Until recent coronavirus concerns pushed everything else to the back burner, a big Spring Training storyline had been retribution against the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scandal. Thus far in exhibition baseball, Astros batters have been hit by pitches considerably more than average.
By the time Houston sets the compass north to Minneapolis, the season will already be into the dog days of summer (Jul. 31-Aug. 2). Hopefully some of the HBP hoopla will have died down by that point. Either way, I am hoping the Twins—or other teams—don’t feel the need to take justice into their own hands. Call me a pacifist, but here’s why:
In the world of professional fighting (boxing, UFC, etc.), a competitor’s hands are held to a different standard than mere mortals. If they brawl and cause bodily damage to another individual, they can be charged with “assault with a deadly weapon” due to the power and skill their limbs possess. A standard major league baseball, thrown with enough force, could perhaps warrant the same treatment, seeing as how it has quite literally killed a human being and damaged others.
On August 16, 1920, Ray Chapman’s Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. On one occasion, NY’s starting pitcher Carl Mays went into the windup, and the likely combination of his submarine-style delivery and scuffed ball—a common practice of that era—rendered the sphere practically un-trackable until it smashed into Chapman’s head. According to legend, the ball ricocheted off Chapman’s skull with such force that Mays fielded it and threw to first base, thinking it had hit Ray’s bat.
Chapman immediately crumpled, bleeding from one ear, and was helped from the field. The next morning, he passed away at a New York hospital.
Though obviously less mortally tragic, another example will strike even closer to Twins fans:
On September 28, 1995, Kirby Puckett took one in the kisser from Dennis Martinez. No foul play, just an errant offering that got away from the veteran pitcher. The next spring, Puck woke up one morning without vision in one eye, and just like that his career was over. Though no confirmed link was ever found between the trauma and his glaucoma, one can’t help but wonder.
Just this past weekend in Cactus League action, Willie Calhoun of the Texas Rangers was hit in the face by a pitch from Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias. Calhoun had to be carted off the field—a fractured jaw was the diagnosis—and he should probably consider himself “lucky” if that’s all that comes of it.
The overall point to all these examples? Baseballs thrown at high velocities can have severe (or potentially deadly) consequences if striking flesh-and-bone in the wrong spot. Because of that sobering reality, I tend to agree with the musings of Rob Manfred and Dusty Baker on the subject. I realize that frustration abounds over the lack of official discipline directed towards Astros players, and often that manifests itself as “macho” or “frontier” justice. But if I were a major league manager, I would not condone purposeful throwing at batters for any reason. The “just stay away from the head” argument? All it takes is one slip and a player’s life (or livelihood) may be put at severe risk.
So when Houston rides into town later this season, I’d rather the Twins beat them than bean them. That being said, if Jake Odorizzi gets a swinging third strike on a high fastball, or Jose Berrios freezes a ‘Stro with a perfect breaking ball, I’m perfectly okay with perhaps a bit more emotion than usual. Heck, if Miguel Sano hits a walk-off bomba and mimics banging a trash can trotting around third base, I’ll be all smiles. But I sincerely hope that the Twins—or other MLB teams—do not stoop to beanball wars to address the cheating scandal.
As a manager, would you ever condone throwing at an opposing batter for any reason?
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