The Grant Rant: The Beanball Problem

The Grant Rant in a nutshell. Find all of Grant’s previous rants here.

By: Dan Grant

Before a lacklustre performance left Blue Jays fans with a pit in the bottom of their stomachs later in the evening, the fan base breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday afternoon. This group exhale occurred as soon as they saw second baseman Devon Travis penciled back into the line-up.

Travis, you see, had felt a barking in his surgically repaired shoulder after Mondays game. This is the same shoulder that caused Travis to miss 100 games in his rookie season last year, and the first two months of 2016. How did this happen? Did he hurt it on a swing, or an above and beyond defensive effort?

No. He hurt it in a stupid bench clearing brawl and then further exacerbated it later in the game. Oh yeah, and during the same brawl? Late inning godsend (and noted 39 year old) Joaquin Benoit tore his calf muscle as he jumped up to leave the bullpen, and is now out until the ALDS at earliest, if the stupid Jays even get there.

I mean, does it get any dumber?

In case you missed it, the conflict took place when Yankees rookie Luis Severino hit Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson in the first inning. The Blue Jays took exception, and starter J.A. Happ threw at Yankees third baseman Chase Headley, not once, but twice, as he missed him the first time. The message was clear. Except that it wasn’t, because the Yankees didn’t think that what they did to Donaldson was uncalled for, or intentional, so the next inning, Severino drilled Jays first baseman Justin Smoak in the back of the leg, causing the benches to empty. Aping Happ, Severino had to throw at Smoak twice to get the job done, but for some reason wasn’t ejected after this first attempt, even though the benches had been warned.

The aftermath?

Severino was the only player ejected somehow, though Yankees manager Joe Girardi had been earlier. Two other Yankees coaches were ejected for whatever it was they had to say to the umpiring crew. Smoak somehow wasn’t, even though he actually landed a few punches during the dust-up, a rarity in a baseball fight.

More importantly, Travis and Benoit were injured, and the ‘brawl’ such as it was, achieved absolutely nothing.

Now this one was equally on the umpires, in the moment. Once Happ threw at Headley the second time, he should have been ejected. It was clearly intentional, and that’s supposed to mean getting tossed automatically. I’m not sure what the umpiring crew was thinking, but they let things get out of hand. If Happ is tossed and the benches are warned, Severino probably never throws at Smoak, and we’re not even having this discussion right now. But it’s not like this is the first time this has happened in a baseball game. So while the umpires handled the situation poorly, the brawl is a symptom of a much larger problem in the game.

Beanballs are a black-eye on baseball. They’re just about the most cowardly and dangerous act that can be perpetrated in professional sports. They’re accepted in baseball culture as a way to retaliate; 1) Because there’s far less opportunity for physical contact in baseball than in football, basketball or hockey and 2) Because they inflict maximum damage and are supposed to be a way for the players to ‘self-police’ the game.

Bench clearing brawls are caused by beanballs about 95% of the time, with the Jose Bautista-Rougned Odor incident from earlier this year being a notable exception.

‘I’m not too worried about suspensions or anything. You just don’t want anyone to get hurt’ – Russell Martin, after the game.

The thing is Russell, if you don’t want people to get hurt, perhaps you shouldn’t encourage your teammate to repeatedly hurl a projectile at them at a high velocity. A novel notion, I know, but hear me out.

Players do get hurt during baseball fights, and usually not in the way you’d think. The Travis and Benoit injuries are far closer to the rule, rather than some freak exception. It’s rare for someone to suffer damage from being punched. Much more often, someone gets hurt because they fall awkwardly, or someone falls on them. Remember when Zack Greinke broke his collarbone? How about when Jason LaRue had his career ended? He never played another game after suffering a concussion at the hand of Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto.

These freak accidents happen during brawls. Things escalate into a moral vacuum — the kind of place where Pedro Martinez hurls 72 year old Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground, and is actually defended by some for ‘protecting himself’.

