It’s Time to End Beanball, Once and for All

Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki engaged in a war of words over the winter. When the former teammates met on a baseball field in the last week of spring training, the war of words escalated. Jimenez pitched inside to Tulowitzki, hitting him on the elbow with a 90+ miles per hour fastball. Tulowitzki charged the mound. Jimenez came forward to challenge him. Benches cleared. When order was restored, Jimenez was on the mound and Tulowitzki was at the hospital getting x-rays. The umpires made no ejections and issued no warnings.

After the game, Rockies manager Jim Tracy called Jimenez “gutless.” ¬†Jimenez said he did not intend to hit Tulowitzki. The Commissioner’s Office apparently disagreed, overruled the umpires and suspended Jimenez for five games, the equivalent of one start.

Change the names of the players. Change the teams involved. Change the circumstances leading to the beaning. It’s all about retaliation, a ritual as enmeshed in the fabric of baseball as stealing signs and never bunting to break up a no-hit bid. The Baseball Codes: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime, as baseball writer Jason Turbow called them in his best-selling book and on his on-going blog.

There’s a big difference, of course, between stealing signs and intentionally hurling a baseball more than 90 miles per hour at a player standing 60 feet, 6 inches away. The former may give the sign-stealing team an advantage in a game. The latter may seriously injure the batter, cutting short his season or his career. The danger is real and the practice needs to stop.

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.

Other professional sports are slowly moving in that direction.

The NBA in the 1970s was a fighting sport, with players often throwing punches at each other on the court. The most famous punch, of course, was by Kermit Washington on Rudy Tomjanovich, causing Tomjanovich massive face and head injuries. But it took the NBA more than ten years to take serious measures against fighting.

The league¬†instituted new rules in the 1990s prohibiting flagrant fouls and establishing a scaled system of punishment. A flagrant-1 foul is “unnecessary contact by a player against an opponent.” A flagrant-2 foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact.” Two flagrant-1 fouls in a game results in the player’s ejection. A player also accumulates points for each flagrant foul: one point for a flagrant-1; two points for a flagrant-2. A player with four or more points who commits a flagrant-2 foul is automatically suspended for two games. As of 2010, only one player had been suspended during the regular season for too many flagrant fouls. Noting that fights and flagrant fouls are way down, the NBA says the rules work as a deterrent.

Football, the ultimate contact sport, also has taken steps in recent years to protect players from the most damaging hits. Before 2010, the NFL usually just fined players for “devastating hits” and “head shots.” As the frequency of the hits and the severity of the resulting injuries increased, the NFL started suspending players for one, sometimes two, games. In a sixteen-game season, two games is 12.5 percent of the schedule.

Professional hockey’s been the slowest to change, as fighting is an integral part of the game in North America. But things are beginning to change at the amateur level, as concussions, and our understanding of them, have significantly increased. USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, which oversee minor hockey leagues throughout North America, are considering an outright ban on fighting in order to protect the health and safety of their young players. If the ban takes shape, and how the NHL reacts to it, remains to be seen.

On a day when Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for making allegedly inappropriate comments about Cuban leader Fidel Castro, I look back with some irony at Guillen’s behavior that, in my view, was much more damaging to baseball. In 2006, when Guillen was managing the White Sox, he banished a young pitcher to the minor leagues because he failed to properly retaliate after Texas Rangers’ pitchers twice plunked Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “I don’t want to any of our hitters to get hurt, and I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Guillen told reporters after the game. The first part was undoubtedly true; the second part most certainly was not.

Yes, pitching up and in has always been part of baseball and it would be impossible, if not unwise, to try to outlaw it. But purposeful retaliation, which has the effect if not the intent, of seriously harming the batter, has no place in the game. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to separate purposeful retaliation from unintentional inside pitching or a pitch that just got away. But that’s not a reason to do nothing, while the health and safety of players remains at risk.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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But
Guest
But

An intentionally hit batter is meant to be caused a bruise, not broken bones, or reconstructive facial surgery.

Way in will always be a part of baseball.

WilJ
Guest
WilJ

It doesn’t really matter what the intent is of the pitch, the point is that while many times a “bruise” may be the end result, some times it’s not. It’s more severe or damaging. A guy may not want to hurt a guy even if he is intentionally hitting him with a ball but a guy who throws a ball 90+ MPH isn’t all of a sudden going to throw a duck up to the plate to plunk a guy. No he’s going to hit him in the ribs with a FB.

I am curious about something though. If we were to take an instance where it’s generally accepted that a pitcher was trying to hit a guy (Like Big Z did last year when trying to plunk Chipper) say he had hit Chipper and then Chipper decided to press chargers. I’m sure the police would have to start an investigation and if legal charges mounted from an intentional beaning, I wonder if that would serve as enough of a deterrent to prevent further incidents.

BDF
Guest
BDF

Not a lawyer, but I think there’s a legal principle called “assumption of risk” whereby knowingly and willingly entering into a practice in which otherwise illegal activities take place pre-empts legal liability. Boxing, for example.

NS
Guest
NS

Intent actually seems to be the principal issue here – which is the entire problem with the “ban beanballs” position in the first place.

Steve Balboni
Member
Member

” Throwing a baseball at someone at high speed with the intent to harm them is, at a minimum, assault and battery.”

It’s not, you have to hit the guy for battery to occur. I’m not sure you could even claim “attempted” A&B on guys like Marmol, especially if he confesses to aiming at the batter.

TK
Guest
TK

There is actually a semi-famous tort case where a football player was found liable for giving a guy a cheap shop completely outside the scope of the game. I think is is called going “outside the boundaries of the game.” To me, an intentional beanball fits this just as hitting someone in the head with a hockey stick does. Boxers assume the risk while the match is going on, but the guy that gave the guy a cheapshot after the match was over was arrested. Playing a sport does not open a person up to any harm that might come his way.

Bill
Guest
Bill

If Jimenez had come out and said that he did this deliberately, Tulo might have had a case. It is beyond the “assumption of risk” if the beanball is thrown deliberately. This is all but impossible to prove however, unless the pitcher confesses. A boxer assumes he will get punched in the ring, but if his opponent kicks him in the head when he’s on the ground, the boxer could press charges.

Cliff
Guest
Cliff

Assumption of risk applies to negligence only, not to intentional torts. You cannot “assume the risk” of someone battering you. You can’t even willingly consent to it!

djw
Guest

Probably true of a many cases of simple assault, but not much of a defense.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC

People need to man up. It’s part of the game. Obviously, nobody wants another Tony Conigliaro or Ray Chapman, but you have to understand that if you’re doing something physically demanding for a living, there’s a risk you’re going to get injured. Beanings have been part of the game since the beginning of the game. It’s no different from a boxer pressing charges because somebody hit him below the belt — yeah, it’s against the rules, but it happens all the time and you have to deal with it.

HuskerDru
Member
HuskerDru

Gambling was once an integral part of the game, too, and was from the beginning…but we saw that was stupid and (largely) stopped it. You employ the same logic on defense of beaning – it’s always been part of the game.

YanksFanInBeantown
Guest
YanksFanInBeantown

@Husker
Beaning someone doesn’t compromise the integrity of the game to anywhere near the extent that gambling did, if it does at all. Beanballs and gambling are simply not comparable in terms of their effect on the game.

shibboleth
Guest
shibboleth

You’re right, dying by way of a cerebral hemorrhage is a manly way of dealing with it this particular part of the game.

patk
Guest
patk

I hate when people that have never played the game decide(from the outside) that it needs to changed. =lame

that being said- “Beaning” someone is hitting them in the head(Bean). The incorrect use of that term is one of my biggest pet peeves.

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