probably a big foe of the increasing feminization of rookie hazing, then?

McCarver never fails to invoke undeserved Hall of Famer Don Drysdale during these macho games of chicken.

Oct 13, 2008 11:27 AM
rating: -1
 
Swingingbunts

Yes Jeff Kent that pillar of reason who once charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch from a pitcher who was throwing a perfect game at the time.
He probably wasn't the best example you could have used to validate your argument.

Oct 13, 2008 11:29 AM
rating: -1
 
stinkypete

I thought that was Pedro Guerrero who charged Pedro Martinez after being hit late in a perfect game? If Kent did it too, I don't recall the incident.

Oct 13, 2008 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob Moore

I think that was Reggie Sanders who charged Pedro.

Oct 13, 2008 13:10 PM
rating: 0
 
Swingingbunts

I stand corrected, it was Sanders not Kent.
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9900EED9113EF937A25757C0A962958260&scp=1&sq=jeff%20kent,%20charging%20the%20mound,%20no-hitter&st=cse

Oct 14, 2008 06:39 AM
rating: 0
 
stepsinsc

"We chuckle at behavior that would be considered actionable in other workplaces, and I think it's because we want to believe we're watching kids play a game, and when they act like kids, it feeds that fantasy."

Oh c'mon. There's a big difference between hazing in a lockerroom and the type of "actionable" harassment you allude to. And it's a gross assumption to say the ONLY reason that hazers haze is because they were once hazed themselves - I've been hazed in good-natured ways and been able to laugh at the prank objectively.

And it strikes me as incongruous to demand that players approach the game like a job as it is to "ridicule the smart ones for their lack of passion."

Oct 13, 2008 11:30 AM
rating: -2
 
stepsinsc

Yeah that last line didn't make sense. It should read:

And it strikes me as incongruous to demand that players approach the game like a job when you simultaneously condemn those who approach it like a game.

Oct 13, 2008 11:32 AM
rating: 1
 
dodgerken222
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"They do X to us so we have to do X to them" (or something equal to X) =Justice
"They do X to us so we have to do nothing to them"=Cowardice, appeasement, gutlessness, take your pick.
I don't see how a professional athlete who has to have a burning desire to compete and win could possibly subscribe to the second option. I think Chad Billingsley has learned a valuable lesson about protecting and earning the respect of your teammates.
As for rookie hazing...do the politically correct police have NO area that isn't their business?

Oct 13, 2008 11:38 AM
rating: -9
 
bldxyz123

If you are saying that 'an eye for an eye' is Justice, then you are saying that the Hammurabi code, from which that comes, a nearly four thousand year old statement of retribution as the core of justice.

Please. Human society hasn't evolved since then? Justice is most specifically NOT retribution by the injured party, not any more. Are you saying that if I back my car into yours, then you have the right to back your car into mine? Preposterous. You have the right to ask the state to compel me to pay to fix your car.

Hence, Joe's perspective, in this analogy, might be that the Dodgers should be able to complain to the League Office (and get effective justice that way, through fines and suspsensions), rather than having to take justice into their own hands and hand out retribution in terms of physical harm.

Oct 13, 2008 13:02 PM
rating: 4
 
OonBoon

We have a vice presidential candidate who believes in creationism. 1000, 2000, and yes even 4000 year old beliefs and traditions permeate our society. Just think of it as stoning a sinner, rather than a crucifixion or a burning on the stake.

Oct 13, 2008 23:39 PM
rating: -2
 
SFC B

You're looking past the fact that "Eye for an Eye" is a punishment for a known crime. Society still punishes criminals when they break the law commensurate with their crime. Instead of an "eye for an eye" though it's an "eye for 10-15 years on an assault charge".

What is being described here is "Tit for Tat", doncoffin points to Robert Axelrod's work on the subject downthread. BLUF is that Team A will not hit Team B's players unless Team B's pitcher intentionally hits Team A's player. It's basically an Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, and Tit for Tat in that situation looks to avoid punishment (in this case intentional beanings) by avoiding such punishment through mutual cooperation to not hit anyone in the first place. However, Tit for Tat requires that, if Team B hits Team A's player intentionally, then Team A will retaliate. Retaliation is the only avenue available for Team A to get Team B back to cooperation.

Oct 14, 2008 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
hunter
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

@Dodger Ken: I'm glad that I don't know you personally.

Oct 13, 2008 11:47 AM
rating: -6
 
Henry F.

I wouldn't go that far. He's a fan and proponent of his team. Of course then he'll back up what he sees his team doing. Did you read any of the 100 comments after Sheehan's unfiltered post on Manny? Some Red Sox fans, who I would suppose are normally statistically-oriented given that they read this site, went nuts and started invoking all sorts of mumbo-jumbo and opinion rather than fact. When it's your team facts go out the window.

