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Victor Martinez down and out – worse than initially expected

31 Jan

Detroit Tigers C/1B/DH Victor Martinez successfully had knee surgery and will need a second operation which will likely to miss the entire 2012 season which is bad news for Tigers fans. Martinez had microfracture surgery Friday to repair the medial and lateral meniscus in his left knee.

“I don’t want to say it was a surprise,” team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We knew it was a possibility.”

Martinez is projected to have anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery on the same knee in six-to-eight weeks, the procedure that was previously expected.” according to a report from Yahoo! Sports.

While it was already expected that Martinez would miss the season, there was speculation he might make it back in time to slide onto the postseason roster – that speculation is now over as the second surgery will likely have Martinez unable to start conditioning until it is time to get ready for spring training. Further bad news is that when he does return, it is unlikely the Tigers, or any team he may play for after, will want to risk further damage using him behind the plate and losing his big bat.

While Martinez is still a premiere hitter, a big part of his value was the ability to get behind the plate. If he is unable to do that 100 games per season at least, it is unsure how the Tigers will make room for him when he does return. Best of luck to Victor on his surgery and rehab – see you in 2013.

 

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Jorge Posada retires – and he still isn’t Hall of Fame worthy

26 Jan

Taking heat for what you say goes with the territory. It’s possible the one thing I have said on this blog that has drawn the most ire is that Jorge Posada is not a Hall of Fame caliber player. It’s like this guy over on ESPN posting as RonBoss7 that can’t seem to accept the fact that while Jorge was nice, Jorge was not great. Jorge was not exceptional. Jorge was not the best in the game, best at his position or even the best in his lineup. Jorge was a nice complementary piece and that is about it. Before everyone goes crazy again, I’m a 35 year Yankee fan. I watched Munson, Bench, Fisk, Sundberg, Steinbach, Varitek, Dempsey, Porter, Tenace and on and on. I’ve seen good catchers and I’ve seen great catchers – Posada is okay. Just because I’m a Yankee fan doesn’t mean I can’t be objective.

Let’s face facts – Posada’s offensive numbers are pedestrian against his peers. Compare him to just the catchers to be fair and at best he is an also ran. He wasn’t the best of the 90’s because he barely played in the 90’s. 1998 was the first year he was a starter, and even in 1997, he still only got into 60 games. In ’98 and ’99 when he was the primary catcher, he still sat some 50 games a year. The reason for that wasn’t because he needed rest, it was because he was a defensive liability. There were pitchers who did not want to throw to him – Cone was noted for that as was Gooden and later on Burnett and even Sabathia did not care to throw to Posada.

Let’s be honest – Posada was a hitter that caught – not a catcher that hit.

A lot of people forget that Posada was originally signed as a second baseman back in 1990. For four years, he didn’t develop. Finally, he was given a pretty blunt choice – catch or be gone. Jorge caught. He was initially projected to be a strong hitting middle infielder – but he had no lateral moves and his arm was a bit Knoblauchish. He did have decent enough hands though, and the Yankees had no actual catching prospects, so Jorge filled the void. That is part of why it took him 7 years from his first game in the minors to land a mostly starting catching job.

By the time Posada was ready, the idea was that his offense would outweigh his defensive shortfalls until he learned the position better. It mostly did, but whether it was under Torre or Girardi (both catchers) they ALWAYS made sure they had a catcher that could actually catch a game on the bench and ready to go in any situation because Posada could not be trusted behind the plate in a close game – not in a short playoff series in particular. His offense improved, but he never improved as a defender or signal caller.

Let’s look at the claim that Posada was the catcher of last decade. To a degree, sure, if you want to play games with numbers. Posada gets that title (For offensive stats alone mind you) because aside from Ivan Rodriguez and maybe Varitek, he was the only one to play most of the decade. In the early half of the decade, Piazza and I-Rod were far superior to Posada in every aspect of the game – and that is saying something to say Piazza is the better defender. As the decade turned, Joe Mauer was obviously far better as were pretty much any of the Molina brothers – particularly Yadier. Even Russell Martin was no slouch – or lest we forget Victor Martinez kicks Posada’s butt up, down, left and right every day of the week. Posada had one thing going for him in this whole argument about best of the decade – he started all ten years of it and that was just good timing – not skill – not being the best- timing.

