Time to change the rules on hit batsmen

Major League Baseball has undergone several rule changes in the past decade, many of which have been great for the game and the players. After watching some recent Yankees games, I have concluded that a new rule needs to be added to protect hitters from completely avoidable injuries.

There is a modern movement in sports to enact rules and regulations that protect their most vulnerable players. For example, the NFL has made several new rules in an attempt to protect quartebacks from concussions. There is no reason why this type of precedent shouldn’t be established in Major League Baseball as well.

A lot has been said recently about how Yankees pitchers are not “retaliating” for their batters who have been hit by quite a few pitches recently. Personally, I think it’s wrong to fault someone for doing the right thing. As we were all taught growing up, two wrongs do not make a right. Just because players on your team are getting hit by pitches, doesn’t mean it’s right to maliciously throw at the other team, putting their health and careers at risk. The current composition of the Yankees roster is a group of classy individuals (with maybe one exception) who play the game the right way. I see no reason to criticize that, in fact I would go as far as to praise the moral aptitude of this team.

The onus should not be on the pitchers to try to hurt other players or “send a message.” The onus needs to be on the league and the players union to protect their players. That responsibility will then be transferred to the umpires, the enforcers of the rules. There is really no excuse to maliciously try to hurt someone in the name of a game that is meant to be played for fun and competion. A game which you are lucky enough to get paid handsomely to excel at.

Here is my proposed solution. If a pitcher hits a batter, he is immediately warned, regardless of the type of pitch or likelihood of intention. The warning is not issued to both teams, just that pitcher. If that pitcher so much as throws high and tight again, he is out for the game. Many injuries would be prevented, including concussions that could have a lasting impact on a players life, let alone career. It would be interesting to see how quickly the number of hit by pitches declined under such a rule. Only then would we begin to get a glimpse of the true prevalence of “intentionally” hit batsmen.

People will inevitably point out that pitchers have been doing this for years, and that players managed just fine without this rule for decades. Things have changed drastically since the early days though. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, and getting hit by a pitch has become a more dangerous endeavor. Relievers are specializing in going all out for one inning at a time, sometimes less. Pitchers are regularly hitting the upper 90′s on the radar gun. There is no excuse to place players in danger when there is an easy way to prevent injury.

Some others might opine that this rule would be disproportionately unfair to wild pitchers, or those who are daring enough to go inside on batters. To that, I would say that it is currently unfair for hitters to have to face these erratic pitchers and have no idea whether the next pitch is coming at their head or painting the outside corner for strike three. They are expected to put their personal safety aside so they can hit a baseball and make the fans, media, and owners who pay them happy. Having enough control of your pitches to avoid hitting batters unintentionally should be a prerequisite to becoming a professional baseball player.

This proposed rule change goes by the same guiding principle as the six foul rule in basketball. Without that rule, a basketball game could degrade into a prison rules street game at any moment. No talent hackjobs would benefit greatly. I get that it’s different in baseball. Umpires are supposed to have the discretion to warn both sides when a player gets hit intentionally. It’s not enough though, and this has been proven in recent weeks where several players have been injured after being hit by a pitch.

Admittedly I am partial. I am a healthcare professional always looking for ways to prevent injury and promote safety. Isn’t that what the league, and the players union should be doing for Major League Baseball employees though? A construction company is expected (as they should be) to protect it’s employees by providing protective equipment and limiting exposure to certain substances such as asbestos. The stakes might not be as high in baseball, but shouldn’t the MLB be held to the same standard as the rest of America? When there is an obvious way to protect your players/employees, there is no excuse to ignore it.

The rule change would not be without it’s complications. One hitch in the idea is that players could crowd the plate and purposefully get hit by a pitch, limiting the pitcher’s repertoire for the rest of the game. To this I say that if this rule were put into place, more stringent rules would have to be made to prevent such behaviors. Crowd the plate and get hit? It’s not longer just a ball, it’s actually a strike. Umpires would have to become more aggressive in making those types of calls. It would make things more difficult in this respect, but at least the players are voluntarily putting themselves in the line of fire, unlike the current set of circumstances.

I am officially tired of pitchers being criticized for not retaliating when the opposing pitcher hits a member of their team. It is not fair for someone to have to feel pressured into doing something that could hurt another human being. Under the current set of rules, a pitcher may be ostracized by their coaches, teammates, or fans if they choose to abstain from such behavior and instead choose to be upstanding individuals. Instead of punishing those righteous players, they should be rewarded. The players who put others at risk by their recklessness or ineptitude (for those who lack control of their pitches) are the ones who need to be punished.

