Don’t Hate Me Because I Plunked You
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Ozzie Guillen may not be the best manager in baseball (then again, he may be), but he’s certainly my favorite, if only because he’s honest.
Just look at the on-going drama between his White Sox and Rangers pitcher Vicente Padilla. Last month, after Padilla hit Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski twice in one game, Guillen ordered young pitcher Sean Tracey to hit Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock. When the rookie failed, Guillen yanked him out of the game and excoriated him so badly in the dugout that he was seen crying; the next day, Tracey was sent down to the minors.
Last Thursday, with a game against Padilla upcoming, Guillen said, straight out, that if Padilla hit one of his players he’d order retaliation. Sunday, when Padilla hit Alex Cintron, everyone in the park knew what was coming, and when Sox starter Jon Garland twice threw behind Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, prompting the dread umpire’s warning, Guillen went out to the mound, dressed down his man, and then bawled him out in the dugout in full view of the TV cameras. Monday, Guillen gave one of the quotes of the year when asked by reporters whether he thought he’d be suspended.
“I make it clear, I won’t wait for two months or until I see you in spring training or until I see you next year.When you get it done, you get something done right away. If it didn’t happen that day, we get over it and move on.”
This sort of thing is why Guillen is a good man.The world has had more than enough mealy-mouthed nonsense about pitches getting away from people, establishing the inside part of the plate, and whatnot. Everyone knows that there are times when managers order up the hit batsman. What reason is there not to be honest about it?
Besides not insulting anyone’s intelligence, Guillen’s willingness to be accountable for his actions has another benefit, which is that anyone with thoughts of throwing at White Sox hitters knows for a fact that Guillen will publicly and demonstratively order payback. If that makes them less likely to go headhunting, it’s a good thing.
More generally, baseball could use a lot more hit batsmen. Talk about how pitchers were real men in the old days is a lot of rubbish — Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson were as exceptional in their time as Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens are in theirs — but the truth is that baseball’s well-intentioned attempts to cut down on beanballs haven’t been good for the game.
Many credit (or blame) Frank Robinson for the change; as a player he was one of the all-time leaders in being hit by pitches, largely due to his habit of standing on the plate, and it put a real hatred of the beanball in him. As a Major League Baseball executive in charge of discipline, he instated the warning policy you now see, where umpires, after a batter is hit, frequently issue warnings to both sides and then eject any pitcher who hits another batter, even if he clearly did so with no intent.
I don’t think Robinson had all that much to do with what’s more of an evolutionary change — as players have become more highly paid and thus more valuable, it’s natural that the game would tend toward keeping them safe and healthy.This is a factor behind the warning policy, heavy suspensions for throwing at hitters, and allowing hitters to wear armor to the plate.
The complaints over armor are absurd. I invite anyone who thinks otherwise to go to Chelsea Piers, step in the high-speed batting cage, take one in the elbow, and then tell me they don’t think hitters should be allowed to wear lightweight plastic guards. But in concert with other policies and with the general refusal of umpires to enforce the regulation batter’s box, armor has contributed a great deal to the offensive explosion that is now more than a decade old and long ago grew tiresome.
The reason for this is pretty simple. Batters rub out the inside line of the batter’s box and stand on top of the plate; it allows them full extension over the outer half of the plate, and thus allows for much more opposite field power than the game has ever seen.You see pitchers hitting opposite field home runs from time to time these days; in ye olden days, only the likes of Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson could do that with any regularity. The time-tested method pitchers used to get hitters off the plate was the ball in the ribs — with umpire warnings and armor, that’s been, to some extent, taken from them, thus changing the balance of the game within the game between hitter and pitcher.
This, far more than macho bluster, is at the heart of declarations like Guillen’s. Managers don’t worry about headhunting — precious little of that goes on outside bizarre personal spats like the one between Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel and Colorado reliever Jose Mesa, who’s been throwing at his former teammate every time he comes up against him for a couple of years because of insults levied his way in Vizquel’s autobiography.
It’s hard to hit a batter, and pitchers who do it get a bad reputation with their own teammates, who often pay for their machismo. (Not quite as big a deal if you’re a Hall of Famer like Clemens, Martinez, or Greg Maddux, of course, or a stud like Carlos Zambrano.) Outright headhunting just isn’t a big part of the game.
What managers worry about is the ability of their hitters to crowd the plate. When Guillen promises retaliation, he’s promising not vengeance to his hitters, but protection of their ability to cover the outer part of the plate and thus put up the power numbers that win games. There’s nothing wrong with him doing it, and if people don’t like it, they can lobby baseball to move the batter’s box a few inches off the plate and to start enforcing the rule that says hitters have to stay inside of it while batting. Otherwise you’re going to have hitters getting plunked whenever a pitcher tries to move them off the plate, other pitchers getting ordered to administer payback, and managers looking like violent blowhards in the papers. It may just be me, but simply enforcing the rules would probably be the best course of all.