Over the past few weeks, the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, intra-division rivals from the notoriously friendly American Northeast, have been tidally locked in an impressive back-and-forth display of brainless, aggressive chest-thumping. Initially, this whole incident started when Orioles third baseman Manny Machado nicked Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s calf on a slide into second base.
A quick look at the video reveals that Machado made a perfectly normal slide into the bag—it wasn’t a great slide, as his momentum carried him past the bag a bit, but it didn’t look to be an intentionally dirty slide. The slide was on the mark and started from a reasonable distance from the bad. His leg just bumped around as he slid through, and his spikes poked Pedroia in the calf. After a lengthy replay review, the umpires decided that Machado’s slide was perfectly legal—meaning that Mark Trumbo, whose ground ball to short started the whole catastrophe, was safe at first rather than being called out per the new double-play slide rule.
The Red Sox took umbrage at Machado, and promptly threw at his head the next day by Matt Barnes, who was suspended by a few games. It escalated, as Chris Sale threw behind Machado during the next series, and then poor Kevin Gausman was tossed out of a later game by the ump after losing the handle on a 70-something MPH backdoor curveball and hitting Xander Boegarts in the butt.
If this sounds familiar to Kansas City Royals fans, that’s because it is. In 2015, Oakland Athletics Professional Frat Boy, Brett Lawrie, was sprinting to second to avoid a double play. He slid into Alcides Escobar, and benches quickly cleared.
The best angle you get in this video is from 0:39 to 0:45 or so; from that, the only reasonable conclusions were that Lawrie’s slide was either a hideously embarrassing example of a slide from a professional baseball player or a dirty one, considering the rule change.
Like the Baltimore/Boston incident, this escalated weirdly and quickly, with Lawrie unsuccessfully texting Escobar his apology, and then Yordano Ventura plunking Lawrie down 5-0 to Oakland in a snoozefest, and then Kelvin Herrera lobbing a 100-MPH fastball at Lawrie’s head in a different game (Ventura and Herrera were ejected and suspended).
Nobody in any of these incidents missed more than a few games, and there were only minor injuries. But in baseball, that’s not always the case.
In September 2014, the Milwaukee Brewers were playing the Miami Marlins, up 4-0 in the fifth inning with runners at the corners, two outs, and one very terrifying Giancarlo Stanton at the plate. Mike Fiers threw Stanton an 0-1 fastball that was to be a pitch on the inside corner of the plate. Fiers missed. He missed badly.
An 88-MPH baseball whizzed under Stanton’s helmet and crashed into his face. Stanton toppled to the dirt like a downed giant. The baseball broke multiple bones in his face, with multiple lacerations as well as dental damage. Stanton looked like this.
Royals fans should also be familiar with this. In 2014, newly signed second baseman Omar Infante came up to bat against Heath Bell in the late innings of a low-stress April game. Bell clocked Infante with a two-seam fastball that slipped away. Infante twisted out of the way of the pitch once he realized it was coming, but it still struck clean against his jaw.
You can watch the video below, although you might want to skip it. TV microphones picked up the sharp crack the moment the ball made contact with Infante’s jaw.
In shock, Infante stumbled with his hands on his head in the vague direction of first base before collapsing to the ground in pain, as Royals Head Athletic Trainer Nick Kenney supplied a much-needed towel to soak up blood.
Somehow scarier still are the situations in which a batter’s hit ball impacts a pitcher in the head. Eric Hosmer’s screaming liner back to Alex Cobb is one such chilling sight, Cobb immediately crumpling to the ground unmoving as Hosmer and the stadium look on in horror.
When Machado spoke to the Baltimore Sun about the whole Pedroia/Red Sox/throwing foofaraw, he succinctly discussed something very important:
Pitchers out there with fucking balls in their hands, throwing 100 mph trying to hit people. And I’ve fucking got a bat too. I could go out there and crush somebody if I wanted to. But you know what, I’d get suspended for a year and the pitcher only gets suspended for two games. That’s not cool.
Machado is leaning on the ridiculousness and inconsistency of the unwritten rules of baseball, and he’s right on that. But he’s touched on something that should be abundantly clear by now if you’ve read and watched the videos above: hitting someone with a pitch, even accidentally, is extraordinarily dangerous.
The problem lies not really with Major League Baseball itself. Rightfully, it suspends those who intentionally throw at other players, though as Machado suggests the league could do better with harsher punishments. Rather, the problem lies with the unwritten rules, the thing that causes players to throw at each other in the first place.
Throwing a baseball, a thing which can wield an awful amount of destruction when flung by human trebuchets at almost 100 MPH, intentionally at another human being should never be done. Full stop. Purposefully doing so to ‘police the game’ or whatever is nothing but dangerous, infantile idiocy brought on by nothing but raging testosterone and insecurity. It should have no place in the game of baseball.
There are those who will argue for its inclusion under the veneer of historical purity or player empowerment, both of those claims easily debunked if you think with your brain and not your penis for just a few seconds. Considering the real dangers and real injuries of those hit by pitches, that’s probably a good move. The only other argument for hitting baseball players on purpose comes from a toddler-like instinct to inflict pain on others when we feel angry, and that is no way to act in a civilized society. Still, that won’t stop some from trying.