As a catcher, I’ve been involved in calling for an opposing player to be hit intentionally with a pitch on multiple occasions. I can’t remember them all and I’m sure I could count them all on one hand, but there is one in particular that really stands out.
While I was playing D-3 college baseball at Stevens Tech we gave up a LONG home run to right field in the seventh inning of a game we were already losing by two runs. The hitter from Old Westbury stared at the ball for about two-thirds of a Dietrich and then flipped his bat kind of like how Mark Teixeira does in the gif immediately following these words.
My manager yelled at the hitter from the dugout telling him to begin his trip around the bases immediately and to stop admiring his handy work (Note: he may have used some different, more choice words). When that hitter came up again in the ninth inning and we trailed by six runs it was understood that we should throw at him even though we didn’t actually have the discussion. The call was made. This was old school baseball, the norm for guys my coach’s age and older. You paid the price when you pimped a home run.
Now lets fast forward to April 17, 2019. Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox continued his torrid start with a no-doubt home run to LF which led to an emotional throw of the bat back toward the White Sox dugout followed by a guttural yell at his teammates.
At this point, Anderson took a slow trot and gave one loud clap as he passed Royals catcher Martin Maldonado on his way to the dugout. I can understand why Royals players would be upset after giving up this home run and watching a rival celebrate. I’ve been there. I’ve felt this disappointment. It’s not the old days anymore though, I’ve converted.
When Anderson came up again leading off the sixth inning, Royals starter Brad Keller, who’d actually pitched a pretty good game to this point, drilled Anderson with the first pitch of the inning. Anderson reacted about as well as he possibly could have: a couple seconds of nodding and jawing with Keller before giving Maldonado a pat on the chest to signify “We’re cool” and heading to first base. Benches cleared because everyone’s feelings were hurt and ejections began with Keller and Anderson.
To recap, Anderson hit a home run and got too excited about it for the Royals liking. When they hit him with a pitch in his next at-bat, he kept his cool and went to first base, but he was ejected from the game.
I know back in the day, this was considered justice. You disrespected the game and had some fun while you hit a home run so we need to retaliate, blah, blah, blah. What often goes unsaid when talking about the unwritten rules is that they were adopted back when pitchers were consistently throwing below 90 miles per hour. Now pitchers regularly hit 100. The risks of intentionally hitting guys have gone up dramatically. Putting a base runner on with an intentional hit by pitch also improves the other team’s chance of scoring and polices fun out of the game because pitchers’ feelings are more important.
I love the history of baseball and most of its traditions, but it seems to me that we have a choice as baseball fans. Option 1: we can hold onto every single tradition, not progress with the world, and shun the fun that young players and kids are starting to have with bat flips on homers and fist pumps on strikeouts. Option 2: we can grow, we can lean into the fun and help grow the game by encouraging kids to have fun when they play baseball. There is a constant question about how baseball is going to get/keep younger fans. Well, kids like fun and excitement. Kids do not generally like being told they can’t have fun when they get a big hit or strikeout and if they do someone will hurt them.
One of the many great things about sports (and life really) is that no two players are exactly the same. Some guys might watch their home run a little longer and flip the bat, others might put their head down and run the bases. Individuality is a wonderful human trait. If you are into the old ways of acting like you’ve been there before, that’s great. No one is telling you that you have to flip the bat after every home run. Why should you force someone who does have that fun and emotion to stop because of how it makes you feel?
Now that Anderson has been suspended a game for his “actions” and Keller only 5, it’s become even more obvious that the old, tired ways I once participated in need to change. Players throwing a projectile at high speeds intentionally at an opponent are viewed as having done the same amount of wrong as someone who got excited because he hit a home run.
I want pitchers to get pumped and yell back toward their catcher after a huge strikeout.
I want baseball to grow and be more fun and less stuffy. Stop throwing at hitters if they bat flip. Get them out their next time. Then you can pump your fist in their face. That’s real justice.
Featured Image: David Banks, USA Today Sports.