Baseball lore is filled with amusing stories about headhunters, pitchers like Sal (the Barber) Maglie, Ewell Blackwell and Stan Williams. Early Wynn used to say he'd knock his own mother down if she was crowding the plate. Dizzy Dean once flipped (knocked down) eight guys in a row. Heh, heh.
Whatever it's called—the knockdown, beanball, purpose pitch, chin music, smell of the hide or the Rawlings lobotomy—it's not funny. And neither are its aftereffects. Detroit's Al Cowens wasn't laughing the night of June 20 when he grounded to short and charged to the mound to attack Chicago Reliever Ed Farmer. It seems that on May 8, 1979, when Cowens was a Royal and Farmer was a Ranger, Farmer broke Frank White's hand with one pitch and Cowens' jaw with another. Cowens never accepted Farmer's apology, and 13 months later he tried to exact revenge by crawling up Farmer's back and bloodying his nose. Both benches emptied, and Cowens was fined and suspended for seven games. He now faces arrest on assault and battery charges, if and when he again sets foot in Chicago. Detroit's next game there is Aug. 26.
The Montreal Expos see no humor in being a target for National League pitchers, but that hasn't stopped them from meting out punishment of their own. On May 3 Third Baseman Larry Parrish was struck on the right wrist by the Giants' Ed Whitson and missed 31 games. On May 30 Rightfielder Ellis Valentine took a pitch on the cheekbone from the Cardinals' Roy Thomas and won't play again until this week. On June 12 Centerfielder Andre Dawson was struck on the right wrist by San Diego's Eric Rasmussen and missed five games. "We think the Dawson and Parrish cases were deliberate," says Montreal Manager Dick Williams. "We don't like people throwing at our people. There will always be a time to get back for something. It may take a year or two, but these things aren't forgotten."
In that case, Williams' team better be on the lookout, too. Expo Pitchers Bill Gullickson and Scott Sanderson sent Mets Mike Jorgensen and John Stearns, respectively, reeling with knockdown pitches last week, and neither hitter got up smiling. Jorgensen is particularly sensitive to this kind of tactic because of a beanball incident that occurred on May 28 last year when he was with the Rangers and Andy Hassler of the Red Sox hit him in the head. The pitch was behind him, and Jorgensen ducked right into it. Four days later he entered the hospital, complaining of headaches. He and his wife and daughter were watching The Bad News Bears in his hospital room when he suddenly passed out and went into convulsions. He had a blood clot on the brain, and if oxygen hadn't been administered immediately Jorgensen would have joined Ray Chapman as the only major-leaguers to die as the result of being hit by a pitch.
Last Saturday, Jorgensen came to bat just after Joel Youngblood had hit a two-run homer off Gullickson. When Gullickson's 0-2 pitch came right at his head, Jorgensen went down and came up pointing his bat at Gullickson. Before he could stalk the pitcher, he was restrained by Montreal Catcher John Tamargo. But then Stearns came charging out of the dugout, and both benches cleared. After Stearns was ejected and order was restored, Jorgensen gave Gullickson a sharp rejoinder. He singled to right. But the next night the beanball hostilities continued when Sanderson knocked down Stearns. This time Stearns responded with a single to left.
There's something in the air this season, and it's not just pitchers' errant deliveries. It's a mad-as-hell tension. During a rhubarb Pittsburgh's Bill Madlock gives Umpire Gerry Crawford a glove facial. The ugly behavior of Detroit fans causes the temporary closing of the Tiger Stadium bleachers. White Sox broadcaster Jimmy Piersall grabs a sportswriter by the throat. But those are just the preliminaries; the main event is right out there on the field. There have been at least 13 occasions this season on which a hitter charged the mound. And usually one man is just the vanguard of a bench-clearing attack.
"Something has to be done," says the Expos' Dawson. "I'm fed up with being thrown at. If I get hit again, I'm going to be dishing out some bucks, because I'm going to be thrown out of the game."
