I'm not sure if I've written about this before or not, but my feelings on baseball's book of unwritten etiquette are complicated. I feel like there are plenty of things that are frowned upon rightly (like baserunners calling fielders off of pop flies, a la Alex Rodriguez), quite a few that are unjustly outlawed (celebrating anything, ever), and some that are considered part of the game that shouldn't (like most, if not all, instances of intentionally throwing at a batter).
A few of these came into conflict the past couple of nights in the Dodgers-Diamondbacks series, and for me it's a really good example of baseball's automated policing system going awry. Which should surprise nobody, considering the fact that a 95 mph fastball to the ribs is judge, jury, and executioner.
On Tuesday night, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers played a baseball game. During the seventh inning of that game, Gerardo Parra faced Hong-Chih Kuo with the bases empty and two outs. Parra decided to bunt, for some reason - with none on and two outs, I presume he was trying to bunt for a hit, as there's no other sane explanation. He squared really early, though, so I don't know what was going on there. Here's where the pitch went (credit Chad Moriyama, via True Blue LA):
As the post on True Blue LA mantions, Kuo doesn't have the best control in the league, and the Dodgers had a one-run lead at that point - why put the tying run on base? I don't think he was trying to hit Parra on purpose, and surely not square in the face; probably he was just going inside to make the bunt tougher to execute, and since he changed his pitch location at the last second he missed. That's an uninformed guess, but it makes a fair amount of sense.
What also makes sense is a man getting mad about a baseball being thrown at his face, intentionally or not. I certainly would. So when Parra homered later in the at-bat, he styled it - he watched it go (it was a no-doubter) and took his time rounding the bases. Honestly, considering some of the things I've seen people do to celebrate scoring in other sports, this is pretty mild, and understandable considering the circumstances. "You're going to throw at my face? Okay, now this is happening." In the grand scheme of things, not that bad.
Unless you're the Dodgers, who considered it a mortal sin. Catcher A.J. Ellis, who I've never heard of (possibly more a commentary on the amount of attention I pay the Dodgers than on his skill as a baseballer, as his half-win above replacement in 25 games is certainly not terrible), had words with Parra as he finished off his home run. And Clayton Kershaw went absolutely nuts (again, via Chad Moriyama by way of True Blue LA).
So something was probably destined to happen in the next game, which Kershaw (one of the top pitchers in the league, by the way) started. And sure enough, when Parra led off the sixth inning, Kershaw zitzed him (this one via Jeff Sullivan's incomparable Twitter).
As you can see at the end there, umpire Bill Welke follows up the HBP by zitzing Kershaw, ejecting him immediately. Typically I hate ejections, because I feel like a lot of them are preventable by umpires not taking themselves so damn seriously, but I am completely okay with this one.
Was Gerardo Parra being a bit of a prat? Maybe. I don't think Kuo was trying to hit him, and maybe he showed up the opposition. But I don't care about that. There's a foolproof solution to the problem of getting shown up after allowing a home run: don't give up home runs. It's one of the few things pitchers have some control over, and yet when it happens they tend, more often than not, to act like they've been victimized. Much of this was in Kuo's hands, and he botched it. It would have been bad enough if he'd been the one doing the headhunting, but for Kershaw to do it almost 24 hours later is just unconscionable. Everything here points to a premeditated attack on a specific individual for a pretty lame reason, and it puts a bit of a black mark on my estimation of a really, really good young pitcher.
I don't want to go full Plaschke here (I really REALLY don't), I don't want to get self-righteous and overbearing about meaningless stuff, but I really don't think this is meaningless. I tire of the self-importance of baseball players. They seem to think that anything that upsets them is A Blight On The Game, and take it them upon themselves to rectify such slights with deadly force. Let's not forget - it's hard to control the placement of a thrown baseball, and the impact of a fastball can change lives. People have been hit before and been thereafter unable to play baseball and earn a living. A man has died on the field. A fastball aimed at the ribs can just as well end up in the eye, just as Kuo's pitch likely wasn't meant for Parra's head. In almost every occasion, this is simply an inappropriate way for a pitcher to express displeasure about a guy reminding you that you screwed up.
I love baseball, and compared to a lot of sports it's not that bad about this, but there is a lot left from sporting antiquity still in the game, and most of it needs to leave. The idea that trying to injure someone is legitimate justice for a perceived slight; the idea that celebrations of good plays are evil; the idea that there is some great Form of Baseball that must be protected. A guy almost got hit in the face. He hit a home run. He enjoyed it. Why is that something that should cause the gnashing of teeth and the rending of clothes? Just grow up, already.
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