Time to Put an End to Baseball Brawls

Greinke

The game of baseball is losing one of its best pitchers, Zack Greinke, to a broken collarbone for months.  A team with World Series aspirations, the Los Angeles Dodgers, just had its chance diminished.  The number two media market in America, and fans across the nation have been cheated.  Dodger nation, and manager, Don Mattingly, are understandably upset.

Charging the mound and attacking Greinke, after being hit by a pitch, as Carlos Quentin of The San Diego Padres did in last night’s game, is a violation of league rules, however the penalty amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Baseball has been letting this go on for years, and, as in the use of instant replay, is slow to react.  Years ago the NBA changed its rules with regards to hard fouls and players leaving the bench to join an on-court altercation.  As painful as these rule changes have been, (just ask NY Knicks and Phoenix Suns fans) it has been good for the game.  Better to air on the side of safety.

Getty Images Archive

An umpire gets in the middle of Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza after a HBP.

Pitchers are far from innocent in this.  While it is true that to pitch effectively you have to pitch inside, there is no room for intentionally beaning someone.  (Not to imply that Greinke intentionally hit Quinten in this case.) Intentional or not, a free pass to first base, especially for a dominant pitcher, isn’t much of penalty.  The batter being hit is justifiably upset.  He is physically hurt, he may feel like his manhood is being challenged and there is little consequence to the pitcher.  And if he assumes it was intentional, it is a recipe for a brawl.

Here are five suggestions that if you incorporated one or all would reduce or eliminate these situations:

1-     Require all batters to wear protective gear on their elbows and shins.  In addition to the new helmet requirement, this will minimize the risk of injuries.  It will also lessen the pain of impact and decrease a desire to charge the mound as a result.

2-     To compensate  for hitters now feeling bolder to dive across the plate, move the batter’s box a quarter-inch further away from the plate.

3-     Institute harsher penalties for pitchers who repeatedly hit players in general and the same player specifically.  Take a page from the NBA with their flagrant foul one and two rule and how players accumulate points towards suspension.  Five games for a pitcher, which is now the typical suspension, (when there is a suspension) amounts to one missed game for a starter.  That is not enough for the pitcher once he passes a certain threshold.  Another alternative is to give two bases instead of one.  If you make the penalty more painful, you reduce the likelihood of a HBP being done with intent.  And the hitter is less likely to feel like the pitcher is getting away with hitting him with minimal consequence.

4-     Review players that get hit to frequently.  By rule, a hitter is supposed to make an effort to avoid being hit.  I haven’t seen a hitter called on this in my lifetime.  Don Baylor turned getting hit by a pitch into an art form.  Hitters who get hit over ten times should be reviewed and potentially fined or suspended for a game.

5-     There should be zero tolerance for charging the mound.  A first offense should result in an automatic fifty game suspension.  A whole season for the second.  And a lifetime ban for the third.

Some of these changes may be harder to implement than others.  For example, current players may be resistant to more equipment changes.  Then do what the NHL did in hockey.  Require the changes on the minor league level.  Make it mandatory on the major league level for all rookies entering the league in 2014.  And make it voluntary for players in the league prior to 2013.

By making the penalties stiffer on pitchers for hitting hitters in the first place, you remove or minimize the intent aspect from the hitter’s mind.  By removing that you greatly reduce the desire to charge the mound.

I have no problem increasing the suspension for pitchers who repeatedly hit batters or who do so above the shoulders.  Intent is irrelevant, a professional pitcher should have enough control that hitting batters should not be a repeated issue.

A hitter should have the expectation that he can step up to the plate and do his job without being assaulted.  Oftentimes a pitcher will hit a player who has hit him well previously.  That is BS.  Imagine in football if in order to slow down the pass rush of the Dallas Cowboys, a Giant player hit DeMarcus Ware in the back of the leg with a 95 mile an hour fastball.  Yeah that will get him to think twice about rushing the passer without a care in the world.  It’s bush league.

It’s time to clean up pitchers hitting batters and batters charging the mound.

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