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If Major League Baseball takes action against White Sox
pitcher Bobby Jenks for throwing behind the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler it will be
just another step in a long line of removing power from pitchers and giving
hitters one more reason to dig and crowd the plate. Jenks admitted that he had intentionally
thrown behind Kinsler in Saturday night’s game to send a message that he didn’t
like Texas pitchers hitting his
teammates. Kinsler was not hit and Jenks
proceeded to induce a pop out and finish the game. Jenks was simply trying to convey that he’ll
defend his teammates and retaliate in kind when they’re disrespected. This has been part of the game of baseball
since Abner Doubleday started drawing up the rules. However, in recent years numerous crackdowns
have always sided with hitters and continue to weaken pitchers’ ability to
defend themselves and stick up for their teammates.
I am not in favor of headhunting or deliberately trying to
take a guy’s head off, but pitching inside is part of the game of baseball and
if pitchers are unable to do so hitters will become more and more comfortable
and pitchers will become more vulnerable.
Ever since the lowering of the mound 40 years ago, pitchers have
consistently been forced to adapt to rules changes and an evolution of the game
that has been exclusively pro-offense.
Among the evolutions are better bats, harder balls, steroids, protective
armor and smaller parks. These changes,
though not legislated by MLB, have led to a constant increase in offensive
firepower with no offsets to aid the pitchers.
Additionally, MLB has instituted rules that have hurt
pitchers even more. Umpires, under the
orders of MLB, now routinely warn both dugouts after a single batter is hit that
any retaliation will result in automatic ejection for both the pitcher and
manager. However, umpires do not enforce
these rules with any consistency, and often the only result is that pitchers
are hung out to dry, unable to pitch inside with authority, lest they be
ejected by an umpire with an itchy trigger finger.
The ejection is no deterrent to a pitcher or manager who
wants to protect his team. Hitters are
regularly plunked following bench warnings as pitchers consider the respect of
their teammates more important than avoiding an ejection. The real result is that pitchers must
avoid the inner half of the plate and hitters, secure in the knowledge that the
warning is in effect, crowd the plate and dive toward the outer half. What’s worse, the bench warning rule puts
umpires in a terrible position to determine “intent” on any pitch that comes
close to a hitter. I’ve seen pitchers
ejected automatically for hitting a batter with an 82 mph curveball. Anyone who’s played the game at a level
beyond T-ball understands you don’t hit a guy with a curveball if you want to
send a message, but either umpires don’t understand the rule or they don’t
understand the game, either scenario is a bad thing for MLB. Why not let the players sort things out like they always have?
In this instance, though, Jenks didn’t even hit
anybody. He merely was trying to show
that he’s sick of his teammates being drilled.
He wanted the Rangers to know that if they want to continue they can
anticipate an upper 90s fastball in the ribs. This is the way the game should be
played. There is no better deterrent to
reckless and dangerous actions than the fear of “getting yours.” This is one reason I’m a staunch opponent of
the designated hitter. If pitchers have
to face the music themselves every three innings, they’ll think twice about
dotting a guy’s head. Since the DH isn’t
going anywhere, the next best target is a team’s best hitter. If a pitcher doesn’t have to worry about his
own ribs getting smashed, he’ll definitely want to ensure that he doesn’t have
a clubhouse full of guys taking his medicine for him. If MLB would allow the players to police
themselves, much the way NHL enforcers keep
star players from being cheapshotted, they’ll be able to keep the order. Violators of the “code” are dealt with
accordingly. These vain attempts to
control the game and ensure civility are clearly implemented by those who have
no understanding of how things work within the game and among teams.
If a hitter shows up a pitcher he should expect to have
things handled on the field. If a
pitcher, however, decides to go rogue and headhunt, he’ll either have to answer
for it himself (NL) or hang his teammates out to dry (AL). In either case, he’ll shape up quickly or his
teammates will ensure that he does. This is how things were handled for decades
and it should be allowed to continue. The idea that MLB needs to play the role of hall
monitor is silly. An ejection or fine
means nothing to these guys. Their
personal health and safety and their teammates’ respect will change their
If MLB fines or suspends Jenks for NOT hitting a batter, it will be just the latest in a decades long
attempt to reign in a natural part of the game and will only serve to make
hitters that much more eager to get to the plate. It’s another case of trying to “protect”
hitters, you know, the guys with helmets, elbow guards, and big clubs in their
hands. The irony is that all this
legislation actually puts pitchers in more danger than anybody. Line drives come off a bat at well over 100
mph toward a pitcher standing about 55 feet away after his follow through and
he’s not wearing a helmet or any of the ridiculous armor that Barry Bonds made
popular. We’ve already seen numerous
guys nearly killed in such scenarios and the more MLB caters to hitters and removes
the possibility that they’ll be in any way inconvenienced in their attempt to
tear the cover off the ball; the more likely we are to see pitchers get
drilled, figuratively and literally.
If a pitcher throws at someone’s head simply because he doesn’t like a
guy or he is mad that he just gave up a 450-foot home run, he should be
disciplined, and the league should make an effort to protect players from
deliberate injury. Fines and suspensions
are merited for brawls and deliberate attempts to injure. However, to punish a pitcher for sticking up
for his team, and to remove the players’ ability to handle things themselves on
the field hurts the integrity of the game.
