Beanballs In Baseball – Why Umpires Need To lighten Up

14 Dec

The beanball is one of the scariest moments in a game, but they do have a place in the game. Over the last fifteen years or so, the beanball has been effectively removed from the game and along with it went the brush back pitch seemingly for guilt by association. Players still get hit by pitches and some pitchers will still intentionally drill a hitter, but for the most part the pitch has disappeared save a small handful of pitchers that understand how the pitch is to be used.

Don Drysdale operated under a system in which he plunked two hitters for every one batter on his team that was hit. For the most part, that system worked for the Dodgers. Nobody wanted to have a Dyrsdale fastball stuck in their ribs, so players pressured their pitchers not to go after Dodger hitters. It wasn’t just Drysdale though. Koufax and Newcombe were not bashful about hitting guys for a reason. The game policed itself.

Not everyone was as admant about a policy like that as Alston’s Dodgers were, but the legendary pitchers of the era all employed use of the beanball. Even guys like Whitey Ford, Gaylord Perry, Tommy John, Bob Gibson, Juan Marchail and a soft tosser like Mel Stottlemeyer threw at hitters now and then. The rule had always been that you never throw at a player’s head or behind them. Everything else was fair game.

In the 70’s, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Ron Guidry, J.R. Richard, Dennis Eckersly, Steve Carlton, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and nearly every staff ace on any roster held the beanball to be a valuable pitch. It served a purpose. The plate is 50% the hitters, 50% the pitchers. When hitters began dipping into the pitcher’s 50% by crowding the plate or moving too far up in the box to try to counteract the breaking ball, pitchers would buzz them or plant one in the thigh or ribs depending on what kind of message they wanted to send. Hitters acknowledged and accepted this as part of the game. it was a risk you took to try to gain a slight competitive advantage. In the mid 1980’s that all began to change.

The beanball wasn’t necessarily outlawed bu any means, but it was frowned upon. Some of the holdovers from the previous decade like Ryan, Guidry and Carlton still dusted hitters off and occasionally dropped them with a well placed fastball. To a degree though, they were dinosaurs. The beanball was frowned upon so much that managers would rarely call for it if ever and pitchers didn’t learn how to use it in the minors. The game had changed, but why?

It was the real beginning of the money era of baseball. Hunter, Jackson and Winfield all signed big deals years earlier, but this was the first time the game was seeing a utility player ink a million dollar deal. People were still gun shy over the unintentional Dickie Thon beanball to head years earlier and how he never really got his game back after that. A lot of money was being sunk into signing and developing players and owners and GM’s had zero interest into seeing their commodities on the bench little more than damaged goods.

Once it became widely accepted that pitchers were not going to hit batters anywhere near the way it had been in the past, hitters took advantage of that and started claiming some of the pitcher’s half of the plate as their own. Then came the advent of sluggers wearing what is effectively body armor so they cold crowd the plate and claim even more of it for them self. Few pitchers had any idea how to handle this – and the few that did were often looked down on for drilling a hitter to reclaim their property.

Then we saw the generation of hitters in the game today – the body arored, no fear, the whole plate is mine type. These are the guys that will scowl at a pitcher or even charge the mound for what is effectively nothing more than a brush back pitch. There is no better example of this than Boston’s Kevin Youklis. Youklis is a good hitter, but anything that comes within of foot of him has him firing off barbs and threats toward the mound like someone just kicked his puppy. it’s ridiculous and out of control.

Umpires, to their end, seem far too happy to toss around warnings far too fast and loose. The warnings change the entire landscape of a game. A warning effectively means that if the opposing pitcher hits a batter, he is out of the game if the umpire deems it was deliberate. That is an incredibly subjective criteria to operate under and it has failed on many occasions. The warning basically gives the team whose pitcher has hit a batter free reign to crowd the plate as much as they want because they know if they get hit there is a 50/50 chance the pitcher will be tossed.

For the top line Aces in the game like Verlander, Sabathia, Lincecum, Lester, and Felix hernandez it isn’t a big deal. they can get hitters out under almost any conditions thrown at them. For middle of the rotation guys it is a challenge. A guy like AJ Burnett who is already erratic and throws wild pitches at near record pace could, and has, gotten tossed for what appeared to be nothing more than another pitch that got away. Still, some of this mid-rotation guys can work around the disadvantage that they were unjustly saddled with.

It is the end of the rotation and middle relief guys that really suffer. usually they live and die with only one or two pitches they can throw effectively when they have their full half of the plate to work with. Once that is gone, so is much of their game. It is almost like hanging a crooked number up by default because the effectiveness of the pitcher has been arbitrarily diminished to a point they do not function as well.

The last thing anyone wants to see is an ongoing beanball war or a player seriously hurt, but the that does not mean the beanball is not a necessary part of the game. Hitters take a risk each time they step up to the plate. Every player on the field is taking a risk of injury of some nature. Simply making rules to try to make the game safer really doesn’t work. Accidents happen. Guys will get drilled. Bats will shatter and injure people. Line drives will injure players. Catchers will get foul tip concussions. The more that is done to change the game to protect the money players – because that is who this rule is really designed to protect – the more the competitive balance of the game is diminished.


2 Responses to “Beanballs In Baseball – Why Umpires Need To lighten Up”

  1. Money December 17, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Im a firm believer of throwing inside. The plate belongs to the pitcher!

    Throwing at the head is in effective. You must move a hitters feet. Throw at the ribs and make them move their feet. Once they move there feet they are less likely to dig in deep again. Sub consciously, They lose a bit of the confidence.

    • mandyf December 17, 2011 at 12:27 am #

      I totally agree. I get the whole deal of player safety, but they have made pitchers nearly impotent. it is a 50/50 deal, but umpires have gotten so tight pitchers are lucky to get a 35/65 split anymore.Don’t even get me started with umpires tossing pitchers for brushback pitches based on what they think their “intent” might be. I even know their intent – move a guy off the plate…. crazy. Thanks for commenting!

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