The psychology of a beanball

Baseball is a difficult sport to explain to people who don’t like it. It’s a sport rooted in tradition, and patience, and occasionally antiquated ideas. You either like it, or your don’t. And odds are if you do like it, it’s because your dad liked it, or your brother liked it, or some other familial connection.  That’s part of the tradition. It’s a sport meant to be slow and deliberate, to be dissected and analyzed, to occasionally nap to on a Sunday afternoon or evening.

And within that sport, there are individual aspects that are difficult to pass on, even to casual fans. One of them is the idea of batters getting hit.

*****

Simple answer: It’s a guy thing.

Hockey has fighting. Football has tackling. Baseball’s answer to that? More often than not, it’s the “beanball”- when a batter is hit intentionally.

Certainly, there are times when a batter is hit without intent. You’re throwing a ball at that kind of velocity, with the kind of spin and curve that these guys do, it’s occasionally going to slip. And some of baseball’s worst moments have involved someone being struck with a ball- whether that’s a batter at the plate, or a pitcher or fielder on the wrong end of it. But we’re not here to talk about that.

We’re here to puff out our chests, to get angry and vindictive, to be “fanatics” about our teams. Let’s get our caps on, our beverage of choice in hand, and be the armchair analysts.

*****

The Jays got into a bit of a donnybrook a couple of weeks back. You might have heard about it. Jesse Carlson throws behind Jorge Posada, who gets uppity and yells back at him. But he eventually gets to first.

A little later, he comes around to score- and brushes Carlson on the way to the bench. The ump throws Posada out of the game as Carlson takes exception to it, and the benches clear.

I wish I’d watched it live. There hasn’t been a lot to see the last little while with the Jays, as listless effort with nothing to play for has winded down the season.

A novice analysis would conclude that the Jays are at fault. This would be shortsighted. Why did Carlson throw behind Posada? Had the ball slipped? No, it had not. Carlson is a left handed pitcher, and Posada was batting from the right side. For it to slip- and to slip so much that the ball was behind Posada, and NOT hit him- there was clearly intent.

Jays second baseman Aaron Hill, possibly their best player this year, had been hit in the back earlier- with the game well in hand for the Jays. The Blue Jays, as a team, had been hit eight times in recent games against the Yankees. Intentional or not, that’s a large number. The number of retaliations for the boys in blue? Zero. None. Nada.

Baseball’s psychology of beanballs says that “if you hit our guy, we’ll hit yours.” Eye for an eye. A very immature policy at first glance, but upon further review, there is some credence to it. With the risk of injury, there is a certain desire to ‘protect’ your players. If they’re getting hit a lot, and you’re not responding, then other teams may take advantage of it. Not just by pitching more inside and pushing them off the plate, but by ‘beaning’ your best players. Much like how in hockey, one will send goons after the best scorers.

Carlson saw Hill get it. He knew that the Jays had been hit a lot this year. Manager Cito Gaston isn’t the sort to retaliate- and ordinarily, I approve of that policy. But let’s face it- eight-love is a liiiiiiiiittle much to be on the long side of. It was time. And Carlson, who hasn’t done much else this year, redeemed himself with a lot of fans.

He didn’t hit Posada. He threw behind him- which is, in beanball parlance, a warning shot. A “we’re not going to take it anymore”. But Posada’s reaction- getting out of the box and yelling back at Carlson as Jays catcher Rod Barajas came out to keep him away from Carlson- could be charitably described as ‘whiny’. But the game went on.

Posada eventually scored- which, really, is the best revenge for getting hit- but he couldn’t let it go. He hit Carlson on the way to the dugout. The umpire was quick, and immediately ejected the cheap-shotting catcher, but Carlson had already- correctly- taken umbrage, and yelled back. The benches cleared. Punches were probably thrown, as guys jumped in to defend their team, or break up the scuffle.

Testosterone. Cheers and beers. Men being men. Live it. Love it.

*****

Another round. Jays and Red Sox, this time. Divisional opponents. Not really rivals, since success, like agains the Yankees, has only occured on one half of this particular matchup.

The Jays put a pasting on the Red Sox. DH Adam Lind was having an excellent game- a couple of home runs, a bunch of runs driven in.

In the ninth inning, BoSox closer Jonathan Papelbon hits him in the ribs. Hard.

Now, another facet of this ‘beanball’ is a batter getting hit after having a good game, as Lind had. This is a little more childish than the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy of before, but is still at least a modestly accepted part of the culture. You don’t want your team to be shown up (really, the best response is to play better, but let’s not let logic get in the way of our man-moments).

On the way to the bench, Papelbon walked by Lind, and made a motion, mouthing “my bad” for the cameras to see, showing concern for the wounded Jay. So, it may possibly have not been intentional. Jays fans likely thought otherwise. I know I did at the time.

The next game had Jays ace Roy Halladay on the mound. A lot of the Red Sox regulars were sitting, and there was some call to respond for Lind’s late beaning the night before. And he did. On the first pitch of the second inning, he hit Red Sox DH David Ortiz in the side.

I’ve spoken of Halladay at length before, and this certainly did little to dim the affection of the normal Jays fan towards him. Justice had been served, in the macho culture of baseball. Eye for an eye. You hit our guy, we’ll hit yours.

While I smiled a little at the response- and that it was hopefully-Blue-Jay-for-life Roy Halladay who did it- I couldn’t dismiss the image of Papelbon mouthing “my bad” the night before. Was this the right way? Maybe, or maybe not. But as a sport mean to be dissected over long discourses and discussion, it’s fun to find out.

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4 thoughts on “The psychology of a beanball

  1. Kristen

    Rob keeps threatening to take me to a Snipers game. I am only interested for the hot dogs and beer. And I don’t even like beer, it just seems semi-appropriate.

  2. Kay

    I live in Toronto and I love the Jays and my take on the Papelbon/Lind incident is this: Papelbon meant to hit him, but not to hurt him. Unfortunately, the way Lind moved to avoid the ball resulted in his elbow taking the blow instead of his side or back which he probably could have shaken off. Instead he sat out the last 4 games of the season injured. I think Papelbon’s apology was for hurting him because he did not mean to put him on the injury list.

    It was a crappy thing to do. I can live with the “eye for an eye” thing but hitting a player that’s having an amazing night is not acceptable. Play better, pitch better, intentionally walk him, or man up and strike him out. But hitting him was low and can risk injury and in this case that’s what happened.

    AND as a Jays fan I was robbed of seeing Lind have a 4 HR night and robbed of seeing how many more HRs and RBI he could have added to his stats in the last 4 games… and I blame Papelbon for all of it!

  3. Micky

    I think Kay’s assessment is about right.

    The Simmons podcast with Jacko about how Jeter did nothing in that brawl was hilarious.

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