After Bryce Harper and San Francisco’s Hunter Strickland squared off during Monday’s game, Nationals manager Dusty Baker defended his outfielder’s decision to charge the mound in response to being hit by a 98-mph fastball.
“It looked intentional to me,” Baker told reporters. “What’s a man supposed to do?”
Phrasing the question like that implies there’s one answer with no viable alternative – at least for a “real” man. But Harper admitted he had a choice in the matter: “You either go to first base, or you go after him,” he told reporters. “And I decided to go after him.”
I understand why batters get upset when they’re plunked on purpose. Asking them to grin-and-bear it 100 percent of the time is asking them to be robots. If that were the case, fastballs wouldn’t hurt.
Some might question Harper’s manhood if he didn’t charge the mound, but I think we need to check Strickland’s birth certificate. Like far too many pitchers who believe it’s their job to right wrongs, even scores and police the game, his behavior resembled that of a whiny little boy.
“Waah! You homered off me! … Your trot was too long! … You flipped your bat! … Your celebration was excessive!”
Related: Nats GM Rips ‘Selfish’ Strickland
Yes, this has been an aspect of baseball since dead balls and flannel jerseys. Sometimes pitchers throw at hitters to retaliate for a teammate’s injury. Sometimes it’s just the pitcher’s pride that’s been injured. “It’s part of the game,” Nationals outfielder Jason Werth told reporters.
Sorry, but segregation and amphetamines used to be part of the game, too. A better rationale is needed but none is forthcoming.
Aside from the infantile nature of intentionally hitting batters, the act is incredibly dangerous. Boston’s Matt Barnes uncorked a 90-mph fastball behind the head of Baltimore’s Manny Machado in late April. The pitch came within inches of perhaps being tragic.
But boys will be boys, huh?
Machado had spiked Red Sox star Dustin Pedroia while sliding into second base. Even then, Barnes was chastised within baseball – heck, within his own clubhouse – only for the pitch’s placement and timing. The Orioles star, one of the game’s brightest fresh faces, could’ve been lost for the season. But MLB suspended Barnes for a mere four games.
With the sport fighting for traction among youngsters and clicks in cyberspace, it should leave aspects of the past behind. Start with outdated notions of “the right way” to play, which thankfully is losing a battle against generational and cultural forces that appreciate a good show. The shift should continue by ending the nonchalance when pitchers take aim at batters.
Harper said he respects Strickland for keeping the ball low instead of messing around near his head. But he couldn’t believe the pitcher still carried a grudge over two homers Harper hit against him in the 2014 NL Division Series.
The Giants didn’t believe it, either. Like the Red Sox and Barnes, none of Strickland’s teammates thought highly of the decision. Too bad.
A pitcher doesn’t need a consensus on the mound. It’s his ball. He can throw at whoever he wants, whenever he wants and for whatever reason he wants.
“Nah nah na-boo-boo!”
It’s time for some real men in baseball. Enough with the childish behavior.
— Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.