Some pitchers are getting itchy trigger fingers. Whitson, who hit Parrish and later admitted throwing a "purpose pitch" over the head of the Expos' Gary Carter, says, "If a player needs to see the stitches of the ball, I'll be glad to show them to him." Milt Wilcox of the Tigers is even more explicit. "I've always led my team in hit batters," he says. "Never worry about hitting a guy, unless you do it on purpose.... I've hit them in the head lots of times. Sometimes it gets away. That's what batting helmets are for."
Hostilities reached a peak on June 20. That was the night Cowens went after Farmer. Over in Texas, Ferguson Jenkins was throwing at Blue Jay rookie Damaso Garcia, who had homered off Jenkins five days earlier. Jenkins' first pitch whizzed behind Garcia. His second delivery came inside and brushed Garcia back. His third offering hit Garcia on the upper part of the left arm. This is the same Jenkins who averages all of two walks every nine innings. "I wasn't trying to hit him," said Jenkins. "I just wanted to get him off the plate a bit. Now he'll be thinking. And so will Rick Bosetti." Bosetti had sinned by hitting a double and homer off Jenkins in that game. "If Jenkins is going to throw at everybody who hits a home run off him," said Blue Jay Manager Bobby Mattick, "he's going to be awfully busy." Last year Jenkins gave up a major league-leading 40 taters.
On the same night, in Atlanta, Al Hrabosky brushed back the Cubs' Ken Henderson and then smiled and taunted him. Henderson headed toward the mound, and the benches cleared.
All in a night's work. Some other low-lights of the season:
•On April 20 in Baltimore, Doug DeCinces is hit in the back by Chicago's Mike Proly and charges the mound, raining punches on Proly's back. Benches clear and DeCinces is ejected. Later, the Orioles' Sammy Stewart gets a warning for throwing at Harold Baines.
•On May 4 in Minnesota, Jerry Koosman knocks down Reggie Jackson of New York twice in the second. After the second knockdown, Jackson homers on the next pitch. The Yankees' Tom Underwood is later warned for throwing at and hitting Butch Wynegar.
•On May 5 in Chicago, Proly is again charged, this time by the Brewers' Ben Oglivie, who was hit on the right ankle. Oglivie gives Proly a shiner, and the benches clear.
•On May 10 in Oakland, Toronto's Al Woods, who has singled and homered, is hit in the back by Rick Langford and marches to the mound. Benches clear, and in the ensuing melee Blue Jay Otto Velez is gang-tackled by Billy Martin and Steve McCatty and misses a week with a strained shoulder.
•On May 16 in New York, after giving up back-to-back homers, the Rangers' Dave Rajsich hits Jim Spencer, who charges the mound, and the benches clear. During the following set-to, Rajsich pleads innocent to Tommy John. "You and God are the only two guys who know that," says John.
•On May 30 in Anaheim, Angel Bruce Kison brushes back the Rangers' Buddy Bell, who then flies out. After taking a few steps toward first, Bell heads toward the mound, and the benches clear. Bell is ejected. Bob Babcock then throws behind the Angels' Dan Ford, and he is ejected. Kison hits John Grubb in the foot, precipitating another fight, in which Grubb sustains a finger injury causing him to miss two weeks. He and Kison are ejected.
•On June 10 in New York, the Dodgers' Ron Cey takes a Pat Zachry pitch in the thigh because he happened to come up after Zachry has surrendered back-to-back homers. Cey charges the mound and is ejected. "I don't think it hurt him as bad as it hurt his feelings," says Zachry. "After two home runs, a guy should expect something inside."
•On June 17 in Chicago, Terry Puhl of the Astros draws Doug Capilla's ire—and a fastball in the back—because five innings before, with his team leading 7-1, Puhl had stolen second. Joaquin Andujar throws close to the ear of the Cubs' Mike Tyson. Bill Caudill responds with a pitch at Andujar's head. Cub Manager Preston Gomez candidly admits asking his pitchers to throw at batters and offers to pay their fines. "It's the common law of baseball," he says.
