The sport of baseball spent another day on Tuesday deciphering and decoding its esoteric collection of unwritten rules, a long-held system of decorum that can serve to legislate justice on the field and never ceases to spark debate.
The latest powder keg was lit on Monday in San Francisco, when Giants reliever Hunter Strickland plunked Washington’s Bryce Harper with a 98 mph fastball, 2 1/2 years after Harper homered twice off the pitcher during the 2014 postseason. Harper tossed his bat aside, charged the mound, flung his helmet wildly and incited a melee inside AT&T Park.
Strickland, you might remember, was also involved in an incident with the Royals during Game 2 of the 2014 world Series at Kauffman Stadium. On Tuesday, he was suspended six games, while Harper received a four-game suspension for his role. But the incident, along with a series of run-ins between Baltimore and Boston earlier this season, has pushed the unwritten rules discussion back to the forefront. On Tuesday, more retaliation was expected as the teams prepared to face each other again in San Francisco. Should the league seek a way to curb retaliatory pitches and lingering feuds?
Count Royals manager Ned Yost among those who believe the game is fine the way it is.
“Let boys be boys,” Yost said Tuesday, in the hours before his team continued a series against the Detroit Tigers. “There was no problem with it for years and years and years. It always just got handled. We’re changing so much in baseball now. It’s just part of the game.”
In recent years, though, the issue of player safety has served to spur changes in the sport. Rules on collisions at home plate and slides at second base have evolved. The debate about retaliation and fighting has taken on a similar tenor.
As he sat inside his office on Tuesday, Yost was asked if he ever got nervous about a standout player such as Eric Hosmer potentially getting hurt because of an arbitrarily applied written rule — whether it be an errant pitch in the hands or arm or an injury during a brawl. Yost shrugged off the inquiry.
“I’m nervous every time Eric Hosmer crosses the street,” Yost said. “He could get hit by a car. A bird could poop in his eye, and we’d lose him for a week. C’mon, you can get hurt in a bunch of different ways. I’m not going to sit here and worry about a guy getting hurt in a fight.
“[Getting hit by a pitch] can happen tonight, and it would be totally unintentional.”
As an organization, Yost said, the Royals do not seek out altercations, nor do they try to “start stuff.” But as he spoke, he echoed a common sentiment heard throughout baseball. The game is fine the way it is.
“We’re not going to stand back if something happens, too,” Yost said. “You try to protect your players the best you can. And just pick the right opportunity to pitch inside, and if it gets away, it gets away.”
By Tuesday, Hosmer, the Royals’ All-Star first baseman, had seen the highlights of Tuesday’s brawl. Answering a question from a reporter, he took issue with a pitcher throwing at a hitter for homering off him. Yet he also agreed that, at the least, Strickland executed his pitch in the right way, hitting Harper in the upper part of the thigh.
“It’s something that is just controlled between those guys,” Hosmer said. “And obviously they took care of it yesterday so now they can move on from it and play baseball.”