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Modern Game Should Eschew Beanball Wars

Manny-Machado-Dustin-Pedroia-Getty_Billie-Weiss

BOSTONManny Machado made a late, bad slide. He didn’t read the situation. Dustin Pedroia was stretched out toward Xander Bogaerts, back turned to first base, and had no intention of turning a double play, which should have been obvious to Machado, who slid, leg high, and caught the knee Pedroia had surgically repaired in the offseason. The slide could have done serious damage to a star who is widely respected in the game.

A day after the Red Sox declined to make a retaliatory statement by allowing knuckleballer Steven Wright to throw an 82 mph fastball into Machado’s back side, reliever Matt Barnes tried to make the statement with a high, inside fastball in a 6-0 game. Barnes’ high-90s fastball, which sometimes runs to his arm side, took off and went over Machado’s head and hit his bat.

Did Barnes intend to bean Machado? No. Like a lot of young pitchers, Barnes does not have experience commanding 96 mph inside.

So Barnes got ejected and later suspended for four games. There was a lot of jawing. Pedroia and Machado ended up defending one another, with Pedroia stating that no pitcher should ever throw at a batter’s head. In the end, closer Craig Kimbrel had to come in to finish the game with a day off before Boston’s 10-game homestand against the Yankees, Cubs and Orioles, and this Sunday, bloody Sunday, will be stewing when Baltimore visits Fenway Park in May.

It’s just more fuel in their chip-on-the-shoulder tank that has carried the Orioles to the best record in the American League the past five seasons, ever since they knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs on the last day of the 2011 season. That defeat sent Theo Epstein and Terry Francona out of Boston and on their ways to the seventh game of the 2016 World Series.

Beanballs Can Derail Careers

Many of us remember that August night 50 years ago when Tony Conigliaro was beaned. Oh, Tony came back in 1969, somehow managed to hit 36 homers in 1970 and actually hit the first home run struck by the Red Sox in 1975, in Baltimore. But that beaning completely changed his career.

Don Zimmer once spent 13 days in a coma after being hit by Jim Kirk, and he never forgot what headhunting meant.

Curiously, some in the Red Sox organization were concerned that Barnes last year did not pitch inside enough to make his curveball truly effective. Barnes knows he did not try to injure Machado, but being reluctant to throw his fastball inside has the potential to become an issue that diminishes his effectiveness.

In August 1971, Ken Tatum of the Angels was one of the best relievers in the AL. He beaned Baltimore’s Paul Blair, who was never the same hitter.

Ironically, Tatum was traded that offseason to Boston for Conigliaro. Later, Tatum told me that after shattering Blair’s jaw, he could never again throw a fastball on the inner half of the plate.

There is nothing humorous or tough or pretentiously macho about all this. Hopefully, the Red Sox and Orioles play on, jousting verbally about who has what sickness or injuries, and play games the way Pedroia and Adam Jones always play. Hopefully, Barnes’ command of his fastball on the inner half of the plate never falters, and he goes on to become an all-star reliever.

But for years people wondered if the Tony C beaning was another chapter in years of bad blood between the Angels and Red Sox. There was an Arnold Earley beaning of Buck Rodgers, among other incidents.

Think of all that. Think of Tony C, of Don Zimmer, of Paul Blair and Ken Tatum, and not the exacting of revenge with a 90-something mile-per-hour fastball at someone’s head. The Orioles and Red Sox are too good for that.

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