Retro Relapse: When ‘The Code’ Goes Too Far

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

There are several unwritten rules and codes in baseball. They have existed for generations and even though they are kept pretty secret, there has been a lot of transparency in the last few years.

It is kind of like professional wrestling, in that no one knew how exactly they put their show together and how the behind the scenes mechanics worked but with the Internet and instantaneous media at people’s fingertips, that game changed. What they referred to as “kayfabe” (their code and secrets of the business) has come out into the light.

Baseball has evolved in a similar way and between websites, blogs and even books, commentators and ex-players themselves coming forward to shed light on these things, the general public understands “The Code” much better than they did a generation ago.

I respect The Code, it is part of the sport and every other sport or industry in the world has its own unwritten rules. The problem is that sometimes this code goes too far. For instance, when it leads to maiming another player intentionally and possibly shortening or flat out ending their career, there is a real problem.

This past weekend we saw an example of this in the series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

During the first game of the series, Pirates relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri threw a fastball that struck the hand of Diamondbacks first baseman and superstar, Paul Goldschmidt. It was an accident and not intentional. When pitching, sometimes the ball slips or a pitcher doesn’t hit their target. In this case, Goldschmidt’s hand fell victim and was broken by Frieri’s fastball. Goldschmidt was put on the DL for 15 days. But this is the risk of playing a sport. Injury is an everyday thing and the players know this when they step on the field.

Sure, it is a setback for the struggling Diamondbacks but being that the season is two-thirds of the way over and that they’re 14.5 games behind the first place Dodgers and 12 games behind the second place Giants in the NL West, there really isn’t anything short of a miracle that can even get the Diamondbacks close to a wild card spot. But Paul Goldschmidt is their star player and any student of the game knew that despite this being an accident, retribution from the Diamondbacks would be coming. Hell, in regards to their batters getting hit by pitches, they warned of retribution before the season started.

The next night, very late in the game, the Pirates top player Andrew McCutchen took the plate. McCutchen is a serious contender for the National League MVP this year and is hands down one of the best players of this generation. He is also leading the Pittsburgh Pirates in their tough fight to make the playoffs for their second straight year. Right now, they are 2.5 games behind the first place Brewers and just 1.5 games behind the second place Cardinals. The Pirates have a real chance at making the playoffs again, which is awesome considering that last year was their first postseason appearance in two decades.

When Andrew McCutchen took the plate however, their hunt was seriously threatened when Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado intentionally threw a fastball at McCutchen, which struck him hard in the spine. McCutchen immediately hit the dirt and writhed in pain. The result: lots of tests, lots of worry and a broken rib in a pivotal time for the Pirates to rally and push for a spot in the playoffs. This revenge pitch may have cost the entire city of Pittsburgh another real run at postseason glory.

A lot of opinionated analysts and experts are pointing a finger at Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson. Many believe that he has created a headhunting culture within his ball club. Did he give the order like a mob boss putting out a hit on a key member of a rival gang? It’s possible but we’ll never know because ballplayers pretty much keep their mouths shut on such matters. Regardless, these mob-like tactics are a blight on the game.

Remember last season when Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster threw a fastball at Alex Rodriguez’s head? Yes, he did what many wanted him to do, as the Yankees star was public enemy number one in the world of baseball. That doesn’t excuse it though. Worst-case scenario, it could’ve killed the guy or ended his career had it connected the right way. Severely hurting someone intentionally isn’t the same thing as simply beaning a dude to send a message.

In hockey, they fight and they fight hard. But when Marty McSorely of the Boston Bruins went too far and hit the Canucks’ Donald Brashear in the head with a stick, ending his career, he was charged with assault with a weapon and given an 18 month conditional discharge. Hockey and the law took care of business and did the right thing.

There is a fine line and accidents happen. However when someone is intentionally harmed because it’s just the way things are done and have always been done, that’s a bullshit excuse and completely fucking asinine.

Baseball is a sport of class and a sport of men. The players need to start acting like it and carrying themselves as something higher than barbarians.

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