Posted Saturday, October 20, 2007
I know we all hate Roger Clemens, for whatever reasons. There are plenty of good ones, plenty of bad ones, which, hell, are good ones, too, probably, and just plenty of reasons, period, to dislike Clemens. Especially after this year, and his sub-par multi-million dollar performances for our cross-town rivals. But I digress.....
But for all the dislike and hard feelings towards ol’ Rog, here’s one thing I think Met pitchers could possibly consider adopting about his game, and it’s very simply this: how to knock down an opposing batter after one of yours has been intimidated, thrown at, hit and/or maimed by the opposing pitcher. You and I know this as the old “beanball” – call it what you will, the knockdown, the intimidation, the retaliation pitch. The ol’ “chin music.” The “high hard one.” Remember that one? Yeah, it’s kind of like remembering the Alomar *snicker,* only better, and more productive……….!!!!!!
Well for those of us that may have forgotten (and I mean YOU, Mets pitching staff!), see: one night this past year, against the Blue Jays. What probably started innocently enough a couple of months before with Alex Rodriguez’s now famous “ha!” when nearing third base, thus distracting the Blue Jays’ infielders, was continued on this particular evening, when Blue Jay pitcher Josh Towers hit A-Rod in the left leg in the third inning. Things got a little heated; something A-Rod said was bleeped out; the Blue Jays’ Matt Stairs had to be physically restrained from going after A-Rod, and umpire Angel Hernandez issued a warning… but enter Roger Clemens, in the seventh inning.
With the game well in hand, Clemens promptly smashed a very fast fastball into the back of one Alex Rios, Blue Jay. Of course, he and Joe Torre were promptly ejected because the warning had been issued, but you know what? Score one for Roger Clemens, Joe Torre and the Yankees.
I know, as Mets fans, such a thing is probably something you’ve only heard about, something you vaguely might recall if you were around, like I was, for the 1986 Mets season. I can’t recall the last time a Met pitcher actually threw such a pitch, and perhaps the reason is that they simply don’t know what it is!
Going on that assumption, let’s educate them, shall we?
The “beanball,” retaliation pitch, “chin music,” “high hard one” or “knockdown” pitch, is a phenomenon that is as old as baseball itself, and these pitches have been part of baseball tradition for as long as baseball, and tradition, have been around.
So what’s the history of the “beanball,” and its purpose?
I’m glad you asked. A little research has shown that pitchers throwing at hitters for the purpose of either intimidating them or just plain plunking them has been around since at least the turn of the 20th century, according to “An Unofficial History of The Beanball,” by Dan Holmes.
Holmes, in his article, talks about a few of the more famous beanball incidents, and here are a few of those.
One of the first well-known victims of the “beanball” was one Frank Chance. Remember “Tinkers to Evers to Chance?” Yeah, THAT Frank Chance. Apparently, he had a habit of freezing up upon delivery of the inside pitch, and was hit so many times during his career that his vision and speech were affected.
And how about Ty Cobb, who was so highly insulted at an inside pitch in an exhibition game between Detroit and the Giants in 1916 that he dug his spikes into Giants’ infielder Buck Herzog, causing a huge brawl under the stands which continued in Ty Cobb’s room later that evening, and nobody really knows who won the fight, to this day.
And, tragically, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, who was hit in the head by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays on August 16, 1920. After being hit by the pitch, and having gotten up, and having been cheered by the Polo Grounds’ crowd, he collapsed near second base and died twelve hours later.
And then there were the 1929 Chicago Cubs, who had three guys who were notorious for the “intimidation” pitch – Guy Bush, Pat Malone, and Charlie Root. They were so notoriously infamous for intimidating opposing batters, the Cubs’ bench slogan was “flatten them!”
Mickey Cochrane, later of the Tigers, had his skull fractured in a game in the late 1930s, and after three weeks in the hospital, he never played another major league game.
Then there was Burleigh Grimes, who loved nothing more than the sight of a batter riding the dirt at home plate, as a direct result of one of his pitches.
Then there were Bobo Newsom, Schoolboy Rowe, Hugh Casey, Jack Hallett, Johnny Sain, and Allie Reynolds. All of these gentlemen were known to believe that the “beanball,” or brushback pitch, was as important a tool as any in the pitcher’s arsenal of tricks.
And the 1960s, which were probably the greatest and most prolific years of the beanball. Maybe the worst beanball war of that era took place on August 22, 1965 between the Giants’ Juan Marichal and the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax. Remember them? Anyway, we all know that the Giants and Dodgers were long-time bitter rivals, going back to the days when they were both New York National League teams. On that particular date, they were neck and neck in a tight pennant race. Marichal started the ruckus by knocking down a couple of Dodgers in the third inning (what is it about third innings and beanballs???), and when Marichal came up against Koufax (who wasn’t one of the identified headhunting crew), Dodgers’ catcher Johnny Roseboro’s throw back to Koufax was only slightly askew of Marichal’s ear, which set the whole thing off. Somebody said something to somebody else, somebody swung his bat at the catcher, both dugouts emptied, and about a 15-minute brawl ensued.
