Baseball justice swings in favor of the pitcher

Mike Royko

June 12, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

WHILE I WAS WATCHING a baseball game, an incident occurred that made me question why this sport, above all others, is considered the great American pastime.

In this particular game, the pitcher was obviously agitated because things hadn't been going too well. It was his own fault, of course, since he was an incompetent.

So he reared back, let fly and the ball sped toward the batter's head.

The batter sprawled in the dirt, and the ball missed conking him by only a matter of inches.

When he got up, he shouted a few obscenities at the pitcher. Then he took one step forward, as if thinking about getting out to the mound and wrestling a bit.

The umpire stepped forward, waggled a finger at the batter and warned him not to do any such thing. And the game resumed.

It was an example of pure injustice.

Here you had a batter, doing what the rules and his paycheck require him to do: trying to hit a ball thrown by the pitcher.

The pitcher's job is to try to make the batter swing and miss the ball or hit it to one of the fielders.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball in the general direction of the batter's brain.

Now, the rules don't say the pitcher should throw the ball at the batter's brain. That's not how you get the batter out. That's how you kill someone. Even worse, if struck in the head, the batter could be permanently impaired and become a sports broadcaster.

But who had a finger of authority waggled at him? Who was warned by the enforcer of the rules to restrain himself and be non-violent?

Not the pitcher, who was the assailant in this incident, but the batter, who was the intended victim.

What kind of system of justice is that?

In no other sport does such unfairness exist. In football or boxing or hockey, if somebody tries to knock you down, you or your teammates are allowed to knock them down. In most sports, if somebody does something sneaky and unsportsmanlike, the offender is punished -- not the victim.

But in baseball, it's just the opposite. A cowardly cur from the San Diego Padres once threw a ball that hit Andrew Dawson of the Cubs in the face.

For several long moments, the spectators weren't sure if Dawson was alive or dead. When he finally regained consciousness, his reaction was perfectly normal and justified. He got up and went looking for the guy who had bloodied his face.

Naturally, the lotus-eater ran away and hid in the locker room.

And when order was restored, who was punished? The person who had flung a deadly missile at someone else's head?

Not at all. It was announced that the sneak had left the playing field by his own choice or that of his manager.

But for the crime of trying to retaliate in a manly way, Dawson was officially ejected from the game by the umpire.

Some of the philosophers who broadcast baseball games try to justify this inequity by saying that the "brushback pitch" is part of baseball. That is what they call a ball thrown 90 miles an hour in the general direction of someone's nose -- a "brushback pitch."

But I've looked through the rules of baseball. There is nothing that says it is the pitcher's right or duty to use a ball as a deadly weapon.

I also asked a prosecutor how the law would react if someone was walking down the street and someone else threw a hard object that hit him in the face and spilled his blood.

He said: "We'd go after him for assault, a felony, which can carry with it a prison sentence."

I also asked what the law would say if the victim, dripping blood, pummeled his assailant.

"He would be perfectly justified," the prosecutor said.

So it's clear that the rules of baseball should be changed to conform with those of an occasionally civilized society.

I suggest something I call The Cavarretta Response.

Some of you may recall Phil Cavarretta, a native Chicagoan who was once a Cub star.

One day, I was at a game when a pitcher threw the ball at Cavarretta's head. He ducked and survived.

But on the next pitch, he swung. The bat somehow slipped from his hands and whirled right at the pitcher's head. The pitcher dived to the ground, narrowly avoiding decapitation. The pitcher didn't throw at anybody's head again that day.

This response should be made part of baseball's official rules: "If a pitcher throws a ball that forces a batter to fall down to avoid being struck in the head, the batter may, during the course of the game, fling his bat at the pitcher's head."

It would not only be fair, but it would make the sport more entertaining.

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