Then there are Bosetti, Dusty Baker, Hal McRae, Jim Rice, Art Howe, Don Baylor and Julio Cruz, all of whom have missed a significant number of games this year because they were hit by pitches. "It's a grand old war out there," says Atlanta Pitcher Preston Hanna.
The war is fought over the 17-inch width of the plate; the inside part of it belongs to the hitter, the outside part to the pitcher. And the way to make sure the batter doesn't get a good swing at a ball on the outside of the plate is to pitch him inside. "It's Robert Ardrey's Territorial Imperative" says Montreal's lefthanded philosopher, Bill Lee. "The outside two inches of the plate are mine. If you decide to take them away, you're biting into my territory, so to speak. I have to come inside to regain it. But I don't have to do it viciously."
There are three degrees of inside pitching: the brushback, the knockdown and the beanball. The brushback, which is meant only to move the batter off the plate, is so common that even the hitters consider it acceptable. Then there is the knockdown, which an increasing number of hitters won't stand for but which some pitchers treasure above all. The bean-ball—the hard one to the head thrown with intent to hit the batter—is absolutely never ever thrown in baseball, or if it is, it's thrown by the other team. Montreal Pitcher Steve Rogers makes a further distinction. "In between the knockdown and the beanball is the I-don't-care-if-I-hit-him pitch. It's up and in, but if you're wild, you're going to be wild farther up and in. It's a state of mind with the pitcher. That's really what hitting a guy is."
Once a pitcher throws the knockdown pitch, it becomes the batter's responsibility to prevent the pitch from becoming a beanball or a shoulderball or a ribball or a backball. Ross Grimsley of the Expos seems to think his teammates are partly responsible for being hit. "If they had reacted better, they probably wouldn't have been seriously hurt," he says. "Veterans know what to do when a pitch is going to hit them, but the guys here aren't really good at it."
Besides crowding the plate and encroaching on the pitcher's turf, a batter can do other things to earn an HPB at the bottom of the box score. He can be unlucky enough to come up after the two men in front of him have homered. Baltimore's Jim Palmer is one of the few pitchers who will say, "I think it's malicious to hit anyone because of your own inadequacies." To many other players it's just part of the game. After being hit a few years ago by a Cleveland pitcher, California's Baylor said, "I was 9 for 10 in the series and probably deserved it." But, then, that was before he missed 41 games this season after being struck on his left wrist.
Because a lot of the flipping is done in the name of retaliation, batters can be as guilty as pitchers. They may not want to get hit, but they do expect to be "protected." Says Ken Singleton of the Orioles, "You have to protect your own hitters. If they lose faith in their pitchers, they just won't hit for them." When Underwood decked Wynegar because Jackson was knocked down, Jackson said he was "thrilled."
At least one pitcher questions that way of thinking. "The best way for a pitcher to protect a hitter is to be ready to come off the bench when the brawl starts," says Rogers. "The fact that one of your men was hit shouldn't make it mandatory to hit one of theirs. Like when Ellis Valentine was hit. Was I supposed to have hit Keith Hernandez in the face and broken his jaw so he could be out for two months?"
This macabre mentality does exist in baseball, particularly among the coaches and managers who are proponents of the "good old days." These are guys who played when men seemed to enjoy eating dust. "Hell, it was fun," says Harvey Haddix, the Pirates' pitching coach. "If somebody knocked you down, you threw at him in retaliation. It was part of the game. I can't understand why anybody gets upset when it happens now."
"They get hit by a slow curve today, and they holler like stuck pigs," says Billy Martin.
"The hitters are getting too sensitive," says Boston Manager Don Zimmer, who's been seriously beaned twice and wears a steel plate in his head.
"There are no more headhunters," says George Bamberger.
