There is a culture in baseball which dictates that, at various times, it’s appropriate to throw a ball at a high rate of speed at someone’s body as some sort of punishment or as a show of dominance. Sure, players and managers always deny that a specific pitch was aimed at a batter intentionally so they won’t get in trouble for it, but everyone acknowledges that, in general, pitches are thrown at guys on purpose for any number of slights, real or perceived.
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was thrown at twice yesterday. Given some chirping back and forth between Donaldson and the Twins bench during the series and given Donaldson staring at the Twins bench after an earlier home run, it was almost certainly intentional. It likewise seemed intentional given that the man throwing the pitches — Phil Hughes — has excellent control and the ball was unlikely to “slip” on him the way pitchers often claim such pitches slip. In this case even the umps didn’t buy it, tossing Donaldson’s manager out of the game for coming out and arguing that, hey, maybe it’s not cool for Phil Hughes to be throwing at a guy.
What can’t be denied is that Donaldson has had it with baseball’s unwritten rules regarding purpose pitches, plunkings and beanballs aimed at policing player deportment. Here he is venting after yesterday’s game:
“Major League Baseball has to do something about this. They say they’re trying to protect players. They make a rule that says you can’t slide hard into second base. They make a rule to protect the catchers on slides into home. But when you throw a ball at somebody, nothing’s done about it. My manager comes out to ask what’s going on and he gets ejected for it. That’s what happens.
“I just don’t get the point. I don’t get what baseball’s trying to prove. If I’m a young kid watching these games, why would I want to play baseball? Why? If I do something well or if somebody doesn’t like something that I do, it’s, ‘Oh, well, I’m gonna throw at you now.’ It doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Donaldson is right on the money. Defenders of beanball culture always say “that’s just how baseball is,” and cite the codes and traditions of the game, often glamorizing violence as they do it. While we deal with a literal crisis in brain injuries in other sports, people still romanticize Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale planting one in someone’e ear. While we talk about how awful it is that a player, say, breaks his hand while making a diving catch, we talk about throwing pitches that could easily break someone’s hand as if it were some necessary and immutable part of the game. While we talk about the importance of playing the game the right way and keeping one’s emotions in check on the field, we validate and make excuses for what are essentially temper tantrums in the form of fastballs to someone’s ribs, backside or behind their back.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way because keeping it that way is going to get people hurt, just as players have always been hurt by errant pitches. But it also doesn’t have to be that way because baseball players are adults who should be able to handle their business without the need to resort to petty and misguided revenge.