Not that I necessarily disagree with Ken on this one.

Oct 13, 2008 11:56 AM
rating: 0
 
hunter

I think that I just assume that people are more reasonable on a bona fide smart people's site like this one. There are blogs all over the place where mouthbreathers can spout off however they want.

Want to go nuts over Ross Gload's playing time? Anywhere but here, you know? Besides, I was half-joking in the first place, but I wouldn't be able to prove it in court.

Oct 15, 2008 06:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Kate Kirby
(93)

I'm with Joe on this one. Yes, it's bad if someone is intentionally trying to injure someone - and we have a mechanism for dealing with that, in the Umpires. If the players are taking matters into their own hands, perhaps the Umpire enforcement is not strong enough.

Hitting a player also has an actual, in-game, makes it less likely for you to _win_ mechanism. Don't just hand this back in an emotional snit!

Seriously, has any former player ever admitted to a sentiment like, "Hey, that team doesn't retaliate! Let's just hit their best players and make 'em take it!" Because the whole argument presupposes this position, but I doubt it's real.

Just take your base, and win the damn game as your revenge.

Oct 13, 2008 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
leez34

I think you've made the best point so far. Regardless of what dodgerken may say, I find it hard to believe that any team is going to start throwing at another's players intentionally all the time because they feel they won't be thrown at. It's illogical, and the game itself has methods of dealing with such actions within the rules (hit players get put on base, umpires warn the bench).

Oct 13, 2008 12:06 PM
rating: -1
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

Umpire enforcement isn't a fair solution because it usually punishes the retaliator, not the initiator.

Example:
Flash McPower hits a 400-ft bomb off Jonny Old School, watches it land, and takes his time rounding the bases. Next time up, Jonny O.S. throws a 95 mph fastball at the noggin of Flash McPower. Umpire warns both benches not to throw at each other.

The upshot is that Jonny Old School just got a free shot at the other team's player AND he effectively took away the inside half for other team's pitchers.

Is this the optimal outcome here?

Oct 13, 2008 12:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Ted Smith

I disagree. The impact of adding a single baserunner is MUCH less than the impact caused by one team's hitters having to worry about getting hit with a pitch and the other not having to worry about it (and thus able to be much more aggressive at the plate). It is far too easy for us who merely watch the game to forget that it takes a significant degree of courage and discipline to stand in the batters box and stay focused while facing a 90 MPH fastball (mixed in with a variety of breaking pitches). As someone who used to play (and more recently has tried to coach youngsters to "hang in" against a hard throwing pitcher), I haven't forgotten.

It's not about some misplaced sense of machismo, it's about not putting your team at a serious competitive disadvantage.

A couple of quotes from Hall of Fame players that I think are relevant:
"Pitching is the art of instilling fear."-- Sandy Koufax
"Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher." -- Ty Cobb

Oct 13, 2008 12:34 PM
rating: 1
 
kcboomer

I really liked the fact that the umpires let the Dodgers get there retaliation in before issuing the warning. This is how it should be done. And to encourage this umpires should give a team a chance to retaliate. And MLB should encourage it by only suspending players who charge the mound. Leave the pitcher in the game.

I know Martin has no complaint about the pitch that hit him last night nor the "chin music" he got in his next at bat. He didn't move an inch on the breaking ball that hit him. And he moved into the high-and-tight pitch.

Victorino should "man up", too. All he had to do was get back in the batter's box and everything blows over. But, no, he has to make a federal production of it.

Oct 13, 2008 12:00 PM
rating: 1
 
dodgerken222

Just realized...I typed Vizcaino instead of Victorino. Guess I have my mind in ex-Dodgers mode. Thing is, I have Victorino on my fantasy team and I also have Kuroda. I like both players and they both were professional in their behavior yesterday.

Oct 13, 2008 12:06 PM
rating: -2
 
mhsiegel14
(636)

Hey, those hazing rituals saved Kyle Denney's leg. If he hadn't been wearing a cheerleader boot...

Oct 13, 2008 12:15 PM
rating: 1
 
drmboat
(754)

1) There is retaliation for a high-and-tight pitch...it's a ball. Pitcher only gets 4 of them, and he just wasted one because a) he was retaliating for a ball one of his players received, b) he was wasting a pitch to freeze the batter, c) he lost control. As long as nobody is getting their head knocked off, I'd let them throw balls to me all day long.
2) I don't ever recall Jeff Kent rushing the mound, although I'm sure he has. I'm pretty sure it was Reggie Sanders who rushed the mound on Pedro during the no-hitter, because I remember the stories about the size disadvantage.
3) Personally, if you are going to retaliate to an inside pitch, I vote for the Ken Griffey Jr. method. That leaves the rest of the team out of it. On the next pitch, fling your bat in the direction of the pitcher...accidentally. Oops...slipped out of my hands. Why get Kuroda and Victorino into the debate between Myers and Martin?

