HBP And The Salsa Of Fire

When Nationals tosser Matt Grace plunked Matt Carpenter in the hand last night, the 2018 NL MVP also-ran’s season passed before my eyes (or at least the last two months of it did).  The team’s playoff chances potentially hinged on the outcome of an X-ray, and I was all in favor of exacting a pound of flesh in the most ridiculous interpretation of an eye for an eye imaginable.

Until Carpenter provided definitive proof that his ability to open a tightly sealed salsa jar had not been compromised by Grace’s momentary lapse in projectile launching mechanics, I was inconsolable.  News that the V for Vendetta facial double had already pronounced himself ready to perform baseball tasks for the next scheduled event should’ve quelled my anger.  Indeed it did, although much of that anger was converted to annoyance by the time I slipped into my Care Bears pajamas and shut tight the door to my pillow fort.

One might think that after a night to sleep on all that happened, a rational, sane person would wake up and acknowledge that sometimes bad things happen to good people and move on with life.

I am not that man.

Instead, I woke up thinking of how as fans we may collectively be atrociously bad at assessing intent based on circumstantial evidence and an untrained understanding of human nature.  Think of some of the more common talking points used when judging intent.

  1. It’s a close game, there are runners on base, and he’s not going to jeopardize his team’s chance to win just to plunk a guy.
  2. That pitch simply got away from him.
  3. Nobody sends a message on a HBP with a slider/change/curve.
  4. There is no reason to hit the guy there.  No history of previous incidents, and the hitter didn’t do anything that would merit the HBP.
  5. He seemed apologetic after the incident.

In retrospect, I think we’re simultaneously giving pitchers both too much and too little credit for how they may be thinking.  After all, it’s impossible to truly know the mind of another person.

  1. I’ve used the situational baseball argument many times, but the argument itself is fundamentally flawed in its assumption that the pitcher actually cares about winning the game or thinks the HBP will impact the outcome.  Not everyone believes in the butterfly effect, and if you know you the game situation provides a convenient defense, what’s to stop someone from blowing off some steam with a fastball to someone’s belly button?
  2. Did that pitch get away from him?  How can you really tell?  If you wanted to get away with such a heinous assault, wouldn’t you consider the possibility of staging an “accident” without an obvious motive?
  3. Throwing a bad slider or looping curve would be the perfect way to get away with a HBP with seemingly no intent.
  4. People don’t need to make anyone else aware of their reasons for doing something.  Just because you aren’t privy to the reasoning does not mean that it does not exist.  I like to leave my coffee mug on the counter instead of putting it in the dishwasher.  My wife thinks it’s because I’m always in a hurry to get back to my office, but I really just enjoy provoking her until she drops f-bombs in my name.  Incidentally, if my wife could hit me with a pitch, her intent would be obvious, and she certainly would be justified.
  5. Appearing contrite is simply good PR.  Plunk the guy and then immediately ask for forgiveness.  Why NOT do this?  Toss the beanball, go straight into your pious mode, and then throw yourself at the mercy of the court.

Look, I’m not saying that Grace intended to hit Carpenter, because I can’t be 100% certain.  I’m actually 99.86% certain that Grace didn’t intend to hit Carpenter, but I’m honest enough to admit that there is that .14% of uncertainty, because I’m using flawed criteria. If he intended to hit Carpenter, then he got away with it completely, and he was judged innocent in the court of public opinion.  Brilliant move which I would neither respect nor applaud but can fully appreciate for its bold manipulation of our perception of it.

Fortunately for the bat-wielders among his teammates who may fear retaliation, reasonable doubt favors Grace here.  That said, the Cardinals go to Washington in early September, and a reciprocated serving of what Grace gave Carpenter isn’t completely out-of-the-question.  If that happens, then I’m sure that there is a “Cardinal Way” for handling such a thing.  I’m just speculating, but here is a best guess at the Cardinals guidebook for chin music.

  • Avoid adding substantial risk to the already present inherent risk of standing 60′ away from someone who can throw a round, leather ball 90+ mph.
  • Aim the pitch below the shoulders and above the knees.
  • Avoid the front of the hitter’s body.
  • Target the calf or the back pockets of the hitter’s uniform.
  • Opt for a slow change or looping curve as a courtesy to the hitter to allow time to avoid the pitch altogether.
  • Own up to your barbaric act immediately and prepare to do your penance.

Basically, it’s baseball’s version of the NFL’s targeting rules but with an even smaller legal zone for contact.

I joked on Twitter last night about bringing in Hicks to drill someone (Harper) with a stupidly hard fastball, and I’m saddened that people would think I would really want that.  Ridiculous.  If anything, I’d want Cecil to do it, because I see no real harm in him getting a short suspension.


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