Roseboro ended up with a bunch of stitches and other assorted injuries, and later SUED Marichal, winning a fairly nominal sum of money. But he did win his case, surprisingly enough.
Maybe the funniest guy is Stan “Big Daddy” Williams, who pitched for the Dodgers, Indians, Yankees and Twins and couple of other teams in the late 1950s to early 1970s. When he was with the Dodgers, he had a clause in his contract that he’d get a bonus if he cut down on the number of walks he gave up. Well, his take on the whole thing and how to accomplish this was to simply hit the batter if the count was, say, 3-0, rather than be charged with a walk.
One time, when ordered by Walt Alston to walk Hank Aaron intentionally, Williams hit Hank in the helmet rather than put his bonus in jeopardy, no matter how slightly one walk might have contributed to that. Talk about the love of money, huh?
I guess it was inevitable that the tide would turn somewhat, when in the 1970s, the batters seem to have had quite enough of being thrown at, thank you! And of course, in 1973, the AL adopted the designated hitter rule, which had a major impact on the beanball, and surprisingly enough, incidences of the beanball have actually decreased in both leagues, despite the fact that pitchers in the AL would no longer have to worry about suffering retaliation at the hands of the opposing pitcher.
Still, there were some pretty notable beanball incidents even after the adoption of the DH, some in the AL, and some in the NL, which of course, still required the pitcher to actually hit, you know, like a regular player. There was a 1973 incident involving Bill Lee of the Red Sox and Ellie Rodriguez of the Brewers, who had a history with each other; a 1976 incident between the Cubs and Giants; and a notable 1976 Reggie Jackson incident against Dock Ellis, which Jackson later recounted was one of the scariest things that ever happened to him in baseball.
Then there was Bruce Kison, who in 1977 had a little beanball fun at the expense of one Mike Schmidt, and broke one of Schmidt’s fingers. He also directed his beanball wrath at various times at Greg Luzinski and Buddy Bell, for two.
And Mike Jorgenson of the Texas Rangers could have been another Ray Chapman when in 1979, he was plunked in the head by Red Sox pitcher Andy Hassler. After suffering headaches, it was discovered he had a small blood clot inside his head, which apparently caused a seizure, and could have resulted in his early demise.
Well, I guess a lot of people thought so, because during the 1980s and 1990s, the general consensus about the negativity of beaning continued to gain momentum. But of course, as generally happens with these things, some felt that the umpires and baseball had gone too far, and had made it too easy for the hitters, and had taken away the pitcher’s ability to pitch inside, a powerful weapon indeed.
And again, the batters retaliated. In 1987, Andrew Dawson received 24 stitches on his face when hit by a pitch by Padres’ pitcher Eric Show. In 1991, Steinback charged the mound after being grazed by Bobby Thigpen; in 1993, Robin Ventura charged Nolan Ryan after being hit by one of Ryan’s famous fastballs , but Ryan proved to be a little tougher than Robin thought, punching Ventura in the head, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “rocking Robin.” Kirby Puckett was hit by a pitch in 1995, sustaining a broken jaw and a burst artery in his mouth.
And how about this for a stellar roster of headhunters? Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Perry, Bruce Kison, Doc Ellis, Jon Matlack, Nolan Ryan, Joaquin Andujar, Dave Stewart, Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez, to name a few. Some of the most successful and prolific pitchers of all time, and lots of Hall of Famers.
And one Roger Clemens, maybe the most modern day well known “beanballer.” Future first ballot Hall of Famer.
When I was a kid, and first getting into baseball, I remember hearing some of these stories, stories about Early Winn, or Sal Maglie, or countless others both mentioned above and not, and I remember seeing for myself Bob Gibson, and our own Tom Seaver, “take care of business,” so to speak. I remember hearing stories about managers (Leo Durocher, Walt Alston, in particular) ordering pitchers to knock down opposing hitters. I saw some of our 1986 Met pitchers show their disdain for the attempted intimidation of their team’s batters by opposing pitchers (as if anybody could intimidate any one of the 1986 Mets *snort*) by knocking the other team’s star player’s, uh, butt in the dirt! Because, hey, you gotta protect your guys, right?
And we saw Roger Clemens do it to Mike Piazza on several painfully memorable occasions. Too bad some of our current pitchers weren’t around then; perhaps then they’d know what such a pitch is, and how it is executed and delivered.
Because I’m tired of watching teams like, say, the Phillies, throw beanball after high-hard-one after chin music after inside pitch at our hitters, with the perpetrators and their teammates seemingly suffering little or no consequence.
In other words, getting away pretty much scot free.
Nobody, least of all me, is advocating throwing at a guy’s head, or throwing at a batter with intent to do serious bodily harm, as some of the incidents we’ve seen above. But these are definitely the times I long for our own Early Winn, or Sal Maglie, or the return of our very own Tom Seaver, or John Matlack, or Pedro Martinez, guys who knew how to “take care of business.” These are the times I dream fondly of the opposition batter eating dirt, and the dugouts emptying, and the fans at Shea cheering.
And then maybe, just maybe, some of these pitchers wearing uniforms other than those of our beloved Mets might think twice about making one of our guys eat dirt.