On August 15th, 2018, the Atlanta Braves squared off against the Miami Marlins in The ATL. At that point in time, Ronald Acuna Jr. was undoubtedly the hottest player in baseball, doing things that even the biggest names of the sport, both past and present, have never done before. He hit a home run in five straight games, and eight in as many contests. He had led off three consecutive games with a bomb, becoming the first player to do so in the new millenium. He was the youngest player to hit both three straight leadoff home runs as well as five in five games, and was only the fourth leadoff hitter to homer in five straight games in the Live Ball Era. That’s 100 years. To put it simply, he was on his game.
The opposing pitcher however, not so much. Jose Urena, the theoretical ace of the Marlins’ staff (I use the term “ace” EXTREMELY loosely) hasn’t been stellar this season. Nor has he been any season of his aggressively mediocre career. So, when the two squared off in the first at bat of the game on August 15th, the likely outcome was relatively one sided. A struggling pitcher who has never been better than below average vs a batter who was on an unparalleled tear: advantage Acuna. Instead of trying to do his job, he tried to “send a message.” Instead of stepping up to the challenge, using this as an opportunity to grow and elevate his game, Urena decided it was a better idea to be a coward. With the first pitch of the game, he reared back and launched the ball as hard as he could, 97 MPH to be exact, at Ronald Acuna Jr.’s wrist and elbow area. You know what they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, hurt ‘em.”
But wait, there’s more. Urena’s cowardice didn’t stop there. While Acuna was on the ground, writhing in pain from Urena’s malicious attack, Urena was staring him down, hollering at him and taunting like he was some hot shot who just did something cool. Something worth being proud of. The benches eventually cleared, Acuna’s veteran teammates defending the rookie, and all of a sudden the tough guy wasn’t so tough anymore. After weakly chirping a few more things at Acuna and Co. he backed away from any of the actual physical confrontation that was developing right in front of him. He’s like a keyboard warrior, a fake tough guy safe and secure with a screen and a fake online alias between him and whoever he’s virtually attacking. Nobody can get to him there, and he can do all he wants with no consequence. When he has the weapon, a 97 MPH fastball, and Acuna can’t retaliate without being ejected, he can flex and taunt all he wants. But, as soon as Acuna’s entourage came in support, Urena ran away like a scared little child. Eventually that all died down and the result was Acuna on first and Urena out of the game after just one pitch. Stellar outing Jose. Let me ask you, was proving whatever point you set out to prove really worth it?
Now let me ask you, Rob Manfred and the rest of the MLB powers that be, is putting your best players in danger really worth “sustaining the tradition of the game?” That’s why this outdated practice still exists. Baseball traditionalists don’t want to rid of an aspect of the game that has been ever present since the Doubleday Days. (Try saying that ten times fast) Intentionally hitting batters is part of the game that life long baseball fans know and love, and it’s one of the very few “old school” aspects of sports that are still left from their childhood. No more helmet to helmet hits in football. No more hand-checking in basketball. The list can go on and on.
That being said, Rob Manfred and the rest of the MLB powers that be, I do give you guys credit for being probably the most proactive sports league when it comes to creating and enforcing policy with regards to both your players and fans. You are clearly worried about substance, but more importantly safety, over style even in a time when your league is criticized for being boring to watch. Home plate collisions were widely considered one of the most exciting parts of the game, but after Buster Posey broke his leg and lost about a season’s worth of action, you added a new rule to try to make sure that happens to nobody else again. After Chase Utley chop blocked Ruben Tejada which led to his broken leg in game two of the 2015 NLDS (yes I am a salty Mets fan), you guys changed the rule on sliding to take out infielders. Recently, within the last few seasons, you have put nets up in the areas around home plates in order to protect fans from getting hit with line drive foul balls. I know fans complained about their view being obstructed, but you understood that their safety was paramount. You even tested out padded hats for the pitchers after a few of them got drilled in the head by come backers. And, they were hideous. It almost looked like a skit from Saturday Night Live. It looked like it belonged on the head of Megamind, or Jimmy Neutron, or Stewie Griffin, or Joe Buck, or maybe even Peyton Manning. Even though it looked like the pitcher had a floatie around his head, it was for their safety so I respect and applaud the decision.
