Nothing is perfect, even sports, and baseball is no exception. Each sport has its flaws, and many believe that the MLB’s most significant flaw is an increase in strikeouts which has led to a lack of balls in play. This, in turn, has taken a lot of exciting action out of the game. The evolution of baseball due to sabermetrics has angered old-school thinkers.
However, that is not the MLB’s biggest flaw. Baseball’s dark side was once again on full display yesterday in a game between the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins:
Benches clear in Marlins-Braves after José Ureña hits Ronald Acuña Jr. in 1st inning.
Acuña Jr. (5 straight games with HR, 3 straight with leadoff HR) exits in 2nd inning. pic.twitter.com/V2aSu97YEX
— MLB (@MLB) August 16, 2018
This is more than just a standard hit by pitch; it’s an instance of a player “policing the game” due to so-called “unwritten rules.” These “unwritten rules” played a large a factor in Jose Ureña of the Marlins getting angry at Ronald Acuna Jr. for being on fire at the plate. The 20-year-old Acuna had eight home runs in eight games at the time, including three straight games with a leadoff home run.
Essentially, Ureña was mad that Acuna was so playing so well and beating up on the Marlins, so Ureña took things into his own hands and hit Acuna square in the elbow. Acuna ended up having to leave the game in the 2nd inning. Players “policing the game themselves” has always been part of baseball culture, and it is something that needs to stop.
These are the same unwritten MLB rules that don’t allow players, primarily hitters, to show emotion or flair. If players do show emotion, it’s seen as ‘showing up’ the pitcher and will usually result in retaliation.
Here is Mets’ broadcaster Keith Hernandez on his take of the Ronald Acuna situation, per The New York Post:
“They’re killing you. You lost three games. He’s hit three home runs. You got to hit him,” said Hernandez, speaking to his broadcast colleague Wayne Randazzo. “I’m sorry, people aren’t going to like that. You know, you got to hit him, knock him down. I mean, seriously knock him down if you don’t hit him. You never throw at anybody’s head or neck.
“You hit him in the back. You hit him in the fanny.”
What Hernandez said is wrong, but that’s just the way he grew up playing. Hernandez has to realize that when he played, pitchers weren’t throwing 95+ mph with ease and touching triple-digits as they do now. Fastballs were a lot softer back then, but again, that doesn’t justify hitting batters.
Hernandez’s logic is, essentially, that players need to be punished for having fun.
To the credit of the Atlanta Braves, the team did not retaliate. Whether or not the team will retaliate in the future remains to be seen. However, it was refreshing to see the team choose not to repay the favor on a Marlins hitter who did nothing wrong.
It’s fair to say that players are bad at “policing the game” themselves because self-policing always leads to players being hit by pitches. For example, last season, San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland hit the Nationals’ Bryce Harper even though Harper did nothing at all. Nothing. Harper hit two home runs off him in the 2014 playoffs and Strickland took exception to that.
Last year, there was a feud between the Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox. More specifically, Manny Machado vs. the Red Sox. Machado had a slide at second base which spiked Dustin Pedroia. It was most likely unintentional, and Pedroia echoed that sentiment.
Two games later, whenever Machado was up at the plate, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez threw in on him a few times without hitting him. But finally, in the 8th inning, Boston reliever Matt Barnes threw behind his head. That’s a no-no. It was clearly intentional. Barnes stated he was trying to throw up and in to induce weak contact, but his catcher was set up down and away.
During the first game following this incident, Orioles starter Dylan Bundy threw in a couple of time against the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and eventually hit him. Intentional or unintentional, nothing happened later in the game, other than Machado admiring a home run. During the next game, however, established MLB ace Chris Sale needlessly continued the feud by throwing at Machado again– this time between his legs.
At another point during this season, Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly drilled Yankees infielder Tyler Austin late in the game after Kelly felt that Austin had cheap-shotted his teammate Brock Holt by spiking him on a slide earlier in the game.
Often, fights will escalate into something much worse. For example, the Pittsburg Pirates vs. Diamondbacks feud dates back to 2014. It feels as though during every game they play, batters are hit left and right.
This also has to do with “playing the game the right way” or “protecting your teammates” which sounds crazy, because throwing 95+ at a guy has nothing to do with “protecting your teammate.” At that point, players are endangering other people’s lives.
Pitchers act like they are tough guys, but in reality, they are taking advantage of defenseless players. There’s nothing macho about throwing at a player who can’t do anything about it. Batters aren’t allowed to even the playing field, and if they rush the mound, they are suspended multiple games. The pitcher, on the other hand, will probably only miss one appearance.
However, that’s simply an example of the culture which the MLB developed from way back in the day. It’s a dark cloud that hangs over the sport. Tradition and “toughness” are prioritized over health and logic, and that needs to change. There are better ways to deal with anger that do not involve injuring another player.
Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison