Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Full Nancy

The Full Nancy
© 2006 Ross Williams

High and tight is just as valid a pitch location as low and away, and the mixture of both makes a pitcher imposing. But in the creeping nancification of baseball, high and tight – once called a "purpose pitch" – is viewed largely as an attempt to hurt the hitter. It would seem that the purpose of such a pitch is presumed, and the presumption is universally sinister.

Even low and tight is frequently seen as the big bully pitcher picking on the poor defenseless batter. It's gotten to the point where, in order to avoid the widespread beanball wars of baseball's Classical Era[1], any pitch that sails in too tight to a batter requires the umpire to warn both benches, such that the very next inside pitch results in the expulsion of the pitcher and his manager. Then, if the other team's pitcher "retaliates" by so much as throwing a strike over the inner half of the plate, another pitcher and manager get tossed.

The league office will then usually hand down suspensions and fines, and the game of baseball is saved from having batters getting the dickens frightened out of them by a pitch coming anywhere near them. Well, fine, girls, if that’s the way you want it.

The rationalization used is that the only reason for throwing inside is to hurt someone. And the batter can get hurt, yes. Sometimes severely. I'm a Cubs fan, and in my lifetime I've seen Andre Dawson get plowed in the face by a fastball from Eric Show[2], and Sammy Sosa get hit in the face by a fastball from Salomon Torres. Sosa, afraid of a repeat, altered his batting stance by hitting from the fungo circle and his batting average and power numbers dropped precipitously as a result. However, his strikeouts increased, so at least something went up afterwards.

One-time Cubs manager Don Zimmer wears a metal plate in his head after getting beaned in 1954. And Ray Chapman died from injuries sustained by getting hit in the head by a pitch – which was a strike. Chapman was the Craig Biggio of the 20s. So batting can be dangerous.

But pitching can be, too. Matt Clement of the Boston Red Sox [nee Cubs] had his head used as a pinball bumper by a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford. The Cubs Mark Prior had his throwing arm broken by a line drive. Apparently, the only reason for hitting a ball back through the box is to hurt someone. Line drives up the middle should be met with expulsion as well.

...and don't tell me you can't control where you hit the ball. You don't see "pull hitters" by accident. "Oh, it's just a coincidence that most power hitters pull the ball..." Uh huh, right. And it's a similar coincidence that Pete Rose gets defensive whenever someone says “Dowd Report”.

Be consistent, people.

You don't slide spikes up unless you're trying to hurt someone. This is hardly news, and it really should go without saying ... but let's just casually mention the bastard Ty Cobb and his bastard file for the heck of it. Consistency demands immediate expulsion for the spike slider. Can't tell when the spikes are up? That's easily solved: if they're showing then they're up enough to hurt. Therefore you slide while wearing spikes, you're out of the game. Many recreational leagues have this rule already, for this reason. Others have prohibited spikes. If baseball's going nancy, then they need to do it without the half-measures. Get on the ball, folks.

You also don't slide out of the basepath on a double play unless you're trying to hurt a middle infielder. Apart from violating the rules that have existed in baseball since Abner Doubleday stole the game from the Algonquin Indians or from some kids in New Jersey or whomever it is convenient among sports conspiracists to theorize upon, "breaking up the double play" has never been accomplished once with the maneuver. The old "fake to third throw to first" has worked more often[3], as has the hidden ball trick. So therefore ... the only reason for sliding out of the basepath is to try to put a shortstop or second baseman on the DL.

Since rules are arbitrary, capricious and quasi-totalitarian unless they are consistent ... you slide outside the basepath, you leave the game. And sliding can only be done now while wearing sneakers or "turf shoes", of course, since spikes can't be worn by nancyboys afwaid of being huwt – insert gratuitous Jim Edmonds reference here.

You also don't slide elbows out and knees up unless you're trying to hurt someone. If you've watched baseball recently you know exactly what I'm getting at. Michael Barrett got cheap-shotted by A. H. Pierzynski at home plate on Saturday, May 20 2006. A. H. "slid" elbows out and knees up in a manner entirely consistent with professional wrestling, and A. H. being a catcher, he should really know better than to do that to another catcher.

If I'd been Barrett and A. H. had done to me what he did to Barrett, A. H. wouldn't merely be nursing a sore jaw, he'd have a dent in the back of his skull roughly the size and shape of a baseball bat the next time I came to the plate. Sorry, there, A. H., I lost the grip on the back-swing. My bad ... asshole.

I come by my attitude about these matters honestly. I'm smaller than your average adult male, but I've always liked baseball and tried playing as often as possible. Being smaller, though, I was never allowed to play actual baseball. Coaches and gym teachers in high school kept saying I'd get hurt[4], and none of the kids playing would ever pick me, even if it meant that one team had fewer players and not enough on the field. They'd share players before allowing me to play.