It’s high time the league did something about this disturbing promotion of violence. Baseball is America’s passtime, and it is meant to be a wholesome activity that can be shared by all. It’s supposed to bring people together, not pull them apart. It’s time the MLB takes a page out of the NFL’s book and starts promoting player safety. The MLB needs to make like Spike Lee and “Do the Right Thing.”

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16 Responses to Time to change the rules on hit batsmen

  1. Gary Gullio says:

    One problem with your approach, how do you handle the batter that is practically standing on home plate during his at-bat? Especially if they are wearing the body armor of a medieval knight? I would liike to see the mound raised up about 1-to-2 inches…I would like the batter's box line be moved away from home plate by about two inches… and the batter's box line be made of rubber and not some ground crew's chalk line that can be erased by the batter's foot.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Definitely a good solution. I offered my own solution to that problem in the article. It involved establishing stricter rules on leaning over the plate.

  2. Fred says:

    "They are expected to put their personal safety aside so they can hit a baseball and make the fans, media, and owners who pay them happy. "

    And the players understand that. They know that part of the game is the possibility of injury, and are paid large sums of money to go out there regardless. I would be open to a rule where 3 HBP is an automatic ejection, but not anything less. The rule has to be assured to enact itself only on pitchers who are throwing at the batters intentionally. I think 3 HBP would also have the benefit of not being low enough for players to crowd the plate (at least until after 2 HBP) and would allow for wild pitchers to be able to do their thing without living in constant fear of ejection. Similar to what you said, if a you're a pitcher in the majors, you need to be able to do your job without hitting 3 batters

    Good article though Greg, not something I've seen discussed before.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Thank you. I think I'd be open to three HBP at least at first to see how it worked out. If it didn't change anything, then moving it to two might be in order.

      As far as the players being away of the possibility of injury, well to a certain extent I agree with you. Obviously the military presents much worse of a risk and they get paid much less. On the other hand the risk that these men take on is not really preventable, unless you want to get into a discussion on politics (I don't). The risk these batters take on is highly preventable in my opinion. Again I move to my construction worker analogy. Just because the worker accepts the risk doesn't make the risk "acceptable."

      • Greg Corcoran says:

        *aware… not "away"

      • Fred says:

        I definitely agree with you there, that any way there is to manage the risk is something they should look into. No one wants to see players get hurt.

        My point is basically that an automatic ejection is a very powerful thing. I wouldn't want to see the game impacted at all by a rule like this. If it is possible to exploit something to get a pitcher kicked out, you can guarantee that the batters, and possibly even the umpires, will exploit it. That's essentially why I'd prefer to have a little bit of a longer leash. I definitely do think that such a rule would be beneficial if it was properly implemented, so that it protected batters without the potential of abusing the rule.

        Overall its a really good idea, I hope this is something that MLB starts to seriously think about.

        • Greg Corcoran says:

          I agree. The idea needs some tweaking one way or the other. There has to be a way to prevent the rule from being exploited. It's also one of those things that you'd have to see it in practice in order to concoct plans to prevent it's exploitation. I also hope it gets put into practice because I am all for anything that promotes safety for anyone, not just baseball players.

  3. friend says:

    This should go hand in hand with protecting infielders from being injured by baserunners while attempting to turn a double play!!!

    • Souther Yankee fan says:

      I agree that the game is moving faster and the risk of serious injury is increasing. In addition there were a lot of injuries that occurred that were not acknowledged in the past as serious. There is some thought tat Lou Gehrig neurological condition was from recurrent trauma and not ALS. I believe that there should be an automatic ejection for throwing at the trunk or head. I also believe that the rules should revert to being hit on the hand should be part of the bat and therefore a foul ball if it occurs outside the batters box; the pitcher should be able to control the ball and the batter should control the bat.

      • Greg Corcoran says:

        I had heard that at some point too about Lou Gehrig. I do know that ALS is more common amongst victims of repeated trauma, but that sometimes it's just bad luck and genetics as well. I agree with much of what you have said, including the rules about getting hit in the hands when outside the batter's box.

  4. Jim says:

    Who is the unclassy yank, Greg?

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Good question. I prefaced it with maybe because I think an argument could be made that this particular Yankee is actually a class act, despite some transgressions in the past including steroid use and some strange interactions with other players and the media/teammates.

  5. Jim says:

    Calling out Andy on BBD? Gutsy move!

  6. Hardcore Yankee Fan says:

    I've been thinking for the longest time that the rule does need to be changed. I would like to see a two base penalty for hitting batters.