Is there such a thing as an accident in MLB anymore? If a hitter’s bat happens to strike a catcher on the backswing, is it now automatically assumed that it was done intentionally? Does the incident call for swift retaliation by the hitter getting plunked by a pitch immediately thereafter?
I get baseball’s method of meting out justice. Throwing at batters has always been a part of the game, though I wish it wasn’t because it’s so inherently dangerous. But outside of pitcher and batter settling the matter by punching it out, like in hockey, this is probably the best solution. As long as the batter is hit below the waist, that’s deemed acceptable.
But is there ever a point where this practice just seems silly and unnecessary? That’s how I felt while watching the end of Thursday’s Braves-Rockies game, during which the two teams traded hit-by-pitches after Colorado’s Corey Dickerson hit Atlanta catcher Gerald Laird in the jaw with his backswing.
Granted, the incident looked bad. Laird took a shot to the face that knocked off his mask and caused him to lay on the ground for several minutes while being checked by team trainers. Prior to that, Dickerson tipped a foul ball off Laird’s mask, so the catcher was likely already disoriented. Understandably, Laird was eventually pulled from the game.
Did Dickerson hit Laird intentionally? It seems highly unlikely, if for no other reason than it’s difficult to believe that one baseball player — one human being — would do that to another.
Dickerson also seemed to show concern toward Laird, though that sort of thing is hard to determine through body language and action. Should Dickerson have dropped to a knee and asked Laird if he was all right? Or should he have stepped to the side and let the Braves trainers do their job? We certainly have no idea what he said at the time.
Of course, we’re only a few days removed from a similar incident occurring between the Orioles and Athletics, when Manny Machado hit A’s catcher Derek Norris not once, but twice on the backswing. After the game, Norris complained that Machado expressed no remorse or regret and may have even smiled after whacking the catcher in the head a second time. Consequently, Oakland reliever Fernando Abad threw two pitches toward Machado’s legs, prompting the third baseman to fling his bat at the A’s infield.
Maybe the Braves were thinking of the Machado situation when Dickerson hit Laird with his backswing. So whether it was accidental or not, the incident had to be addressed. That meant Atlanta reliever David Carpenter had to throw his next pitch at Dickerson, which is exactly what he did — plunking the outfielder in the right hip.
It could be argued that Dickerson should have expected to be hit by a pitch and shouldn’t have gotten upset enough to shout back at Carpenter, prompting home plate umpire Jordan Baker to step in front of him and walk him toward first base. But if he hit Laird accidentally, why should he have been hit by a pitch? Why should Carpenter have thrown at him?
Carpenter hasn’t pitched well recently, so perhaps he was taking out some frustration on Dickerson. In June, the right-hander has allowed three runs and seven hits in 2.1 innings. OK, that’s a small sample size. So let’s look at Carpenter’s entire season thus far. He has a 4.62 ERA, while giving up 36 hits in 25.1 innings.
But Carpenter has walked only seven batters, and averaged less than three walks per nine innings during his two seasons with the Braves. It seems reasonable to assume that he controls his pitches quite well. So is it also reasonable to assume that Carpenter deliberately threw at Dickerson, especially when it came right after Laird was knocked out of the game?
Rockies manager Walt Weiss was so angry by the play that he ran out of the dugout, yelling at Baker, Carpenter and the Braves dugout. That got him ejected from the game. Weiss was more upset by Dickerson getting hit because another of his players, Josh Rutledge, was hit in the head by a pitch from Atlanta’s Julio Teheran in Wednesday night’s game. According to Braves third baseman Chris Johnson, Weiss was yelling “We owe you two!” at the visitors dugout.
The following inning, Rockies reliever Nick Masset hit Evan Gattis (who was catching when Carpenter hit Dickerson) with a pitch in the left arm. Masset arguably violated baseball etiquette by hitting Gattis above the waist, but was he more justified since it was in retaliation for Dickerson getting plunked?
At least Gattis just went to first base without saying a word and allowed the game to move along. Masset was ejected from the game and seemed to have no problem with it, high-fiving teammates in the dugout. And why not? He did his job under the baseball system of justice.
Thankfully, Thursday’s matinee was the last game of the series between the Braves and Rockies. If not, who knows how long this exchange of hit-by-pitches would have continued? Would the Braves have had to retaliate for Masset throwing at Gattis? And if another Atlanta pitcher had thrown at a Colorado batter, would the Rockies have to answer again? The two teams also don’t face each other again this season, ensuring that this ridiculous tit-for-tat doesn’t spill over into another series.
However, doesn’t all of this eventually just seem kind of stupid? Try and explain that whole sequence of events to a non-baseball fan this weekend. Hell, explain it to a baseball fan. How long before that explanation just doesn’t make sense anymore, other than to say “Well, that’s baseball”? Maybe that’s good enough to justify how the sport we all love polices itself. But it’s also all right to admit when something we love is also silly. I suppose that’s unconditional love.