Sunday, August 16, 2009

Looking For Fights In All The Wrong Places

The talk today is not about another home run given up by Francisco Rodriguez, and how the multi-year contract he was given in the off-season is being to look mighty worrisome. It's not about the grit that the Mets' Quadruple-A lineup showed in scoring three runs in the eighth to temporarily tie the score in what eventually became a 5-4 loss.

No, the talk today is apparently about how many ways the New York Mets - and presumably their fans - can desecrate the bloody and beaten corpse of Matt Cain.

Cain is a marked man today, for having the temerity to lose the handle on his fastball in a 0-0 game in the fourth inning with a man on first and nobody out. Mets fans at the game, momentarily stunned into silence by the sight of their last remaining superstar face down and motionless beside home plate, began to roar their disapproval for Cain as it became clear that Wright was going to leave the field under his own power.

Cain certainly did not help matters with a saucy tip of the cap to the Mets fans has he departed to boos in the eighth inning, with the Mets in the early stages of a game-tying rally. And Wright's beaning surely was a scary sight, especially from my vantage point in Promenade 516 Row 16.

Angst and I, sitting together at a baseball game for the first time this season, heard the sound of the ball cracking Wright's helmet even from the top of the stadium. Since we were so far away from the action, all we could see was Wright lying completely motionless; we could not see any of the subtle movements that TV viewers saw just moments after the beaning.

But that doesn't mean that Matt Cain tried to hurt David Wright yesterday.

He threw an inside fastball that veered too far inside and ended up richocheting off of Wright's head. It was ugly and it was scary, but it was not an invitation to violence. Mets fans have no reason to revile him today - Wright's beaning was an unfortunate accident that can happen within a game that can never fully correct for simple human error.

Cain was not trying to hit Wright; the Giants are actually in a playoff race and can ill afford to give games away to bottom feeders like the Mets. There's no history between Wright and Cain or Wright and the Giants, so intentionally hitting the batter in that spot means nothing more than another baserunner in what was shaping up as a tight, low-scoring game.

It's a sad commentary on society today that baseball fans have become so bloodthirsty for violence that they expect batters who have been hit by a pitch to attack the opposing pitcher and to start a brawl in the middle of a sporting event.

Wright, of course, was so incapacitated that there was never any thought that he was going to charge the mound on Cain. However, reading my favorite Mets blogs this morning and remembering various conversations I've had over the past 24 hours, I find myself puzzled and saddened by the lust for mayhem on the diamond so many people seem to have.

Charging the mound is stupid, plain and simple. Baseball players are generally not fighters, and the whole thing often disintegrates to amateurish slap fights and tackle fests that do nothing but make the combatants look childish. The batter is always suspended and sometimes the pitcher as well, which does nothing but hamstring their respective teams. On occasion a player also ends up seriously injured, making the whole spectacle even more costly and ridiculous.

The unwritten code of the game is that someone on the Giants had to expect retaliation from a Met pitcher. (By the way, I wish someone would write this code down one day, so we could all marvel at its stupidity and myopia. Every moronic and ill-advised rationale for nonsensical behavior on the baseball field inevitably harkens bask to this "unwritten code.")

Johan Santana wasn't going to intentionally put a runner on base with a 1-0 lead, but once the Giants scored three runs in the top of the sixth inning, the stage was set. Santana intentionally threw behind Pablo Sandoval to lead off the seventh, and Sandoval was spared only because of an awkward fall that somehow allowed his body to miss the flight path of the ball. No easy feat, for a man whose rotundity as earned him the nickname "Kung Fu Panda."

We all know what happened next - a long home run from Sandoval gave the Giants a 4-1 lead and left Santana with egg on his face. He successfully plunked the next batter, Bengie Molina, and retired for the day to cheers not entirely befitting of his performance.

I wonder - how many fans left the stadium at that point, disappointed not only in the Mets but also that the price of admission did not provide them a bench-clearing brawl for their enjoyment?


TW said...

You continually give Sandoval no respect for his agility—1e10 next year at 3B!

Santana's interview after the game was great stuff. We have to find a way to get this guy on the field everyday.

James Allen said...

Pitchers are let off the hook too easily. Whatever you or I may think Cain's "intent" was, the fact is that he is a professional athlete that is paid a lot of money because of his ability to throw a baseball, he threw a ball that hit Wright in the head, and he is ultimately responisble for that act. (If the cap tip wasn't enough of indication of how "sorry" he was, I don't know what was.)

That doesn't mean I'm for non-stop mayhem, but I'm more understanding of batters being upset at what amounts to assault getting up and charging the mound, as they know the pitchers will rarely, if ever, pay any sort of price other than a slap on the wrist and (maybe) skipping one start. For a batter, it could end their career. (Hmmm... let me weigh those two things.)

How about this for a new rule: you hit a guy in the head, you're immediately ejected. No umpire judgement required. If you are so careless at your job that you can't control where your pitches are going today, so long. Second time you do it, automatic suspension, etc.

Of course people don't want that rule. Pitchers still want an "intimidation factor." Well, intimidation shouldn't be a one way street. Teams should be aware that if one of your players assaults one of my players, we just might return in kind. It may not be the world you want, but in a world where 90 mph projectiles hit people in the head, this is the world we have, and we can't pretend otherwise.

James Allen said...

Oh, by the way Jack, (and I know I'm saying this after disagreeing with you) but I'm glad you're back blogging regularly and I appreciate what you're doing with the general widening of your focus. I read many Met blogs and it's good to get out of the box once in awhile. Keep it up.

Jack Flynn said...

TW: Sandoval's not getting a 1e10, but I am continually impressed by the level of his defense. The only reason I still think I can get Chone Figgins off your team is because of the man-crush you have on Pablo.

James: I think batters have the right to get upset, but I liken the whole beanball scenario to driving. You can't get out of your car and attempt to assault every idiot who does something stupid on the road. Even if you get into an accident, you yell and scream, but you don't end up punching the other driver in the face.

I actually like the rule about the automatic ejection for hitting a batter in the head. (I'm not in favor of the suspension a second time, unless there's a hint of intent.) I don't want to minimize the fact that beanballs ARE dangerous. If you're throwing a pitch that misses so badly you hit the batter's head, maybe it's best that you take the rest of the day off.