My final argument is that Posada was not really as valuable as everyone wants to go on about. The Yankees could win without him – they did and even in the 2009 World Series Posada made his way into the game as a pinch hitter 3 times. Jose Molina carried as much of the duties as Posada. If Posada was so indispensable, how could they limit him so much in the WS when everything was all or nothing? I won’t say Posada can’t hit, but let’s be real – he was a product of the lineup he was in. If Posada played in KC or maybe over in SD, no one would be talking about him as a 15th ballot HOF’er much less a first ballot HOF candidate.

I seriously liked the guy and enjoyed what he brought to the game, but he was not great! Get over it! If you have to start playing games like saying he had the best WAR of any switch hitting catcher between 2000-2009 that played in at least 50 games a year – you are reaching. If you have to cull Stats from Wikipedia that say he was the only catcher to do a set of several offensive accomplishments in one year while wearing pinstripes and Nike cleats – you are reaching and missing the point. The HOF is not about 1 great walk year prior to cashing in as a free agent – it is about a career. Posada had a good career. Why can’t we be content with that? Not everyone is a HOF caliber player – if they were, it would be the Hall of Everyone or the Hall of Average.

Jorge Posada to retire – and here’s why the HOF talk is wrong

24 Jan

Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada, is ready to call it quits after 17 years. Posada lost his starting job last year to Russel Martin and never adjusted to the DH role. Over his career, Posada was behind the plate to receive from a bevy of future HOF pitchers (or strong candidates) including Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, David Cone and possibly Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens when the writers decide he has been punished enough. Posada is never going to be remembered for his work behind the plate though. Ivan Rodriguez overshadowed Posada there and even if I-Rod wasn’t around, Posada had limited abilities behind the dish. What he did, and what we will remember, is he hit.

Posada was the 2nd best offensive catcher of his era behind Mike Piazza. Posada hit for power, he drove in runs, and when his contract was expiring he hit for average. Posada never got the spotlight like Jeter, Rivera, Bernie Williams, A-Rod or any other teammate. he just played day in and out. His teammates liked him for the most part – even the pitchers that didn’t like throwing to him liked his passion for the game and respected what he brought to the team.

There was plenty of speculation that Jorge may try to hang around 1 more year, but retiring is the right thing. There is no need to go to another team and play with half your heart. This way, he goes out the way he came in – a Yankee. With Yankee fans that counts for a lot. Now he can come back, throw out a first pitch and have Jorge day at the stadium. That’s how the fairytale is supposed to be written.

There are some fans, and even writers, already discussing Posada as a hall of Fame candidate – a really serious one at that. I’ve admittedly never been a big Posada fan, but that isn’t why I say no to him as a HOF’er. The YES network says he’s one of the greatest catchers of All-Time. I understand it is their job to pump up the Yankee PR machine, but they have to be high as a kite to say that.

Posada hit well – not like Piazza though with only 275 homers. He was a .270 hitter with a big fluke season. Even when it comes to his career stats overall – not just the glamor stats, Posada falls short. he never dominated at his position for a decade. Not even for a three year stretch – and that is just in the AL – not MLB wide. A HOF’er needs a better line than this:

Hits – 1664

HR -275

RBI – 1065

Runs – 900

AVG – 273

In those 17 seasons (actually more like 15 to account for September call ups) Posada went to only 5 All-Star games and only appeared on two MVP ballots. The only category he ever led the league in is GIDP and he did that twice. Actually that isn’t true. Posada also led the league in passed balls 3 times, runners allowed to steal once, errors twice and putouts 3 times – hey that’s a good one! He never came close to a gold glove. It doesn’t add up. Not even with 6 World Series appearances under his belt.

