Beanball Bingo

added 8/5/2001 by Steve Cutchen

In yesterday's Montreal - Houston game, Roy Oswalt hit Montreal star Jose Vidro in the back of the helmet with a fastball. The ball bounded almost 30 rows up into the stands. Vidro was not seriously hurt, but he missed the finale of the series today.

In today's game Astros star Lance Berkman was hit between the shoulder blades by Expos pitcher Bobby Munoz with the first pitch of his first at bat in the second inning. Home plate umpire Hollowell issued warnings to both benches.

Then, in the very next inning, four batters later, Astros catcher Brad Ausmus was hit by Munoz. Yet, even with the warning issued earlier, Munoz was not tossed by Hollowell.

Why did this series of events happen like this? Did Hollowell act properly?

The Official Baseball Rules

There is a rule that specifically addresses a pitcher throwing at a batter and issuing warnings. It is 8.02(d):

8.02 The Pitcher shall not (d) Intentionally Pitch at the Batter. If, in the umpire's judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to: 1. Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher, from the game, or 2. may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager. If, in the umpire's judgment, circumstances warrant, both teams may be officially "warned" prior to the game or at any time during the game. (League Presidents may take additional action under authority provided in Rule 9.05) To pitch at a batter's head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be_and is_condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.

There is also 9.01(d)

9.01(d) Each umpire has authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such disqualified person from the playing field. If an umpire disqualifies a player while a play is in progress, the disqualification shall not take effect until no further action is possible in that play.

But both of these rules are based on the judgement of the umpire. The key points are these:

The umpire can toss a pitcher on a first offense.

Even if he issues warnings, he still has to judge that the batter is intentionally pitching at the batter. There is nothing that says that once the benches are warned, the umpire must toss the next pitcher to hit a batter.

Instructions to Umpires

In addition to the Official Baseball Rules, which you can find on-line, by the way, Major League Umpires operate based on official interpretations and instructions that come from the Office of Major League Baseball (MLB). With respect to the beanball, MLB has issued instructions that umpires should make greater use of warnings to benches when they feel that a situation has developed where retaliation for a hit batter might occur. The point is to stop bench-clearing brawls before they occur. You see, unlike the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball does NOT want brawling to be a significant part of the game.

But it is important to know that an umpire is STILL not required to issue a warning before tossing a pitcher for throwing at a batter. Nor is he required to toss a pitcher that hits a batter EVEN AFTER A WARNING HAS BEEN ISSUED.

It ALWAYS comes down to the umpire's judgment as to the intent of the pitcher and whether he feels that an ejection is warranted.

How Does The Umpire Decide?

What kind of information does an umpire consider? Here's a few examples:

  • The game situation is important. Suppose we are in a tight ballgame and, with no outs, the leadoff hitter for a team is hit. This would be a very poor time for a 'message pitch.' The last thing the pitcher needs is for the leadoff hitter to get on base with no outs. Remember this when you see Biggio catch one in that elbow pad.
  • What is the history of this particular batter? Does he crowd the plate? Again, Biggio is a good example.
  • What was the pitch? A breaking pitch is almost never used as a 'message pitch.' And a breaking pitch legitimately gets away more often.
  • Is there bad blood between these teams or between this batter and pitcher?
  • Is there a reason for the pitcher to throw at a batter? For example:
    • Did the other team hit one of their guys? Look for an 'equal rank' player to be targeted.
    • Did the other team disrespect this team? Remember Rickey Henderson stealing second against Milwaukee when the Padres had a big lead late in the game? Other examples are showing up the pitcher after a home run. If you bunted on Bob Gibson, you could expect a message at your next at bat. Same with Randy Johnson.

All of these types of information are factored by the umpire when making his judgment.

So What About The Warnings To Benches?

This year more than any other year there seems to be a plethora of warnings being issued to benches by the umpires when a guy gets hit. I don't like it. To me, what happens is that the first team gets to get their shot in, but the policing action that normally occurs, the retribution if you like, is regulated away. This has led to an imbalance between the teams that I don't like. The incentive is to get your shot in first.

It is this disarming of the wronged party that has led Larry Dierker to make the comments he has. The classic example was when Elarton was tossed at Kansas City. The pitcher for KC hit two Astros in the top of the first. Even the Astros could tell the guy was having real control problems. Especially with his breaking pitches. Yet the umpire issued warnings. Then, when Scott pitched inside on a batter in the bottom of the inning and caught him about the belt, the ump tossed Scott! This was a real shame. Scott was not head hunting. He was not retaliating. He was simply pitching inside. Yet because of the control problems of the KC pitcher, Scott was now pitching under a higher scrutiny. And like taking a pitch with two strikes, he's left open to the judgment of the umpire, which is sometimes flawed.

The fact that the umpire knew he had overreacted was made obvious later in the game when a KC pitcher plunked another Astros batter. With a curve ball. The ump did NOT toss the KC pitcher. And he shouldn't have. But the Astros bench gave him Holy Hell over it! As Jim Deshaies said during the TV broadcast, he had to just take it. He knew he's overreacted in tossing Scott, and he had to just eat the criticism as long as it did not get too personal.

Berkman, Munoz and Ausmus

So what about the gameplay today? Here's my take.

I think Berkman was hit on purpose. I think it was retaliation for Jose Vidro getting hit yesterday. Even though I think the Expos know that Roy didn't intend to hit Jose in the head, they still know that he was certainly pitching inside. And on a team with very few good payers, Roy has taken out their second best. So Berkman gets tagged. Lance is an 'equal rank' player. He was hit with the first pitch thrown to him in the day. And he was hit in the back. Not the head. Not the knees. Not the hands. A true message pitch.

But what about Ausmus? He was hit with a breaking pitch. Ausmus is not a threatening batter, so he is probably considered an out by Munoz. By putting Ausmus on, Munoz allows Villone to sacrifice him over to second rather than perhaps be the third out in the inning. A really dumb move. Besides, there was no reason to hit Ausmus. So I believe Hollowell was correct in not tossing Munoz.

OK... so what about Brocail? The guy when ballistic when Ausmus was hit and Munoz was left in the game. If you watched the dugout, there were several players that came over to Doug and tried to calm him down. In addition, Hollowell, the home plate umpire, showed a lot of restraint. Even the first base umpire Craft made a trip over to the dugout without tossing Doug before finally sending him on his second trip. Doug ejected himself.

I think he did it for a couple of reasons. One, I'm sure he is frustrated that he is not contributing to his team this year. He is a strong leader, and certainly feels declawed to be on the injured list. Second, he knows that he can get ejected without hurting the team. So he can take a bullet for the team and send a message that we are tired of being pinched by these bench warnings.

What Now?

So what's next? Well, hopefully you have a better understanding of what's going on with these bench warnings. And hopefully you understand how judgment comes into play, even after warnings have been issued. Spread the word. Help your fellow fans understand this new instruction to umpires.

That's my Knuckleball, try to hit it.

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