"There are headhunters," says Reggie Jackson, who hits the dirt a lot, "but I won't name them." Nobody will. But players will talk about pitchers who like to go inside, like Kison, Wilcox, Cleveland's John Denny, Boston's Bob Stanley and Dennis Eckersley, the White Sox' Francisco Barrios, the Pirates' Eddie Solomon, St. Louis' Pete Vuckovich, Los Angeles' Don Sutton and the entire Cubs staff. Another member in good standing is Paul Hartzell, who was with the Orioles earlier this year. After he threw one too many brushbacks, Manager Earl Weaver told Pitching Coach Ray Miller to tell Hartzell to cut it out. "I don't want somebody hitting Eddie Murray in the head," said Weaver. Hartzell was later sent down to the minors.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn says, "We take no pride in violence, we don't need it, and we can sell this game without it." But, he says, he sees no untoward trend this season.
But Yankee owner George Steinbrenner does see cause for alarm. "If the powers that be don't start to do something, they'll have serious consequences," he says. "I know for a fact there are managers telling their pitchers to throw the brushback. The first time it happens, the pitcher should be suspended for two weeks. My lawyers have researched the problem, and they say it constitutes intent to harm with a deadly weapon."
Nobody seems to know why it's happening, although most people agree it occurs more in the American League, where the pitchers don't face retribution by batting themselves. "It's nice to know that you don't have to go up to the plate after you've loosened up a batter," says Rick Waits of the Indians. White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who termed Cowens' attack on Farmer "an unprovoked and mindless assault," thinks the fuss is a sign of the times. "As a player becomes richer, perhaps he becomes more sensitive, and he says, 'Don't throw fastballs within inches of my million-dollar body.' He imagines there should be an aura of safe air around him."
Whatever the reason, the hitters are ready to take matters into their own hands. "If I know a guy is throwing at me, as soon as I'm hit I'm on my way to the mound," says Reggie Smith of the Dodgers. "I'm not going to wait for my pitcher to retaliate. The pitcher's got a built-in excuse. All he has to do is say he was just trying to get the ball inside. If he kills me, all he says is 'Hey, the pitch got away from me.' But if I go after him with a bat, I go to jail."
Suggestions? California's Rod Carew says to let the batter go to the ball bag, select one and throw it at the pitcher. The Cubs' Gomez thinks the hitter and pitcher should be allowed to go at it alone, like in hockey. With more suggestions like that, the joke will soon be, "I went to the fights the other night, and a baseball game broke out."
Something can be done. Baseball tried to curb retaliation in 1978, when it amended Rule 8.02d to give the umpires power to warn not only the offending pitcher, but the other team's pitcher as well. Umpires were also given the option of issuing a warning before a game. The trouble with this rule is that the umpire can eject pitchers only after at least two blatant knockdowns—the one that provokes the warning and the one that results in the ejections. "The rule is odd," says St. Louis Pitching Coach Claude Osteen. "It often boils down to who beats who to the punch." Why not issue a general warning before every game? The commissioner doesn't think it would be fair.
Also inherent in the umpire's authority is the power to disqualify any player, coach or manager for unsportsmanlike conduct. Certainly, the beanball qualifies as unsportsmanlike.
A quicker thumb would help, too, although the argument against this is that the umpires can't read the pitchers' minds. Maybe so, but sometimes the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Jenkins never even got a warning for hitting Garcia. And clubs shouldn't be allowed to pay their players' fines or subsidize their suspensions. As it stands now, the fines and suspensions amount to no more than wrist slaps.
"We have to make a living the best way we can, and if it's intimidation, then it's intimidation," says Seattle Pitcher Dave Roberts. "If we can't do that, then I don't want to pitch. I want to be a hitter, because I know they can't throw at me, and I can go out and hit anybody."
Fortunately, players like Roberts' teammate Bruce Bochte take a more reasoned view. "I have a very, very low regard for a pitcher who throws at a hitter's head," says Bochte. "But within the fraternity of baseball it's almost unmanly to think that there shouldn't be such a thing as a knockdown pitch."
If the knockdown pitch wasn't so manly, Red Sox fans might be spared the awful sight of Dwight Evans, who was beaned badly in 1978, batting .193. They might not have to wonder what kind of career Tony Conigliaro would have had. And we might not have to be reminded that Aug. 16 of this year is the 60th anniversary of the death of Ray Chapman. Carl Mays was only trying to move him off the plate.