“That scrap between the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers on Tuesday night was all about baseball’s unwritten rules,” said Buster Olney on ESPN. Then Jayson Stark clarified: “The two teams involved clearly had two different copies of those unwritten rules.” In fact, it’s a case study in just how increasingly ridiculous these rules are, while underscoring just how dangerous their continued enforcement has become.
The battle isn’t over, either. It has continued by proxy in the press, as the team’s managers seek to exonerate themselves and their players while darkly casting blame at the opposing side. “If you really want to get technical about it,” Don Mattingly said, “in baseball terms, it really shouldn’t be over.”
Okay, so what happened? And what are the conflicting sets of unwritten rules? There are two branching sets of unwritten rules here, so I will attempt to annotate the course of events, with appropriate quotations from Jason Turbow, author of “The Baseball Codes,” who maintains a blog about baseball’s unwritten rules. Interpretation 1. is likely the one favored by the Diamondbacks, while 2. is likely the one favored by the Dodgers.
First, Zack Greinke hit Cody Ross. It appears to have been unintentional.
- A player got hit, so that obliges his team to protect that player by throwing at a player on the opposite team.
- Turbow: “Retaliation for an incidental drilling—especially one so incidental that it required umpire intervention to confirm that it even happened—is simply not necessary.”
Second, Ian Kennedy hit Yasiel Puig. It was clearly intentional: Puig got hit in the face and stayed on the ground for a couple of minutes, appearing dazed.
- Retaliation has been satisfied, so the teams are even.
- First of all, retaliation was unnecessary, but second, and even more importantly, Kennedy “ignored the tenet mandating that one never drill a batter intentionally above shoulder level.” This was egregious.
Third, Zack Greinke hit catcher Miguel Montero in the back.
- Greinke attempted to drill Montero on four straight pitches. That was seen by many players as just too much. “You get one shot,” Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler told Jayson Stark. It would have been fine had Greinke hit Montero with his first fastball, but throwing at him with the next three was egregious.
- Since Kennedy had put one of Greinke’s players on the ground and nearly taken him out of the game, Greinke responded by hitting the catcher in the back. Turbow writes, “Usually, when catchers are hit in a retaliatory fashion, it is because they called for the pitch that made the retaliation necessary in the first place.” So this might make the teams square. As Stark writes, “The Diamondbacks expected that” Greinke would try to hit a Diamondback that inning.
Fourth, Ian Kennedy hit Zack Greinke. The pitch essentially followed the same trajectory as the one that hit Puig, but Greinke was able to duck and throw up his shoulder at the last moment, so he didn’t get hit in the head.
- As Turbow writes, “Usually, benches clear when an aggrieved hitter—somebody who has just been hit or knocked down—takes issue with the pitcher.” So the Dodger bench would have followed Greinke’s lead, and would not have cleared unless he took a step toward the pitcher. Greinke didn’t take a step toward the pitcher, so it should have ended there.
- But the Dodgers had seen enough of Kennedy throwing at their teammates’ heads. Greinke remained at home plate, lightly restrained by catcher Miguel Montero, while the benches cleared around him.
There is something Talmudic in the intricacies of the disputed unwritten rules. But it’s relatively easy to untangle this particular Gordian knot: get rid of them. All of the the unwritten beanball rules are really, really stupid, and they should be out of baseball forever. Retaliatory beanballs often escalate the situation rather than resolving it, as teams often disagree on when they’ve been satisfied, “if you want to get really technical about it,” as Mattingly said.
All you have to do is remember a couple of months ago, when Zack Greinke hit Carlos Quentin — almost certainly unintentionally — and Quentin bum rushed the mound, broke Greinke’s collarbone, and put Zack on the DL for a month. As Mike Petriello writes at Mike Scoscia’s Tragic Illness, a Dodger blog:
We have Puig & Clayton Kershaw, basically the two most important men on this team right now, both potentially throwing punches. (Eric & Chad have your full wrap-up and GIF-fest already taken care of.) They’re risking suspension; worse, they’re risking injury.
Sure, it may have been fun to see some “heart” & “life”. No, no one wants their team to simply roll over and die, and like I said, Kennedy’s actions demanded a response. But for the small amount of respect that may have been earned, what’s left of an entire season — careers, maybe — got risked. The math simply doesn’t add up there, does it?
Ballplayers shouldn’t be permitted to do on a baseball field what could get them arrested if done on the street outside the ballpark. Throwing a baseball at someone at high speed with the intent to harm them is, at a minimum, assault and battery. It doesn’t matter if the person hit by the ball did something to anger the person who threw the ball, other than to provide a motive.
Moreover, it makes no sense for baseball to put their most expensive assets at risk. With utility guys making millions and superstars making hundreds of millions — all in guaranteed contracts — teams should be doing more to protect the health and safety of their players.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are turning into a version of the Hatfields and McCoys. Greinke became a part of a feud that’s been going on for two years, before he ever joined the team. “Two years ago, Gerardo Parra was drilled by Clayton Kershaw after Parra had — in Kershaw’s estimation — showed up Dodgers pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo,” writes Arizona Republic beat writer Nick Piecoro. “The next season, Kennedy attempted to drill Kershaw but twice missed with fastballs.”
Ian Kennedy also appears to have done everything he possibly could to escalate the situation. “Even more pertinent is the fact that he seems to enjoy this kind of thing,” writes Turbow. “Last year he led the National League with 14 hit batters, even with otherwise good control—he walked only 55 over more than 200 innings.”
Kennedy is sure to receive a long suspension from Major League Baseball, and the length of his suspension will send a message, whether it is long or short. As I have argued before, retaliation needs to stop. Baseball is no longer in the era of Classic F___ing Brawls. MLB has instituted a concussion DL, and people across all sports recognize that head injuries stay with players for a lifetime. There is no place in baseball for headhunting, or for long-standing feuds that fester into recurring violence. Kennedy should be banned for at least 15-20 games, so that teams will actively prevent their pitchers from retaliating by throwing at players on the opposing team. Retaliatory beanballs need to end. Immediately.
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