August 15, 2007

Now here's a good way for hitters to reclaim the inside part of the plate. My all-time favorite ballplayer, Jose Offerman, went after a battery with a baseball bat after being hit by a pitch in a minor league baseball game last night. For this act of self-defense, he spent the night in jail. Both pitcher and catcher were recuperating.

I know there's a "code" that tolerates "throwing inside" to a batter, but I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. Having a 100-mph pitch deliberately thrown at your skull may seem to the outsider as a pitcher's prerogative, but to someone in the heat of battle, that's assault and battery. At least one player, Ray Chapman in 1920, has died because he didn't get out of the way fast enough from a pitch aimed at his head, and two other famous players, Mickey Cochrane and Tony Conigliaro, sustained injuries that led inexorably to their deaths years later. Charging the mound with nothing but your fists seems a disproportionately weak response.

But a baseball bat expands the arms race exponentially. Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal once pounded in the skull of LA Dodger John Roseboro because he thought the catcher had thrown a return pitch to the mound a little too close to his ear. He got off rather easy, with a short suspension and a fine, but the public outcry was so great that a player who was arguably the best pitcher of the 1960's was kept out of Cooperstown for a few years because of the incident. Offerman can expect no such mercy from the predominantly white media or from organized baseball. Expect the home run he hit in his previous at bat to be his last.

UPDATE (8/17): Here's a real time slide show video of the attack. It's not even close to the Marichal attack; Offerman appears to take one aborted swing, connecting with both catcher (who's rushing him from behind) and pitcher, but it looks from the video that he went out hoping to scare the pitcher, and the fact that he only used one hand testifies to his lack of deadly intention. Still, if you point a loaded pistol at someone, you pay the consequences if it goes off.

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