Bean balls, brawls turn the game uglyAt the beginning of the Korean baseball season, managers of the clubs met and decided that any ball thrown toward the head of the batter should result in the automatic ejection of the pitcher.
As a result, the Kia Tigers hurler Daniel Keeper has already been thrown out of two games for throwing at batters’ heads. In Keeper’s last bean ball incident, his manager, Kim Sung-han, argued with the umpires. He claimed that the batter, Cho Kyeong-hwan of the SK Wyverns, had leaned too far over the plate while trying to bunt his teammate over to second base.
Nice try, coach! As skipper of the team it’s important to stick up for your players, but your timing was terrible. At least wait for the hit batter to pick his teeth up off home plate before you get in the umpire’s face.
I’ll confess. I enjoy the drama of a knockdown war as much as the next guy. Mostly because it usually ends with a good old-fashioned bench-clearing brawl. It’s exciting to watch as the batter, after being brushed back with a little chin music, starts talking trash and giving the pitcher the evil eye. You just know that if the pitcher comes inside again ― and he has to, unless he wants the other team to think he’s soft ― the batter is going to charge the mound and the dugouts and bullpens are going to empty. Sometimes even the batboys get into it. As a player, if you don’t jump into the fray you’ll lose respect in the clubhouse no matter how well you swing the bat or run down fly balls.
So why do pitchers throw at batters? It’s all about territory. The pitcher wants to establish control of the plate to keep a larger strike zone. Roger Clemens, who recently won his 300th game, once said that early in a game he likes to zing a few inside fastballs past the batters ― just to let everybody know who’s in charge.
He’s not the only one. Bob Gibson, who led the St. Louis Cardinals to three World Series in the 1960s, was known for bringing the inside heat to keep hitters from crowding the plate. True aces like Clemens and Gibson have the control to keep those brush-back pitches from turning into bean balls, but the Daniel Keepers of the world don’t. What starts out as a classic strategy in the baseball war of nerves can quickly turn ugly.
The Korean Baseball Organization should take even harsher steps than ejection to prevent pitchers from throwing at hitters, or at least make them think twice before doing so.
With fastballs coming at 90 miles an hour, metal-spiked cleats and players swinging clubs ― I mean bats ― baseball is already a dangerous sport. And with players spending more time in the weight room every day, a kick, punch or well-placed bean ball could have horrible consequences. Before players started wearing batting helmets it was not unheard of for players to be killed by pitches to the head.
Some will always argue that bean balls are just part of the game. Is winning the upper hand at the plate worth risking ejection from a game? Maybe. How about a hefty fine or lengthy suspension? Maybe not, but whatever it takes to curb the practice, the KBO should do it.
And as for us fans, we should know better than to cheer for thuggish players and teams.
by Brian Lee
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