A batter getting hit by a pitch is a relatively common occurrence. There may be one every few games, and sometimes there are multiple batters hit by a pitch in a game. Typically there are no hit batsmen, but when it happens there is always a reaction both in the stands and in the dugouts. Pitchers in the Major Leagues have to have not only good speed but good command of their pitches. When they hit a batter it is usually a mistake. When a batter is hit intentionally is when things can get ugly real fast. Retaliation is coming sooner or later.
There are a variety of reactions that a batter can have upon getting a bean ball – the two basic reactions are that either he is mad or he isn’t. Which reaction comes about depends on a number of factors: the type of pitch thrown, where the batter got hit on his body, the history between the pitcher and hitter, the situation of the game, and anything else that may run through a hitter’s head after getting hit. There may be retaliation right away by charging the mound or more discreet retaliation such as hitting a player from the other team.
Typically any off-speed pitch won’t garner a reaction; if a pitcher wants to hit a batter intentionally it is going to be with a fastball. Throwing at a hitter’s head is breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules for the sake of the safety of players. Nobody should be subject to a career or life threatening injury playing the game. Some players have bad blood between them, whether on the field or off, and this can cause overreaction if the two players are involved when a batter is hit by a pitch. Also, in a close game or with a runner on base, a pitcher will rarely intentionally throw at a batter since that will put his team in a dire situation. With all things considered, there are always doubts somewhere by someone about if a pitcher hitting a batter is intentional.
When a batter does have complaints about getting hit, the catcher and umpire are usually the first line of defense to get between the hitter and the pitcher. The catcher has to let the hitter know that he was not hit on purpose. The umpire has to prevent a small verbal feud from turning into a big physical feud – easier said than done in some instances. He can’t let everybody seek retaliation for every little scuffle. One of the most infamous brawls that ensued after a batter was hit by a pitch was when Izzy Alcantara actually kicked the catcher in the chest and then charged the mound. This was the worst incident I had seen until this past week when the Dodgers hosted the Diamondbacks.
Baseball retaliation at its worst
Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers’ phenom rookie, was hit in the helmet by a pitch from Ian Kennedy. A few innings later, Miguel Montero, the Diamondbacks’ catcher had a pitch thrown behind his back. This was in apparent retaliation to Puig being hit and both benches emptied out. Nothing really happened. The following inning, Ian Kennedy hit the Dodgers’ pitcher, Zack Greinke, in the head in almost the same fashion that he hit Puig. The Dodgers’ bench came flying onto the field, followed by the Diamondbacks’ bench, and a Royal Rumble ensued for nearly five minutes.
Most brawls do not last very long because there are umpires, coaches, and players intervening to break things up. The problem was, THE COACHES were fighting as well. Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Kirk Gibson, Matt Williams, and other coaches were right in the middle of the scuffle. The few players who were not trying to fight as well as the umpires had no chance of coming between the players that were throwing haymakers and clashing on the field. Mattingly took a player to the ground, McGwire and Williams had each other by the collar of each other’s jerseys, and Don Baylor was at the center of the action. The magnitude of the fight seemed to have calmed down after a few minutes. Retaliation doesn’t take long. It turned out to be the eye of the storm as punches started flying again within seconds.
After the hiatus, Kennedy was ejected as was Gibson, the Diamondbacks’ manager. Puig was ejected from the Dodgers. All of the commotion was caused by retaliation and throwing at hitters. Gibson was quoted after the game saying, “But we’re certainly not going to try and jeopardize anybody’s career. We respect those guys too much. They responded, and it was certainly obvious. And beyond that, things just got out of control.” By “out of control”, I am sure he meant that they were throwing at Greinke on purpose. This is the insanity that can erupt from players being thrown at and getting hit by a pitch. Thankfully, arguments do not escalate to such a level often. A more common occurrence would be the hitter and pitcher exchanging a few words and play resuming after a walk down to first base by the new base runner.
The Dodgers-Diamondbacks fight is an extreme example of what can happen when there is retaliation for players getting hit by pitches. It is a “part of the game” to protect your players, and unfortunately the pitcher is the one required to do the protecting by sending a message to the other team. Most pitchers will not be confrontational. Those that do, run the risk of getting injured, which is ironically what happened to Zack Greinke a few months ago. Other pitchers are more willingly to get their hands dirty and don’t really need reinforcements for a one on one fight, such as Nolan Ryan and Kyle Farnsworth.
Baseball has its own customs just like any other sport or pastime, but retaliation for hit batsmen is crossing a dangerous line. When players bodies are intentionally put in harms way, there aren’t going to be too many people happy with the baseball tradition. A fine or short suspension isn’t going to stop pitchers from throwing at hitters, or from managers to discreetly acknowledge that a player needs to be thrown at. If Major League Baseball were to increase the penalty for such instances to 50 games like the first fine of a banned substance abuser, there may not be as many players taking getting hit on accident so personally. A pitcher can always say the ball just slipped, but with a potential 50 game suspension, the ball would probably slip less often.