When Brian Sabean went off on Scott Cousins, I tried to think of a player who had acted with malice aforethought in trying to hurt someone, who was enough of a psychotic to want to maim or kill someone on the baseball field–in other words, a player who acted like Sabean thinks Cousins did. Sure, there have been selective head-hunting incidents and the weird August 22, 1965 assault of Johnny Roseboro by Juan Marichal, but intentionally trying to injure someone on the basepaths? Ty Cobb had that reputation, but he insisted it was overblown and it seems likely that he was telling the truth; even the great Georgia Peach would not have been permitted to persist in tearing the femoral arteries of rival infielders with sharpened spikes for very long. Old timers liked to talk about justice on the basepaths. If the pitcher threw at you, you bunted the ball so that the pitcher would be forced to cover first and you could knock him down. If the opposition was a bit too physical with its takeout slides on the double play, you protected your second baseman or shortstop by wiping out theirs the next change you got. But even in this tit-for-tat game, the intention was to deliver a mesage, not put the other guy on the shelf for a year.
Two players who seemed indisputably culpable in an opponent's injury came to mind, and I've already connected them up here at BP: Ben Christensen, the pitcher who threw at a batter in the on-deck circle during a college game, and Yankees outfielder Jake Powell, an all-around scumbag who went out of his way to damage Hank Greenberg in 1936:
Powell had hit first basemen before. This was a problem. Baseball was more intensely competitive then than it is now, but this kind of play was over the line. Worse, Powell seemed to be proud of himself. "Protect yourself," Powell spat as Greenberg writhed in pain. This was not competitive intensity, but rather unprovoked violence. Before the series with Detroit was over, Powell had also put catcher-manager Mickey Cochrane out of action by sliding into his ankle on a play at the plate.
Powell was a special guy, as I detailed here several years ago–his maiming of Greenberg was probably not the worst thing about him, and not even the most notable incident of his career. His life came to an ugly end. Powell is the kind of player Sabean was thinking about when he made his comments, not Scott Cousins. Powell types have been few and far between in baseball, and Sabean has done Cousins a major injustice in painting him as that kind of player.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now