Oct 13, 2008 12:38 PM
rating: 1
 
doncoffin
(422)

there's a piece of game theory in economics that sort of relates to this issue. The problem is how to induce cooperative behavior in what would ordinarily be a competitive situation. In this instance, the issue is how to reach a coordinated solution of no throwing AT a hitter, when it might, right now, look to be in my interests to do so.

The solution which comes up in game theory (see Robert Axelrod's book The Evolution of Cooperation) is a strategy called tit-for-tat. The essential idea is that I, as a player, begin by behaving cooperatively--my pitchers do not throw at your hitters. And, so long as you cooperate (your pitchers don't throw at my hitters), I continue to cooperate.

But if you defect--your pitchers throw at my hitters, I punish you--I have my pitchers throw at your hitters--once, and then go back to "cooperate" mode.

So it's rational to cooperate. And it's rational to retaliate. It's the initial breakdown that's the source of the problem.

Oct 13, 2008 13:00 PM
rating: 5
 
gpurcell

Exactly. Retaliation isn't about "machismo," not really. If my opponent's pitchers know that they can come inside and, on occasion, plunk my batters with no retaliation than my team's batters will be at a disadvantage.

I remember seeing this happen with the KC Royals one back in 2007 when Buddy Bell was managing. Our kids were getting plunked at a outrageous rate--13 HBP for Alex Gordon, 23 for David DeJesus. We racked up 89 HBP. That was number 1 in the league....for a team that lost over 100 games. In comparison, our pitchers only had 41 HBP. When it became clear that the other team was gunning for the only two decent bats on the club (one a rookie) it was absolutely time to start knocking the other team's best players into the dirt.

Oct 13, 2008 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
thecoolerking
(845)

"In truth, MLB clubhouses are a workplace, and the fields an office, and it strikes me that we hold the most disdain for the players who treat both as such. The smartest players, the ones with the least use for the illusion that it's more than that, tend to be treated as outcasts. The players for whom it's just a good job, such as Jeff Kent, are ridiculed for their lack of passion. Those are the ones, however, who have the best grasp of the industry as a whole."

I think this misses the nature of the appeal of the game to significant number of fans, if not the majority. The last thing these fans want to do is to think of baseball as a business. To them, baseball is an escape, it is about heroic myths, dramatic narratives. Of course they'll hate someone like Kent, or better yet, Bonds, who reminds them that the game is a business.

As for writers like Simers and Plaschke, who have done a great deal to demonize guys like Kent and Bonds, their work is entirely about creating a narrative. Anyone (players who openly treat the game like a business) or anything (statistical analysis) that may conflict with the sweeping narratives that they are trying to concoct is bad in their eyes. In a moment of candor, these writers would probably admit as much, that they sees themselves as homeric figures, documenting modern day heroic myths.

As much as I'm not a fan of the kind of macho crap that Joe complains about, I think it is an inescapable part of the game.

Oct 13, 2008 13:51 PM
rating: 1
 
DandyDan

There is a book I saw once at the local Borders bookstore which explains the "code" of baseball, but I can't remember what it was called. I remember looking through it and the author interviewed many past and present Twins. The same author also wrote a similar book about hockey and why they have fighting in hockey. I'm sure it can all be explained in this book, but I think it is all silly. Maybe if players got arrested for fighting in the game and had to face charges in a real court of law, it would all change.

Oct 14, 2008 02:46 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Pro athletes are our gladiators. They deal with the macho cr@p, so we can hoot about it in front of the tv and blow off steam. They help us get this bottled-up stuff out of our systems so we can be civilized to the jerks we work for or with.

Also, hazing, as long as it doesn't involve hurting anyone, is a tried and true method for increasing team cohesiveness (the effect of cohesiveness on winning is a separate argument).

Oct 14, 2008 22:08 PM
rating: 0
 
SFC B

"Hazing" is not a tried and true method for increasing team cohesiveness. Hazing is thuggish, abusive, and possibly criminal (for an extreme example the HS football team in NM which sodomized teammates with a broomstick).

Oct 15, 2008 10:48 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

did you read beyond the third word of the paragraph?

Oct 15, 2008 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
SFC B

You don't need to physically hurt someone to be thuggish, abusive, or possibly criminal. "Hazing" is a word with a specific meaning and you're cheapening by saying that all initiation rituals are hazing. I assure you, hazing does not increase team cohesiveness.

Oct 15, 2008 18:46 PM
rating: 0
 
mwright

Hazing (destruction of property/physical abuse) is one thing, but nothing wrong with the occassional clubhouse, er, um, office prank.

I don't think sports are the only place where the latter occurs.

Oct 15, 2008 13:46 PM
rating: 1
 
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