What in the blue hell is going on here?

mugatu

There are myriad other examples, basically all caused by beanballs, which at the heart of it, is assault with a deadly weapon. If you dispute that at all, I invite you to take a 99 mph fastball on any part of your body and see how you feel afterwards. Now imagine that hitting you in the face.

I refer you to Poe vs Alabama:

Cameron Poe, you have pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree.With your military skills, you are a deadly weapon and are not subject to the same laws as other people that are provoked because you can respond with deadly force.

– The Judge from Con Air

This can’t go on. I mean, it probably will, but it shouldn’t.

So how to fix it?

Here are four completely implementable ideas that could be put in place tomorrow without affecting the integrity of the game.

Two Bases for a Beanball

The first and most reasonable idea, comes from Andrew Stoeten, formerly of Drunk Jays Fans now and now of the excellent Blue Jays Nation:

stoetentweet

I actually think is a pretty rad idea. Even if players wanted to hit each other, they’d have to think twice about it. I like the idea of further tweaking it — if you drill someone with a player on base, every player on base advances two bases as well.

Now, pitchers would hate this, and I suspect coaches and managers would too. Most pitchers are already on the defensive, thinking they’re not allowed to pitch inside at all, lest they cause the kind of ruckus that we just witnessed. To that I’d say that there’s a difference between pitching inside and this:

However, I can understand that this might cause a revolt. As a slightly above average beer league softball pitcher, I can sympathize. Let’s try something else.

Automatic Suspensions

Right now, both the offending pitcher and manager are ejected from the game if a HBP is ruled intentional after warnings are issued. Honestly, this punishment is startling light, given that these are brazen attempts to injure the other team. Pitchers will tell you that they’re not trying to hurt anyone (usually) and that it’s to ‘send a message’ but what is that message?

It’s ‘wow, that really fucking hurt’.

What if drilling a guy after warnings were issued results in an automatic 10 game suspension for the player and a five game suspension for the manager? Obviously you can play with the length of the suspensions, and there’d be the problem of subjectivity — ‘I didn’t mean to, it just slipped!’ — which is the bullshit kindergarten excuse that every pitcher hides behind. But you know what? I think the MLB front office can handle it. Make some tough decisions and end this garbage.

If that doesn’t work:

Fine Them Long, and Fine Them Hard

Suspensions should be enough for most, you’d think, but some guys might reach the ‘giving zero effs’ stage — about their team, their manager, their personal hygiene, whatever.

alfredworldburn

Well, you know what you do to those selfish bastards? Take away their money. You either make those suspensions unpaid (which I think they usually are anyway?) or instead of suspending them, you simply fine them a set portion of their yearly salary. Say 2% for a first offense, and then double it every time after that. That’s about ten grand for a player making the MLB minimum, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it also quickly escalates. 20 grand for a second offense, 40 for a third, and so on, and that’s just for minimum guys. For a guy like J.A. Happ, that first offense would have been worth 260K. The union would have fits, I’m sure.

Make Them Face the Music

The most cowardly part of throwing a beanball, especially in the American League, is that the pitcher who throws the ball rarely has to answer for his actions. This is why you see benches clearing and the batter running out to try and get a shot in — the pitcher never comes to bat, and thus, has no fear of getting his comeuppance. Sure he might get his teammates drilled, but I think that’s a pretty easy choice for the pitcher.

So do this: if an intentional HBP is determined, that team loses their DH for the rest of the game. The pitcher has to bat, and can’t be subbed out until they take at least one at bat. That way they’d have to actually stand in and face their opponent. I bet they’d think twice about plunking a guy if they had to risk getting smoked themselves, amirite?

What you just read above is a pile of steaming nonsense. If you for even a second said ‘Hey, that’s a good idea!’ then that’s part of the problem. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to trick you. Well yes I did, but still: any solution that proposes more frontier justice is the wrong one, and I’ve heard this one offered up more than once.

The first three ideas though?  They’re gold. Put one, two or all of them in, I don’t care. But do something. The bottom line is there’s a million things that could be done, instead of the bupkis that’s happening now.

Beanballs are a disgrace and should be treated like one.

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