The Arizona Diamondbacks have taken a beating in the national media this week, and rightfully so. Arizona’s Randall Delgado drilled Pittsburgh Pirates‘ MVP-candidate Andrew McCutchen with a 97 MPH fastball, and McCutchen is now on the disabled list. The act was a retaliation to Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt being plunked the night before. And while it can’t be determined whether McCutchen’s injury, an avulsion fracture of one of his lower ribs, is directly related to being intentionally hit by the pitch, it certainly cannot be ruled out, either.
Nick Piecoro, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, reports recent Hall of Fame inductee Tony La Russa as saying, “I don’t see where the Diamondbacks should catch all this (expletive) they’re catching…They (Pittsburgh) don’t just pitch inside. They pitch up and in. And by choosing to do so, they have to live with the consequences.” And this is where the heated debate begins.
La Russa is one of the most decorated managers in history, and his recent induction into the Hall of Fame proves that. But La Russa is not only biased (he’s the chief baseball officer for Arizona); he’s also wrong in his recent statement. What is the former skipper trying to say? If he’s saying that the act of hitting Goldschmidt was an intentional move by Pittsburgh, he’s incorrect. Sure, pitching high and inside is dangerous and it results in batters being occasionally hit, but watch the replay. The Pirates were not intentionally trying to plunk Goldschmidt. It was an accident and those who say it wasn’t are wrong. Ernesto Frieri, the pitcher who hit Goldschmidt, is undoubtedly a wild pitcher. But regardless, it was accidental.
And if La Russa is saying that the simple act of pitching high and inside is the offense, then one of the most ludicrous “unwritten rules” in the history of baseball is now being formulated. Pitching high and inside is effective, regardless of your view on the matter. Even La Russa claims “I don’t care if you’re a right-hander or left-hander, nobody gets to that pitch. It’s a hole for everybody.”
If another team had plunked McCutchen, would this still be such hotly-debated subject? Maybe not. But the Diamondbacks have history. Kirk Gibson is an old-fashioned manager, and some of his actions in recent months have been blatantly unsportsmanlike. In June, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was drilled with a pitch from Arizona reliever Evan Marshall, and guess who was the first person on the top step of the dugout to congratulate Marshall when he was ejected? Gibson. He even gave Marshall a celebratory fist bump on his way to the clubhouse. Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers also discussed this exact subject last October, and he was quoted as saying “It’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s getting jackknifed.”
The Pirates have, however, hit the most batters in the league so far in 2014 (61). So maybe it’s time that, instead of trying to interpret all of baseball’s contradictory unwritten rules on hitting batters, MLB decides to come up with an actual rule to prevent pitches that are high and inside from injuring players. But the retaliation to those pitches, the intentional act of hitting a batter, is going to end someone’s career one day. Hopefully it doesn’t take that happening for them to act.
Regardless, the fact that MLB hasn’t levied a suspension on Delgado or Gibson is simply disgraceful. Pitching high and inside and accidentally hitting a batter is one thing, but intentionally throwing a 97 MPH fastball near a player’s neck is quite another. There is nothing, not even the accidental plunking of a player on a pitch that is high and inside, that justifies that.