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A Little Chin Music...

Dave Lind

It happened again.

This time it was lead off man Gerald Williams of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who was plunked by Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, igniting a bench-clearing brawl which continued to flare up over and over again throughout the game.

To recap the incident in its entirety, Williams was leading off the top of the first and facing a 1-and-2 count when a 95-mph Martinez fast ball sailed high and tight, striking Williams on the back of his left hand. Williams reacted with all the dignity and restraint we've come to expect from our multi-millionaire athletes of today. Yes, he charged the mound. And as expected, like any self-respecting team in the heat of a pennant race whose franchise pitcher is being assaulted, the Red Sox responded in kind. Thus was the assembled crowd who paid to watch baseball treated to an evening with the WWF.

But it did not end there, oh no, it did not. The Devil Rays, already miffed at Pedro for beaning one of their own were even more furious at Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach for (according to them) taking "cheap shots" in the pile. Their response: Plunk Daubach. Unfortunately, their pitchers lacked the talent required to properly execute even this seemingly most basic baseball maneuver. No less than three Devil Rays pitchers (possibly even four, I stopped counting) took their shots at Daubach. Results: 3 pitchers ejected, 3 managers ejected, two free bases for Daubach on grazes, ZERO solid beanings.

All of this for what? Because Pedro hit a batter? Because Pedro hits a lot of batters? Because Daubach supposedly got a bit over zealous protecting his pitcher?

PUH-LEEZ, people! First of all, as the tapes clearly show, the only thing Daubach did during the melee was dive awkwardly on top of Williams and roll around in pain. He spent the vast majority of the incident clutching his hyper-extended left arm and running from outraged Devil Rays players who apparently could not find any healthy Red Sox players to confront.

Secondly, if I am the owner of the Boston Red Sox, and I see some testosterone-soaked cretin sprinting with evil intent toward my $10 million plus per year investment, I would personally be willing to write very large bonus checks to any of my employees (to include secretaries and towel boys) who took it upon themselves to inflict whatever painful wounds they could on the opposing team in the hopes that it might prompt them to think twice before heading out to the mound again. Rule number one in baseball: You must protect your teammates. Nowhere does it say they you must do it with honor and fairness. Let this be your notice: If you feel you must charge the mound, do it against the Terry Mulhollands and Omar Daals of the world, because once you start chasing guys like Pedro, or Maddux, or Glavine, or the Big Unit, their teammates will hurt you.

You see, here's how it works in baseball: Your pitcher hits my guy, my pitcher hits your guy. Your pitcher hits my superstar, my pitcher hits your superstar. All even, all fair. And if your pitcher just doesn't get the message, when its his turn to step into the box he'd better be ducking. (Which is why the DH MUST go!)

Unfortunately, over the past twenty years this time-tested doctrine has gone by the wayside. The hitters have ambitiously pursued a policy of zero-tolerance with regard to inside pitches. They adorn themselves in body armor and lean way out over the plate, then get furious whenever the pitcher tries to move them back with an inside pitch. Their opinion: 95 mph heaters up around their throat puts them in serious danger of injury or death. My response: If your health is so FREAKING important, take a step back from the FREAKING plate!

Some players don't even wait to get beaned before charging the mound, deeming "chin music" enough of an affront that they should "take care of things themselves" The classic example of this mentality was best personified by former Toronto Blue jay left fielder and habitual hill climber George Bell who once actually charged the mound on a CALLED STRIKE.

But why the seemingly sudden change in hitters attitudes? Easy, pitchers are no longer allowed to police their own. Several years ago the league responded to concerns about "bean ball wars" by passing an edict: Anytime an umpire suspected a pitcher of intentionally throwing at an opposing player he was to issue a warning to BOTH benches. Once the warning was issued, whenever the umpire suspected EITHER pitcher of throwing at the batter, both the offending pitcher and his manager would be automatically ejected from the game. With the adoption of this rule, the league took the responsiblity of protecting the batter away from the pitcher and left it, by default, to the hitters themselves.

So here's the situation as is stands today. Pitchers can't be successful unless they pitch inside. Pitchers can't pitch inside without risking a not-so-cordial visit from the batter and his pals. Pitchers MUST be successful if they wish to remain gainfully employed. Ergo, successful pitchers who pitch inside (like Pedro) are labeled "headhunters" and are subject to retaliation. Since that retaliation cannot come from the opposing pitcher, batters feel compelled to handle it themselves. Result: bench clearing brawls have become more common then 2-1 pitching duels.

So what is to be done to remedy the problem? One suggestion would call for a "Third Man In" rule similar to that which is currently employed to great effect in hockey. This idea would allow the two combatants, usually the pitcher and the batter, to slug it out while levying heavy fines and suspensions on any player who "jumps in" The problem with this suggestion is that it is the most assinine idea since the "In the Grasp" rule. Let me make this perfectly clear: What works for hockey will not necessary work for baseball. Do you honestly think that the best interests of baseball would be served by allowing Frank Thomas to beat Greg Maddux into a sticky paste while his teammates are forced to watch helplessly from their positions?

No, if you want to end the problem of brawling once and for all, you must do two things:
  1. 10-game suspensions for any player who leaves the bench or bullpen area during such an incident. If the batter wants to go out and take on the other team's entire lineup, go for it. His only help will come from the on-deck batter and any base runners he may have on ahead of him. Better hope the bases are loaded, my friend.
  2. Give pitchers carte blanche to drill any player they want. One of the problems currently is that as soon as tensions flare up the umpire issues a warning to both benches and the pitchers become, in effect, handcuffed. They cannot afford to retaliate because to do so would draw an ejection both for themselves and their manager. Any manager will tell you, you're better off having a position player ejected than your pitcher any day of the week. If you remove the risk of losing your pitcher and allow him to handle the appropriate retaliation, you remove the need for the batter to "take care of things himself"

Having said all of this, it is important that we realize that whatever course of action is the LEAST effective in addressing the matter will no doubt be the one Bud Selig embraces. In his modernized, WWF-style version of Major League Baseball pitchers are the enemy whose sole purpose is to prevent the all-important home runs from flying out of the ever-shrinking carnival-like ballparks of today. For this they must be punished, and if that punishment is meted out by thick-necked goons in front of twenty thousand screaming fans, so much the better.

It's great for ratings.