I love the Yankees. I respect what Posada brought to the team. I just think it is insane to say he is a HOF caliber catcher. He’s no Thurman Munson, and he’s sure as hell no Ted Simmons. Either of those guys outplay Posada everyday and should be inducted before Posada is even a twinkle in the BBWAA voters eyes. I thank him wonderful memories and wish him the best. He was fun to watch. I just think we need to be rational before we seat him alongside the kings of kings.

Why Thurman Munson deserves to be considered for the Hall of Fame

2 Jan

On August 2, 1979, the 32 year old Yankee catcher and Captain Thurman Munson was lost to the world in a tragic airplane crash. In his tenth full year of major league service he was well on his way to putting together a Hall of Fame career. While tragedy in and of itself does not merit inclusion to Hall of Fame, there is precedent that others who faced tragedy have been granted leniency when it came time to voting, some to the extent that the year service requirement was waived. Whether Munson was truly one of the greats of the game at his position is like all things in sports open to debate, but there is solid logic behind believing the Veterans Committee should take a closer look at him when consideration rolls around again.

Statistically speaking, at the plate Munson wasn’t necessarily the best in his era at any one thing, however the only catcher among his contemporaries that surpassed him clearly was Hall of Famer Johnny Bench Munson put together very solid numbers compiling 113 homers, 1558 hits, 701 RBI’s, 48 stolen bases, and a .292 career average. Munson is one of three catchers along with Bill Dickey and Mike Piazza to hit .300 and drive in 100 or more runs in three consecutive seasons. These numbers led Munson to an MVP Award in 1976, two more top seven finishes, the 1970 Rookie of the Year Award, seven All-Star teams, and three consecutive World Series appearances, two of which were wins.

Defensively Munson was among the elite. He took home three Gold Gloves, and in 1971 he made only one error the entire season on a play in which he dropped the ball while being knocked unconscious. No catcher in baseball history has had a better defensive season than that. Munson was also regarded as one of the best signal callers in the game, something that doesn’t show up in the box scores.

To appreciate what Munson did on the field, a quick comparison to the two Hall of Fame catchers he played against goes a long way.

Munson had a 162 game average of 13 homers, 80 RBI’s, 5 steals, 79 runs, and a .282 batting average.

Carlton Fisk by comparison compiled the following average: 24 homers, 86 RBI’s, 8 steals, 83 runs, a .269 batting average.

Johnny Bench had the following line: 29 homers, 103 RBI’s, 5 steals, 82 runs, and a .267 batting average.

While Munson looks light years away from them, there is a catch to to this very simple analysis most people look at and fail to remember. Munson compiled his numbers over only 9 full seasons and a portion of two others. Bench played 17 seasons and a significant part of his games, especially his last five years were not as a catcher. In fact by average, Bench only spent ten years worth of games behind the plate. Fisk put up his numbers over 24 seasons only 13 1/2 years of which would be behind the plate. Fisk Primarily spent his last six season as a DH. If you take a closer look at the numbers each compiled over their first tean seasons the comparison is much closer than many think. For Fisk, his first two years in which he appeared in only a combined 16 games are disregarded which gives him a slight edge as two prime years are now counted for him. The same is done for Bench whose 26 games in 1967 are discounted giving him an extra “Prime season” as well.

Munson- 1,423 games, 696 runs, 1,558 hits, 229 doubles, 32 triples, 113 homers, 701 RBI’s, 48 steals and a .292 batting average

Fisk- 1,158 games, 664 runs, 1,171 hits, 217 doubles, 37 triples, 167 homers, 607 RBI’s, 64 steals, and a .266 average

Bench- 1,487 games, 817 runs, 1,477 hits, 291 doubles, 20 triples, 286 homers, 1,032 RBI’s, 54 steals, and a .270 average

Other things to consider when looking at them beyond simple numbers side by side is the manner the numbers were posted. Despite much longer careers, Bench never hit better than .300 aside from a 52 game season in strike shortened 1981. Fisj did it three times, once in a full season and twice in partial seasons, one only 14 games, the other 79. Munson hit .300 or better 5 times in full seasons, 3 more times than Bench and Fisk managed in a combined 41 seasons! Fisk never won an MVP or World Series, Bench had 2 MVP’s and 2 World Series wins. Munson had one MVP and two World Series wins, which like Bench were back to back.

