Beaning A Dead Horse

We’ve all seen or read about it by now. On Sunday night, Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels threw a 92 miles per hour fastball at Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper, and then later admitted that he did so as a means of … well, I’m still not exactly sure of his reasoning.

Maybe you’ll have better luck understanding his justification:

I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it. It’s something I grew up watching. That’s what happened. I’m just trying to continue the old baseball. Some people get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything. That’s the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players. It’s that old school prestigious way of baseball.

Sure. It’s dumb. Not only was it dumb to actually admit, it was an incredibly stupid justification, and one that probably wasn’t even true. Hamels has never once before felt the need to hit a rookie with a pitch.

So, why did he feel the need to start with Harper? Because he’s really good? Because of his reputation? How do any of those options make for a strong justification?

Perhaps the worst part is that the stupidity of his admission is overshadowing the ridiculousness of him actually throwing at Harper.

Sheehan’s is a common sentiment, but it’s not really true. He was suspended for what he did, but it most likely wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t so brazenly admit to it. There’s a difference between that and what Sheehan is denoting.

This is the point where I get the urge to take a step back. I feel as though what Hamels did was wrong, but it seems as though everyone else has used the opportunity to cash in on a fleeting sense of smug superiority over an athlete, as they lay claim to yet another piece of moral grandstanding.

And there certainly is a moral element to it.

When I feel ill at ease about an impending decision, I find it helpful to say whatever option I’m leaning toward out loud. For instance, “I’m not going to pay off my entire credit card bill this month because I want the extra cash in my pocket to spend on impulse purchases.” Wait a minute. No, that doesn’t make much sense. I probably shouldn’t do that.

Or, in the case of Cole Hamels: “I’m going to hurl this sphere at the human being in front of me …” While that’s all that would be necessary for most people to stop them from their action, Hamels would continue, ” … so that I can teach him a lesson that I can’t articulate, but believe he needs to learn.”

Wouldn’t a better lesson be striking him out and then staring him down? Wouldn’t that be a more suitable lesson than giving him a free base, from which Harper used his talent to score a run? Throwing at him seems like a dangerous cop out, both cowardly and reckless.

But again, I’m making this a moral issue, while ignoring the root of what makes it a moral issue: That it potentially puts someone else in harm’s way.

I was reminded of that when I read this tweet from former Major League pitcher Dirk Hayhurst:

To which I would respond:

I sure wish people would stop defending the idea that it’s in any way acceptable for a pitcher to purposely hit a defenseless batter with a baseball. I guarantee you it’s a dangerous practice.

The very moment anyone mentions the potential dangers involved with a professional baseball player throwing a fastball at another human being, the least logical excuse in human existence is used by defenders of old time baseball: “It’s a part of the game.”

You know what was “a part of the game” at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver two years ago? Going down an unsafe luge track at ludicrous speeds without the benefit of padding on steal beams right beside the track. Wouldn’t it be better for the Georgian luger if a regulator had acted prior to his tragic mishap?

Do people really want to wait until there’s another incident of Ray Chapman or Dickie Thon before cracking down on what’s so obviously an unnecessary part of the game, and one that holds the possibility for violent repercussions?

And that’s not even mentioning how ridiculous the “it’s a part of the game” argument is rendered by all of the horribly negative aspects that have been “a part of the game” in the past, like racism, rampant cheating and unfair labour laws. All these horrible things were a part of the game, too. Are they in any fashion defensible?

Hamel’s actions aren’t justified by Harper wearing his welt like a badge of honour. It’s a dangerous practice for which there shouldn’t be any tolerance. The fact that a pitcher can take part in risking another player’s livelihood and life itself, while only facing a penalty that consists of having to pay 3% of his salary and watching his next start get pushed back a day speaks to how inconsiderate Major League Baseball is to player safety.

We write a lot about percentages and playing by the numbers on this blog, and yes, a very small percentage of players getting hit by a pitch have experienced serious injuries. But the subject up for discussion isn’t about spending money on a reliever. We’re discussing the potential for debilitation. And while it’s perhaps true that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence from baseball that throwing at a batter results in serious injury, I’d claim that there’s a whole lot of evidence from the world outside of baseball to suggest that objects being projected toward people at high velocities tend to have negative outcomes.

Frankly, I don’t want to wait to see a single one of those negative outcomes happen in baseball, and there’s a simple way to ensure that: properly punish pitchers who exhibit a clear intent to throw at a batter.