Monday, April 25, 2005

Baseball's stupid (and unwritten) rules

How many more times can we hear a baseball analyst drop some brainiac analysis of a pier-6 slobberknocker brawl such as "That's baseball. A pitcher has to protect his hitters"?

For me, the number is slightly less than zero. Next analyst that looks into a television camera and says that, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, better duck because I'm firing my 73-mph cheese into the studio. Hey, sorry, but a viewer has to protect his television set.

It's one of those unwritten rules of baseball that people love to glorify. The reason they are unwritten is simple: If they were actually written down, then players could read them and realize just how stupid these rules really are.

How much more damage does a pitcher do to his team by getting ejected from the game, especially if he's pitching well?

On Sunday, the Devil Rays and Red Sox got into several brawls in the seventh inning of shame. It began on Friday when batters were hit and Tampa Bay's Eduardo Perez crushed a homer and flipped his bat. On Saturday, Curt Schilling plunked Carl Crawford in the ribs with a fastball as if he were playing pin the tail on the Devil Ray without a blindfold. David Ortiz hit a monster bomb and flipped his bat the exact way Perez did a day earlier.

In the sixth inning on Sunday, Bronson Arroyo pegged Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff. Seems Arroyo has his best control when he aims outside the strike zone (just ask A-Rod). In the top of the seventh inning, Tampa Bay reliever Lance Carter fired behind Manny Ramirez. Ramirez homered on the next pitch.

Four pitches later, Ortiz was knocked on his considerable patoot by some high heat. He erupted, benches cleared. Ejections followed. As did another beanball. In the bottom of the seventh, Arroyo nailed Chris Singleton in the leg. Another bench-clearing. More ejections.

Typical stupidity of baseball players. Forget testing for steroids. How about some IQ tests?

Pitchers are expected to "protect their hitters." But by throwing at a player in retaliation, all they've done is up the ante again and put yet another teammate in harm's way. If Schilling didn't plunk Crawford on Saturday, perhaps Carter wouldn't have felt compelled to go after Ramirez. If Carter hadn't gone after Ramirez, perhaps he wouldn't have felt compelled to go after Ortiz, either. If Carter hadn't gone after Ortiz, perhaps Arroyo wouldn't have felt compelled to go after Singleton.

And if Woody had gone straight to the police, none of this would have ever happened.

We've reached the point where a pitcher cannot hit a batter without reporters asking the interested parties if it was intentional. Sure, sometimes it is (just ask Tino Martinez about Armando Benitez). But, sometimes it's just a very bad pitch. Things happen. We don't always perform to our best. Hey, if i write 150 columns in one year, one of them has to rank No. 150. (Note: This isn't that one.)

But by continually retaliating, the situation escalates. That, in turn, creates more bad blood for the next inning, the next game, the next series.

Protecting your teammates is a noble cause. But if a pitcher does not retaliate, then odds are no one else on his team will get hit, punched, kicked, scratched, body-slammed, put in a figure-four or hit with a steel chair.

And the players who speak up about their pitchers not doing something are just exacerbating the situation. They make the pitchers, both those involved in a particular altercation and those on the outside looking in, more conscious of pleasing their teammates.

Not fair.

These pitchers have enough to think about, what with trying to find the strike zone and throw a pitch that won't get crushed. If you think I'm wrong about pitchers' concerns, then why did only 18 starters in the majors have an ERA under 3.50 last season?

If a pitcher must hit a batter, do it with a curveball so the opposing team thinks it's accidental. This way, you've pleased your teammates and you get off scot-free because no one would think a curveball was thrown intentionally at a batter.

If a pitcher must be stupid, he should learn how to be an idiot savant.