The thing we must consider is that the two hall of Fame catchers of the era, Bench and Fisk were very different players. Bench was the cream of the crop, he did everything well and is one of the greatest to ever squat behind the plate. Fisk made his mark by playing an extraordinarily long time with many seasons that were pedestrian at best and only three that were truly well above average. Over the same number of years in each players prime, we see Munson was directly between the two, doing some things better, some things lesser, but overall definitely just as good as either.

While extrapolating numbers and playing the “what if” card is useless and has no place in voting, it is clear that Munson clearly had the ability to play at least four more years which would have made his numbers better across the board. The fact is though he was a dominant player at his position over the course of a decade which has always been the standard for Hall of Fame voting. Fisk can’t say the same. Compared to another Hall of Fame catcher of a different era, Roy Campanella who managed only ten MLB season due to a crippling auto accident, Munson stacks up better aside from Campy’s three MVP Awards.

Exceptions have been made for numerous players when Hall of Fame voting or the Veterans Committee has made their decision. Addie Joss appeared in only parts of nine seasons due to dying of illness at 31, and the rules were waived for him even though he appeared in less games than most Hall Of Fame pitchers win, The thing to remember when considering Munson or any player of similar circumstances is that you can’t play “what if” and you have to remain focused on comparing them to their peers over the same period of years. When doing so we see he is just as good as either, and that there is a precedent for such players being elected by the Veterans Committee. His time has come, it is time to let him rest in Cooperstown where he belongs.

Jorge Posada to the Phils? Rays? O’s? Jorge – hang it up!

30 Dec

Believe it or not, aside from Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada has been one of the most offensively potent catchers to play the game in the 90’s and 00’s. Posada hit for power, drove in runs, served as a switch hitting situational pitching killer and he hit for enough of an average to not be black hole. As a hitter, Posada was not a bad guy to have in your lineup. As an actual catcher, the defensive end of the game, he was a waste. He didn’t block balls well. He didn’t throw particularly well, although he did have a decent season or two in that area. He didn’t handle pitchers at all well. That didn’t matter much though – he hit and that was what was being looked for.

The Yankees had veteran pitchers for the most part that were fully capable of calling their own game. They scored enough runs that they could forgive some hustle runs created by Jorge’s inability to manage the opposition’s running game. It was a trade off. it was on that worked well, because the Yankees took 4 WS titles with Jorge behind the plate. Actually, it was more like 3 1/2, but why nitpick? Now those years are over.

if you believe the rumors, Jorge is being courted by several teams. The rays, Phillies and Orioles have been somewhat open about it. The rest are pretty much mystery teams. Who knows what the actual interest in a 40 something ex-catcher that takes exception to the DH role is. Let’s look at what makes sense, what doesn’t and why Jorge just needs to quietly retire.

The Phillies make no sense. No NL team makes any sense. Aside from being a DH for interleague play and maybe a third string catcher, Posada has no business in the NL. No matter how bad a team’s situation may be, Jorge is not the answer. He’s going to be too expensive to fill that Interleague DH/Pinch hitter/Emergency defensive player role. Beyond the money issue, his ego can’t handle that. Any rumor of an NL team should just be disregarded. Signing him would be conceding a roster slot.

The Rays are not a good fir either. They could use an extra veteran catcher hanging around, but Jorge? He offers nothing in regard to maturing young pitchers. He wouldn’t DH for the Yankees for $13m/year, so why would he for the rays at maybe – in bizarro world – $3m tops for the Rays? He can’t play first well enough to be a legit backup there. I doubt he could catch more than 45 “quality” games if his life depended on it at this point. So what is the logic behind signing him? getting a name brand – even if the product is expired? The Rays are shrewder than that. Toss this rumor under the bus.

