On of the common and unnoticed ways that rule breaking affects the game is how selective enforcement of the interference rules results in dangerous and frequent cheating. In double plays, where the runner to second is allowed a free shot at the fielder and the fielder isn’t required to touch second to get the force out, and at home, catchers are allowed to block the progress of the runner and runners are allowed to run full-tilt into the catcher, either to try and knock the ball loose or to even stop them from fielding the ball.
I saw a particularly violent example of this today, in the Seattle-New York game. The play starts at about 1:20:30 in the feed. Josh Phelps, coming in to score from second on a single by Jeter, runs home. Johjima sets up in front of the plate and a little to the first base side to receive the throw. Phelps has a wide open shot at the plate and, even if he couldn’t see that the ball was late coming in, could have run through or slid, forcing Johjima to come all the way around and make a sweeping tag, but pretty much he’s home free.
Phelps takes Jojima out. Here’s a still to show how far he went to make this hit.
Phelps has to go so far off the plate that after driving into Johjima, he goes back to touch home. Johjima, as a possibly revelant aside, is the only Mariner really hitting well so far this year. If the umps are going to let you take a shot and possibly get him out of the game, why not go for it?
From the Seattle Times blog:
Phelps said “When I saw him starting to crouch down, for me, it tells me he’s getting ready to receive the ball. I can’t just let himn tag me real quick.”
Johjima said he “was kind of surprised because I had left the plate open.”
Washburn then plunked Phelps in the sixth. Skipping the subject of whether headhunting’s ethical or not (it’s certainly against the rules to hit the batter on purpose), under baseball’s code, that’s entirely acceptable for a pitcher to throw a pitch at a batter on purpose. I don’t think I need to go into how dangerous it can be to get hit.
Actually, there were two: he throws inside, low, and misses Phelps, and then goes up and in to get him on the arm.
The ump warns both benches, which is a whole other dynamic in how these things escalate (short version: there’s a huge incentive for you to be the guy who does the plunking that results in the warning, because it prevents retaliation).
- Josh Phelps makes a strictly speaking illegal but allowed hit on Johjima, which even the Yes! Network announcers said was unnecessary. Considering that Johjima was looking away, this is even more dangerous than it seems.
- Jarrod Washburn makes a strictly speaking illegal but allowed pitch at Phelps, an intentional throw designed to hurt Phelps, if not injure him.
- with two outs in the 7th and no one on, Scott Proctor throws a pitch clocked at 96 behind Mariner shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, Proctor’s ejected.
- An angry exchange of words, dugouts empty. The throw’s bad enough, but people get hurt (and suspended) in brawls too.
The history of allowing catchers to block the plate and runners to try and bury them resulted in an opportunity for Phelps. Phelps took his chance. The Mariners then resort to their own allowed but tolerated opportunity to get revenge, and then Proctor takes revenge for the revenge. One dangerous play created by the selective enforcement of the rules would up creating three different dangerous incidents in the game.
These kind of openings exist as vestiges of baseball’s early days, when collisions and rough play were much more common, and hitting the opposing batter routine (this is in The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball‘s coverage of the McGraw Orioles and those times), and games like today’s provide an interesting snapshot of how far the game has come since those days, and how opportunities that remain are exploited.