All of this just makes it even more baffling to me that a league that is so much more progressive than its peers continues to allow this inadmissible aspect of the game. Throwing a projectile close to 100 MPH with mal intent, purposely seeking to inflict pain on someone else may be called “Intentional HBP” on the baseball diamond, but it’s called something else in the outside world. Assault with a deadly weapon. “Assault” is legally defined as: An action with intent to cause physical harm. Intentionally hitting batters fits this criteria 100%. While the goal may be to “send a message,” that message is sent by inflicting pain on the guy at bat. It is frequent that players who get hit by pitches break or fracture bones, as well as get serious and lasting damage to their head, face, and other surrounding areas. A “deadly weapon” is defined as: Any instrument, device, or thing capable of inflicting death or serious harm. We see baseballs inflict serious harm onto both batters and fielders multiple times a season, many times too many, and death isn’t out of the picture either. Sadly, Ray Chapman learned this the hard way. On August 16th, 1920, Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees’ submariner Carl Mays. He died 12 hours later. MLB players, along with baseball players around the world, have been wearing helmets ever since. It is proven in history that if someone throws a baseball the wrong way, it can lead to a fatality. The way the MLB stands today, assault with a deadly weapon, which is often considered a felony, occurs dozens of times a season and is met with no legal action and very little punishment from MLB execs.
Now, less on why it’s bad and more on how to stop it from happening again. The solution is really simple. Make a ridiculously long suspension for it. Unpaid. That should serve as enough of a deterint. While veterans love to do things to “assert their authority” and young up and comers love to “make a name for themselves” by doing outlandish things like throwing at someone’s head, I can assure you they each love their paychecks even more. Young guys can make a name for themselves the right way, let their games do the talking, and older players can find a more productive way to “welcome them to the show.” I propose, first time offenders get 25 games, totalling to five starts, repeat offenders get 50, or ten starts, and the third time’s the charm. That’s a whole season gone.
I also understand that at times it is hard to tell whether or not it is intentional or an accident. There definitely will be some circumstances where the situation is difficult to decipher, but that’s still the case now. The only difference is a smaller suspension given out, such as Urena’s of six games. Just as with legal action, there is often probable cause, and it’s easy to figure out intent. Who is on base? What’s the score? Is there history between the players? A committee of knowledgeable baseball minds should have no issues in the rare case of a conundrum.
I know these are steep punishments, but this needs to stop. It is not ok for this to continue. Baseball players should not need to risk their bodies, the tool of their trade, or in some instances their lives because they are good at their job or break some stupid unwritten rule of the game. Fights have broken out and players have gotten hit for the stupidest reasons. You look at a homerun too long, take too long to run the bases, lay your bat down too close to the catcher, bunt at the wrong time, fake apply a tag… The list goes on and on. There is so much you legally can do but apparently can’t do in baseball it’s absurd. You don’t need a ball thrown at your head for the aforementioned reasons. Some players just need to buckle down and grow up. And with regards to getting hit for being good, that’s even more ridiculous in my opinion. Pick up this situation and move it to a different setting and a different profession. Say, two layers in a court of law. What if every time Lawyer A beat Lawyer B in a discussion, Lawyer B went over to hit him over the head with a gavel or stab him with an ink pen. That sounds outlandish right? That sounds illegal right? Well that’s because it is and it is. It’s the same situation, the same thought behind it, just in a different context. One professional is outmatched by the other and uses what their job requires them to have around them to retaliate because of it. Just because one is meant to throw a baseball, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
Sports are supposed to be fun. Enjoyable. Build friendships and team comradery. But also, you play to win. Intentionally hitting batters does none of the above. By the definition of the written law, it seems to in fact be illegal, and has no part in the Great American Pastime. So, Rob Manfred and the rest of the MLB powers that be, I ask you one last time, please help! Increase the suspensions for the players, and dock their pay while you are at it. I promise, if you take both their paychecks and ability to be on the field, these unwritten rules and their false sense of over the top and egotistical pride will magically become much less important.