The orioles are intriguing. The orioles need help all over the place. Posada wouldn’t be much help though. Wieters is not going to be replaced by Posada. Period. For the remaining reasons he won’t work, see everything listed with the Rays. That doesn’t mean it may not happen though. They will overpay for his services if anyone will. Right field at Camden could be his friend. He may draw a few fans for a few weeks – he’s still a minor name.

I can understand not wanting to let it all go and retire. But Jorge, you’ve made tens of millions of dollars. You have nothing left to prove. You will never be a starter again unless it is as a DH, and then only until a better option arrives. Your skills have deteriorated massively. You are considered a clubhouse cancer by many, just overly passionate by others. It is time to stop.

Retire.

Go back to Yankee Stadium for hip hip Jorge day.

Throw out a first pitch.

Play at old timer’s games.

Show up for spring training as an instructor.

Just let it go.

Playing for another team at this time with those diminished skills is npt going to achieve anything. You may think it is giving the Steinbrenner’s the finger, but in reality it is giving the fans that supported you for years the finger. Supported you when you were wrong. Supported you when you whined. Supported you when you refused to play. Supported you in 2011 when you played like crap on toast all year. Don’t give us the finger – if you do you will never be cheered in Yankee Stadium.

The best catchers in the history of baseball

26 Dec

When we talk about the best catchers in the history of baseball we are discussing a rather elite group of highly specialized players. Great offense alone doesn’t make for a great catcher, in fact it is less than half of the battle. Calling a good game is paramount along with being able to play strong defense and be physically durable. This is evidenced by the fact that when we discuss the greatest catchers in the history of baseball guys like Mike Piazza or Carlton Fisk are referred to as “great hitting catchers” by most, not great catchers as they were not known for their great work behind the plate, especially in the case of Piazza. What follows are my picks for the greatest all-time catchers in no particular order.

Johnny Bench was the force behind the Big Red Machine with his stellar defense, laser guided throws, and a bat that just would not stop. Bench took the defensive aspect of catching to a whole new level and actually changed the way future generations of catchers positioned them self behind the plate. He set low and offered a big target while protecting his throwing hand behind his back rather than behind his glove as was the norm for decades. It may seem small but countless injuries have been saved by this change.

As a Rookie of the year, two time MVP, World Series MVP, fourteen time All-Star, and two-time World Series winner Bench did everything and did it all well. With over 2,000 hits and 389 homers to complement 1,376 runs batted in and ten consecutive gold gloves Bench was the catcher of a generation. There may have guys who did a thing or two better during the era, but none was the complete package Bench Was. Bench was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee and is cited as an influence on the position by almost every modern day catcher that saw him play. Simply put Bench is the benchmark modern catchers are measured against.

Peter Lawrence “Yogi” Berra is without doubt one of the greatest catchers ever. With three MVP awards, ten world series championships, and almost every accolade you can imagine showered upon him Berra had only one true peer during his era, Roy Campanella. Berra was more than just a Yankee or even baseball great, he was an is to this day an American icon. He was Mr. October before Reggie Jackson even entered junior high school. He is the single winningest player in World Series history with his record ten championship teams likely being a record that will stand for all time. By the numbers he collected 2,150 hits, 358 homers, 1,430 ribbies, 1,175 runs, and a .285 career average and eighteen All-Star game appearances. Yogi also caught some of the best pitchers of the era and the only perfect game in World Series history. Berra did everything and he did it all exceptionally well. If you look for records held by a catcher Berra likely holds or held it at the time of his retirement. He is an undisputed legend.