But I was better than most of them anyhow, and I played church league softball. I was 15 and playing second when one of the players on the other team[5], a college-age guy who played baseball in high school but was too dumb to make it to college, hit a double to short left. A good throw might have gotten him at second and I was straddling the bag on the right field side to take the throw. The guy "slid" knees up and shoulder out as I was catching the ball, shoved his shoulder into my stomach and flipped me – not a real show of strength by any means, since I probably didn't weigh a hundred pounds at the time. I landed flat on my back and lost the ability to breathe for a good minute and a half. Still had the ball though.

My shortstop, George, who could easily have passed for Charles Bronson's younger brother, did his alpha-male chest-butting on him. "Clean slide, clean slide," the guy kept saying as he was being backed around the infield, chortling about taking me out. What George said in response was impolite and did not fit the demeanor of a church league game, but was entirely appropriate.

Once I could breathe the game resumed. A few innings later, the bad-ass dude who flipped me was on first base and the batter up after him hit a grounder to short. George underhanded me the ball to get the force at second and I saw Mr Cleanslide running straight up towards me as I turned to make the throw to first to complete the double play. I threw towards first as hard as I could, but the ball didn't get more than 25 feet before it bounced with a thwack off the runner’s forehead. He hit the ground in a tangle and the ball bounced to Vinny in right field, who kept the batter from advancing. No error since you can’t assume the double play.

Once the ball came back to the infield, George, who knew I had virtually impeccable aim, asked me in a whisper, "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

Of course I did. And so did the base runner. Flipping me was about as fun for him as denting his face was to me – he had visible stitch marks over his right eyebrow for the rest of the game. You don't slide like that unless you’re trying to hurt someone. Doesn't get any simpler. Doesn’t matter if you’re some punk ass church leaguer or some punk ass big leaguer: if you want to hurt someone, slide knees up and lead with your shoulder or elbows.

That’s exactly what A. H. Pierzynski did. And he got immediately clocked for it, which merely lacked subtlety. The press has been quoting everyone declaring that it was a clean slide – A. H. and his teammates because they have a vested interest in maintaining the fantasy, and Barrett and his teammates because they have a vested interest in acknowledging the inappropriateness of actually throwing a punch in order to keep Barrett’s suspension to a minimum. But for everyone else to say anything other than the truth is inexcusable. The only reason for A. H. Pierzynski to slide the way he did was to hurt Barrett.

For those who’ve seen the video clips who will continue to maintain a right-angle-to-reality view and insist that the slide was clean, let me just recite the names Pete Rose and Ray Fosse. Pete Rose “slid” elbows- and knees-first into catcher Ray Fosse during the 1970 All Star game, scored the winning run, and injured Fosse so badly that he never played a meaningful game of baseball again. “Clean slide” was the claim then, as well, by the handful who were happy to see Charlie Hustle getting the glory for the National League; “dirty play” and “cheap shot” was the claim by those who weren’t – which is nearly everyone else.

Today’s hypocrites are going to claim that, well, an All Star game isn’t quite the same thing; Fosse wasn’t expecting such an aggressive slide and that’s why he got hurt. Sorry, but it is the same thing, and that same thing is: the only reason you slide elbows-first is to try to hurt someone. The only difference is that Barrett stood up and clocked Pierzynski; Fosse’s shoulder was separated and he couldn’t take a swing.

The nannies of Major League Baseball are going to review the film, give Barrett a five- to seven-game suspension for taking a swing at a guy who was trying to hurt him. And they’re going to do nothing to the guy who started it all by trying to hurt Barrett. This is then going to pass as “discipline”.

Baseball has a ways to go in attaining complete sissification. And if I were in charge we’d do one of a few things here:

1] Michael Barrett would get a five-game sit-down and so would A. H. Pierzynski. Both of them tried hurting the other. Similarly, inside pitches would be met with suspension, as would people who charge the mound after being thrown at, or slide spikes up, or slide out of the basepath. Consistency, and we get the full nancy that so many seem to want[6]. Or:

2] What happens on the field stays on the field, and if A. H. Pierzynski wants to pretend he’s Hulk Hogan or Sgt Slaughter by pulling a Tombstone Piledriver, then he can get cold-cocked for his trouble, and it’s all even. Both players will get tossed out of the game, but that’d be the end of it. And similarly, the pitcher who wants to throw inside can thrown inside, and when he comes up to the plate he gets to face a pitcher who may want to throw inside himself[7]. More consistency, but it assumes that the grown-ups who play the game are, like, adults or something.

Pick one.

[1] No legitimate “beanball wars” have been found, ever, at any time in baseball’s history, though many are claimed. http://www.thebaseballpage.com/features/2003/beanball_history.htm
[2] who then got tackled by former linebacker and sometime-third baseman Keith Moreland
[3] and half the time it’s the Cubs who get caught by it
[4] this was before even the professional ball players went all sissy on us
[5] Choconut Center
[6] http://www2.jsonline.com/sports/brew/ap/jul01/ap-bba-blue-jays-y072201.asp?format=print
[7] and if I were in charge, there’d be no DH


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