Jenks’ intent wasn’t to injure. He
meant to miss and he did so very effectively.
He intended to let the Rangers know he didn’t like their behavior and
that there were consequences for disrespecting his guys. Bud Selig needs to allow the game to take
care of itself. It has worked for
decades and the unclear, artificial, inconsistent rules that MLB has tried to
enforce clearly do not. We need to let things be taken care of between the lines, Biblical style; an eye for an eye, or a rib for a rib.
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You’ll probably be able to find almost a dozen different
articles Tuesday about Zack Greinke’s latest exceptional performance. He absolutely owned the White Sox in a
complete game, ten strikeout, zero walk, masterpiece. At no time during the night did he appear
troubled or particularly challenged. He
scattered a few broken bat singles, but little else. The three run lead may as well have been
eight. However, I don’t want to discuss
all that or his season in total today.
I want to provide a different perspective in two ways: First, I was there in person and got to
experience the magic with my own eyes.
Secondly, I want to focus only on two specific sequences that I feel sum
up everything that defines a dominant pitcher in three at-bats.
The first sequence that I cannot stop thinking about is
Greinke’s strikeout of Alexei Ramirez to begin the third inning. Greinke fell behind 1-0. The next pitch was a 93 mph fastball inches
below Ramirez’s chin that sent him sprawling to the ground and his bat rolling
in the dirt. After picking himself up
and dusting himself off Ramirez decided he’d rather be anywhere in the world
than at Kaufmann Stadium in the batter’s box.
Greinke had pinpoint control all night (0 BB) and several times brushed
hitters back with high heat, but none were as effective as that pitch to
Ramirez. The next pitch was a 72 mph
curveball on the outside corner for a strike, followed by a 75 mph curveball on
the inside corner that had Ramirez buckling like a little leaguer. The final pitch was a slider away at about 86
mph that Ramirez waved at weakly. It was
the most overmatched I’ve ever seen a Major League hitter. Greinke dominated the inner half of the plate
all night, clearly sending a message that he was not to be challenged and prodigious
hitters Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and A.J. Pierzynski offered no more of a challenge
than young Alexei, striking out four times between them.
The second occasion of sheer brilliance came in the eighth
inning, the only time the White Sox appeared to challenge Greinke at all. The inning began with back-to-back singles,
bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs. I’d been watching Greinke’s velocity all
night, noting that he hit 96 mph on the first hitter of the game and then
pitched at 92-94 all night, seemingly on cruise control through the
ballgame. Now, however, he reached back
and found that extra gear that only the elite pitchers seem to have available
for special occasions. The next four
pitches were 95, 96, 96, and 95. These
yielded a double play and put Greinke at 1-1 on pinch hitter Wilson
Betemit. He followed with two straight curveballs
that broke onto the shoetops of the left-handed hitter. Betemit swung and missed on both, missing the
ball by a combined total of about five feet.
These two isolated instances are all that’s necessary to
understand just what kind of confidence and command Greinke has through his
first six starts. By looking at these
three at-bats alone one would know exactly how the White Sox fared on this
night. All the best pitchers throughout
the history of the game have had three traits that allowed them to pitch out of
any jam, against any hitter, at any time.
The first is the ability to control the inner part of the
plate. Greinke shows a willingness to do
this more than any other young pitcher today.
He has pinpoint control allowing him to come inches from a hitter’s chin
without hitting him and then he can use his ridiculously varied breaking
pitches to turn great hitters into floundering buffoons.
Secondly, Greinke can throw any pitch in any count in order
to get an out. His curveball, ranging
from 62-82 mph is almost a repertoire in itself. Add to that a hard slider and mid-90s
fastball and his mix of pitches is equal to anyone throwing in the bigs right
now. Hitters, even when ahead in the
count, cannot sit on anything. Greinke
loves to throw first pitch breaking balls, putting the hitter on the defensive
and allowing him to do whatever he wants the rest of the at-bat.
Finally, Greinke has the ability to reach back and find a
vital 2-3 extra mph for game-changing at-bats.
He looked completely at ease, like a man in a rocking chair throwing 92-94
through seven innings Monday. Then, just
when it seemed he might be tiring and the Sox may be catching up the third time
through the lineup, he pumps four straight four-seam fastballs and earns a
tailor-made double play and sets up another hitter for his wicked slider to
punctuate the eighth inning and essentially put the game on ice. The ninth was the cherry on top. More for the crowd to stand, applaud, and take
in the atmosphere of a truly phenomenal pitching performance.
The results are obvious to any casual fan. He went all nine, gave up nothing, struck out
ten and walked none. However, it’s his
sequencing, his mental acuity, and his feel for the game that separate his
performances from others; the subtleties of this performance that can be truly
appreciated by students of the game. The
ability to know when to knock a man down, when to find that extra gear, and
when to drop in a sub-70 mph floater are the signs of a developing artist who’s
refining his craft and just beginning to realize the potential of his wealth of
talent. Greinke’s outings are not be
missed by anyone with a love of baseball and an appreciation for the
indescribable skill of the game’s greatest players.