By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
We need to talk about baseball’s “unwritten” rules. The ones that lead to the biggest farce in sports, the bench clearing brawl.
The Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics are just the latest example of the “unwritten” rules of the game getting way out of control. More often than not, these throwing behind or at guy’s situations end the way they did in this case, with a bench-clearing brawl. In fact the Royals seem to be fighting with everybody nowadays. The MLB responds to these incidents with suspensions that have little to no effect overall on the team or the players in the grand scheme of a 162 game season.
The “unwritten” rules are essentially a gentlemen’s code of ethics that rule the game within the game. Don’t celebrate too much after a home-run, play hard but fair, if you hit one of my guys I hit one of yours, etc. These rules are taken seriously by some (Bryan McCann) and not as seriously by others. Either way, we need to move past them.
In particular, the practice of intentionally hitting batters is extremely concerning. Anyone who has played the sport has been on the receiving end of a beanball. 90% of the time you get hit in the back or the leg, and trot on down to first base. The problem is that other 10% when the pitcher is too amped up, or the fastball gets away from him and comes near a guy’s head/neck area. That’s an unnecessary danger to the health of the players in the game.
“It’s a part of the game, these guys know what they signed up for.”
That’s the lazy, easy response to these situations. Just because something has been part of the game since the early days doesn’t mean it still needs to be. Is the “spitball” still a part of baseball? Do players still not wear helmets in the batter’s box? These questions are dumb and rhetorical of course but, that’s the point. As the game has evolved changes have been made to continue to make it safer for those that play.
The same needs to apply for the practice of throwing at batters. At the end of the day it is a futile activity. Sure it may feel good for the moment when the pitcher hits the opposing player. He feels like he’s done his job and protected his guy. This “deterrent” strategy is the same erroneous thinking that was a part of the Cold War. “Well if the other guy knows there’s a threat of us blowing up his country.”
How do you eliminate it from the game? Simple, if you’re a pitcher who hits another player intentionally then you’re suspended for your next start. This doesn’t need to be adjudicated during the game. Like all other discipline and suspension issues, it would go before a committee after the game that would review the video and examine the circumstances. If the video shows that the pitcher intentionally hit the batter, then the pitcher is suspended. Do it again the punishment escalates with the number of offenses. Eventually, throwing at players would stop.
This response may seem extreme. It may be laughable to some, but all it takes is one errant “beanball” to permanently injure or disfigure a player before we all change our tune. With all that we know today about head injuries and their effects on players later in life it stuns me that we still view hitting a batter as okay. I don’t care if you think that most pitchers have enough control to hit a guy in a specific spot that wont leave any lasting damage. All it takes is one to hit someone in the face or neck and do serious damage. There’s enough risk of that happening unintentionally, why allow that chance to be exponentially higher by continuing to look the other way when a player is hit?
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/disagree? Email Ryan.