I’d originally planned a commentary for Tuesday after Monday’s Washington Nationals-San Francisco Giants brawl. If you missed it on Memorial Day, the Giants’ Hunter Strickland plunked Bryce Harper with a 98-mph fastball. It was payback for Harper hitting home runs off Strickland in the playoffs three years ago. The sometimes hot-headed Harper charged the mound tossing his helmet which landed somewhere near Fisherman’s Wharf and soon fists and lots of hair were flying.
The baseball suits responded quickly with a six-game suspension for Strickland. Harper was given four, then reduced to three.
That brings us to “The Code”. Every business has one. In television, you stay out of a photographer’s shot. In school, you stay out of the teacher’s classroom, and when approaching a toll booth, stay out of Sonny Corleone’s car.
Baseball is no different with its unwritten rules. When the batter’s out at first base, he never crosses over the pitcher’s mound on the way back to the dugout. Pitchers, even when beaning someone, never, ever aim at the head. But, when you’re player is thrown at, an eye-for-an-eye is usually in play.
To their credit, the Nationals didn’t play the obvious card 24 hours later and nail a Giants star. Major League Baseball swung the gavel and players swung the bats but not their fists. Honestly, that’s why I waited. Since the game was in San Francisco with a 6 p.m. Alaska time start, it began as we went to air. It turned out to be an uneventful evening anyway. So, this runs Wednesday night.
But, what if Harper had simply taken first base? Would Strickland have been punished? A warning to both benches surely would have been issued and at that point, the Nats probably would have responded. Keep in mind they play three more games with the Giants in August. This time they’ll be at Nationals Park in D.C. And baseball teams have long memories.
The strange twist here is that even the Giants thought Strickland was in the wrong. Manager Bruce Bochy said it didn’t look good. And Buster Posey stood and watched. Usually, the catcher is the first one to play ambassador. Instead, he looked like he had ringside seats at Caesar’s Palace– pretty telling.
Some unwritten rules come from the Mesozoic period, but most are based on respect for the game and how it’s supposed to be played– hard but cleanly.
I think base-brawls are dumb but can see why Harper charged. He would have received praise for dropping the bat and going to first. But, of course, that’s easy to say when you’re not the one getting popped with a fastball.
For all their bat flips, arguing with umpires and antics on the mound, players usually know how to police themselves and while it’s necessary for the brass to get involved after a dustup, somehow a list of unwritten laws not printed or publicized always seem to steer teams back between the lines– where it should be.
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