Another Yankee makes the list and that man is Bill Dickey, Hall of Famer, and one of the three great catchers of his era. While Dickey had his peers behind the plate in Hartnett and Cochrane, at the plate he was far superior. Making a gaudy eight world series appearances with seven wins Dickey was a post-season winner. Individually his four consecutive seasons with 20 homers, 100 or more RBI’s, a .300 or better average and 80 or more runs scored went unmatched by any catcher until Yankee Thurman Munson matched the mark forty years later. He was also a lifetime .313 hitter with elven All-Star appearances to his credit. Dickey did more than that however as he consistently called the shots for an ever changing pitching staff that was always in the hunt for a championship run if not the championship itself. On a team chock full of legends Dickey was the all too often overlooked hero and glue that brought it all together.

Gabby Hartnett strung together a twenty year career exemplified by smart work behind the plate, a cannon arm, and offensive prowess that made him one of the three best catchers of the era. With 1,912 hits, 236 homers, 1,179 ribbies, and a .297 career average Gabby was a machine that seemingly had no off switch. He played the game one way which was all out all the time. Those above detailed statistics were all records for a catcher when he retired which demonstrates how utterly dominant he was at the dish which is a testament to his longevity. He was consistent to the point of boredom as some put it. Even so he was still considered one of if not the greatest catcher in the National League the first half of the century. His mask and Glove were the first artifacts the newly opened Baseball Hall of Fame acquired to display in 1938. A casual fan may not know his name but in baseball circles he is a legend not only among catchers but all players.

Dodgers great Roy Campanella may have even been better than Berra in some regards but a tragic auto accident which paralyzed this titan stops us from ever knowing for sure. Most people that saw “Campy” and Berra play say it was too close to call, each was a phenomenal talent with a different style. The main knock against Campy was his penchant for being a feast or famine hitter, some years he was the best, another he would barely hit his weight. Since Campanella didn’t make it to the MLB until he was over 25 years old and spent years (Since age fifteen) in the Negro and Mexican leagues he lost time which is why many analysts give Campy a big edge over Berra. Learning his trade under legendary Negro League catcher Biz Mackey Campy was a master behind the plate and a monster at it. Three MVP awards, seven seasons with a minimum of 20 homers, 1,161 hits, and 856 runs batted in during only eleven seasons are all proof enough he was elite. The only question surrounding Campanella’s game is we can only wonder what if?

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez now with the Astros but best remembered with Texas may very well go down as the best complete cacher ever, and at only 37 he has time to pad his stats even more. His hit total may just wind up over 3,000, something no catcher has ever done in the history of the game. Currently standing on 294 homers with over 1,200 runs scored and driven in even he has already established himself as one of the most offensively gifted catchers ever. With each game he plays more landmarks are on their way to falling. His arm is beyond legendary, even Johnny Bench supporters often agree Pudge may have the edge in this aspect of the game. His durability is amazing to the point of nearly being unbelievable, and his thirteen gold gloves lead all catchers in the history of the game. Add in a World Series title and fourteen All-Star appearances, Pudge is a legend playing before our eyes. When he takes off his gear for the last time don’t be surprised to see him as a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee and a holder of many of the offensive an defensive records for the position.

Josh Gibson must be given his due. Gibson’s stats will never be settled, it is all speculation as leagues kept poor records and many have been lost over time. Many that do exist are argued over as legitimacy is an issue as scoring standards weren’t always the same in foreign leagues in which Gibson played many of his games. What is known is he is a Hall of Famer, maybe the greatest hitting catcher ever, maybe one of the best hitters in baseball history ever. As my dad once told me, to see Josh Gibson hit was to see near perfection, like Babe Ruth only stronger and in better shape. His skills behind the plate were unquestioned although again we can’t really statistically measure them, we just have to accept the word of those that saw and played against him. We never have appreciated him as much as he deserves due to segregation which is our loss. Statistical proof or not Josh Gibson may have been the best catcher of them all.

There are plenty of other greats, Mickey Cochrane, Carlton Fisk (At least he hung around to hit homers for 24 years), the tragically lost Thurman Munson, and to a degree Mike Piazza although he was never a good defensive catcher he hit like no other. Of course this is my assessment of the best catchers ever and anyone is free to disagree, that is after all the beauty of baseball.

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.