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.

Comments (31)

  1. Great article! I feel the same way. Just because people have done something in the past is no justification for continuation.

    But in the end, a pitcher beaning the batter is not baseball. It is not a play that helps the pitcher’s team win a game. It’s something from outside the game that requires justification from outside the game. That he’s a rookie, that he’s offended the pitcher or anything else is outside of the important factors that would be listed in the boxscore. It’s an emotional response that should not be condoned by baseball people.

    • Your last paragraph is very well put.

    • bullshit. it’s perfectly part of the game and it adds the dimension and personality to the game that we all love.

      once again, the lilly livered can’t handle it when shit happens. so lame. these are the same people that was computer umpires.

      bah! glad you’re not running the league.

  2. I agree whole heartedly, but there’s a part of me that wishes, just once, that a beaned batter would whip the ball back at the pitcher.

  3. I somewhat agree, but on the other hand I tend to think that the risk of serious injury is so low that it makes the argument moot.

  4. what should I make this guy write about next?…

  5. The problem with any sort of “we should ban intentional beanings” sentiment is that it’s very very hard to prove when a pitcher did it on purpose and when he did not. In some cases it’s clear (especially when the moron admits it), but the grey area in this matter is huge…. like Prince Fielder’s shadow huge….

    …So I dunno what to do about it besides what is already done. Which is to suspend those who are clearly violating the rule (doing it on purpose). I guess more severe punishments make sense… hit em where it really hurts (in the wallet).

    Side note: Should we also be outraged that Hamels got the same suspension for this action as Delmon Young did for something far far worse (in that he commited an actual crime – or two)?

  6. Hamels did put Harper in harm’s way by throwing at him, but Hamels also put himself in harm’s way. Hamels himself was hit by a pitch later in the game and, based on his comments afterwards, he viewed it as an appropriate response.

    You’re right that it’s dumb, but the practice won’t come to an end if the participants don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

  7. I like cole hamels a lot, and really don’t care for harper.. that being said, cole’s justification was just plain stupid, and I garantee that if it ended up a 1-0 game he wouldn’t have taken that approach.

    bryce harper is not the first young cocky talented player to come to the bigs and definetely wont be the last. What other rookies has cole felt the need to welcome? None to my recollection. just plain stupid on cole’s part

  8. I had been wondering lately if anyone would try throwing at Lawrie to “teach him a lesson”, and then I realized they’re probably too afraid he would charge the mound and teach his own lesson.

    • its not always on purpose..

      sometimes you are just trying to brush them back, get the batter uncomfortable and to move their feet and you hit them.

      shit happens for sure.

  9. ubaldo got 5 games for hitting tulo in spring. he didn’t cop to it.

  10. Maybe the appropriate response to retaliation is to let the bat “slip” during the next AB, if he gets the chance.

  11. 3% of $15,000,000.00 is still $450,000.00.

    Probably the most expensive mistake Hamels has ever made….

  12. I don’t understand all the self-righteousness against Hamels. Yeah – he hit a guy, but guess what: everyone does it. Just the next inning, Zimmerman hit him back. Should we suspend Zimmerman? It’s obvious Zimmerman went for him.

    We are actually punishing a guy for being honest, because pitchers plunk hitters all the time (and in many cases it’s obvious) but are they ever punished? No…

  13. Seriously, if there’s not a part of you that doesn’t want to see Bryce Harper hit in the face with a baseball travelling at extremely high speeds, you’re either dead or a liar.

  14. People making a mountain out of a mole hill once again. Let the hand wringing begin all because it’s baseballs golden child that got hit. Self righteous bloggers/reporters unite! To me it’s no different than some of the slides runners use to break up double plays going into second or plays at home plate where runners purposely drill a catcher to jar the ball the lose when they damn well know they’re going to hurt the catcher.

    A pitch to the back is far less dangerous than some of these plays in terms of lasting issues. Sure it wasn’t a great thing to do, but that’s the game. I’ll give Hamels props for being honest and telling it like it is when he could have lied about like everyone expected him to do. I’ll also give props to Harper for handling himself so professionally.

    • I wouldn’t care one bit if the victim was Reed Johnson, or Craig Biggio. It doesn’t matter who’s getting hit, the intentional throwing at people should stop.

  15. “… the potential dangers involved with a professional baseball player throwing a fastball at another human being.”

    If you replaced the word “at” with the words “very near” you’ve accurately described every single major league at-bat. There is the risk of being hit by a pitch inherent in playing the game.

    This whole debate is akin to pissing in the wind though, because it’s already illegal. Pitchers are thrown out for intentionally throwing at a batter. So what do we hope to acheive?

  16. If pitchers are allowed to throw at hitters and endanger their well-being, batters should be allowed to hurl their bat at the pitcher right after.

  17. Well, I’ll tell you what, when I first came up this sort of thing was an everyday occurrence. I can remember George Brett getting hit several times during my time in Kansas City. A veteran pitcher who knows how to win ballgames (win/loss is the most important stat for a pitcher), a big RBI guy at the plate, I’d call for the beanball from time to time. I think that was the only time I set my mind to hit anything and it worked! *wheezy laugh*

  18. Seriously, you complain about other sports writers setting up straw men, but this article is one of your worst. If you’re going to complain about the “it’s a part of the game” defence, at least deal with the rationale that makes it a part of the game.

    I’ve said it on here before, and I’ll say it on here again – it’s a means of enforcing respect in the game as between players.

    Again, I don’t think this rationale supports beaning Harper, but it most certainly did justify beaning Hamels. This rationale may itself fail justification, of course, provided people are actually hurt by the practice.

    But here we do need evidence to alter an otherwise justified practice. Maybe the Dickie Thon incident is enough, maybe it isn’t. I tend to think more evidence is needed.

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