Ozzie Guillen and the Erosion of Baseball

In Uncategorized on August 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm
OG's on the warpath again, and this time he's right.

OG's on the warpath again, and this time he's right.

White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen had some choice words for the rest of the league on Sunday, following a series with Cleveland in which Indian pitchers repeatedly made targets of Sox hitters:

“Okay. You little cockroaches… come on. You wanna play games? Okay, I play with you; come on. Okay. You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”

Okay, I lied. Guillen didn’t say that – it’s actually a quote from Scarface but since Ozzie Guillen and Tony Montana sound exactly the same, I thought it was appropriate. And the content of the message isn’t that far off, in fact. Here’s what Ozzie really said:

“Around the league, be careful because we’re going to hit people,” Guillen warned. “I don’t care if I get suspended because I need to protect my players…If I see someone hit my player, and I know they hit him on purpose, it’s two guys going down,” he went on. It gets to the point when they hit us seven times, 20 times in one week, and we hit one and [we’re] the headhunters and that’s a [problem] with Major League Baseball. I don’t care if I get suspended. I rather have me suspended for two games than have my players on the DL for 30 days.”

Some people might hear this and think, There goes Ozzie Guillen running his mouth again. The guy has built enough of a reputation as an outspoken hothead that many around baseball will simply write off his latest tirade as yet another Ozzie Moment.

But not me. Why? Because I agree with him, 100%.

Retaliation has always been a part of baseball. Since the dawn of the sport’s history, the beanball has been a respected and oft-utilized aspect of the game. The rules go something like this:

Batter’s crowding the plate? Burn the next one up and in to reclaim the inside corner. Pitcher hits your star player? Next inning, you hit theirs. Player shows up the pitcher after a home run? Expect a high hard one next time up.

Simple enough. And exceedingly effective. Until now.

Now, when a pitcher hits a batter, official warnings are issued to both sides. Heaven forbid, then, that the other team’s pitcher responds – even unintentionally – by plunking another batter, because he’ll be immediately ejected from the game and most likely suspended. Forget steroids; the integrity of the game is being comprimised by trigger-happy umpires.

These days, the Sox have no recourse against a headhunter like Joba Chamberlain

These days, the Sox have no recourse against a headhunter like Joba Chamberlain

The low point in the ongoing pansification of Major League Baseball came on Saturday, when Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez was ejected after hitting Alex Rodriguez with a pitch down two runs and with a runner on first – ie, in a situation in which no clear-thinking pitcher would ever intentionally hit a batter. Yet home plate umpire Jim Joyce (who, by the way, is without question the most annoying ump in the league, with his “Strieeeeeeee” strike calls and ridiculous posturing) tossed Ramirez without blinking an eye the second his pitch struck Rodriguez in the back. Suddenly, the Red Sox were left scrambling to find a pitcher to replace Ramirez because, as you might remember, the previous night’s game had gone fifteen innings. Yet Joyce somehow thought that by ejecting Ramirez he was doing both teams a favor and preventing any future retribution.

Unfortunately, what he actually did was further contribute to the dilution of a sport badly in need of something – anything – to snap it out of a Steroid-and-economics-induced skid.

But do a couple beanballs here or there really make a difference?

MLB umpire Jim Joyce is notoriously trigger-happy.

MLB umpire Jim Joyce (no relation to James) and his notorious hair trigger

No, they probably don’t. I’m not going to sit here and argue that beanballs themselves are a major catalyst. Rather, it’s what they represent – things like camaraderie, protecting your teammates, unity, fair play, and having each other’s backs – that is at stake in MLB’s current sunshine-and-rainbows climate. It’s grit and heart and anger and true, cold-blooded rivalry that we’re losing every time a Jim Joyce decides he’s bigger than the game. And once a guy like Joyce starts distributing warnings and throwing guys out, it then becomes the absence of the beanball that is the problem.

Once a pitcher or his opposing pitcher has been warned, it effectively removes the inside corner from play. A warning means that the inside pitch has been plucked from the arsenal of each player and at that point, neither pitcher can throw inside for fear of missing – often by just one or two inches – and hitting the batter. This miniscule mistake, of course, would result in said pitcher’s immediate ejection. So now the entire landscape of the game has been altered and you’re left with two scared pitchers forced to do their jobs with, essentially, one hand tied behind their backs. Not only do the pitchers realize this, but the batters fully understand it as well. And now they have an advantage, knowing as they do that there won’t be any more inside pitches to contend with. So suddenly, there exists a whole lineup of steroid-fueled hitters free to crowd the plate as they wish, bending and thinning the strike zone to their will, and making it that much easier for them to pull a meatball over the fence. And inevitably one of these hitters will do just that, and perhaps that one fear-induced, plate-crowding , integrity-of-the-game-eroding blast will swing the game – and maybe even the season – in his team’s favor.

Thank you, Jim Joyce.

And sure, that hypothetical scenario isn’t entirely the fault of Joyce and his colleagues. It’s more likely that the cupcake orders are being sent down from high above – from somewhere up in the ranks of the MLB administration; from a commissioner, perhaps, who mistakenly thinks it’s a good idea to limit the violence in a sport already stricken by scandal while failing to notice the resurgence of another sport (hockey) in which fisticuffs play a major role. More likely, baseball’s two-hand-touch policy stems from Bob Watson, the MLB VP in charge of discipline – a guy who, thus far into his tenure, has displayed an affinity for handing out beanball suspenions and a startling inability to control much of anything else (see: steroids). In any case, the league-wide hair-trigger rulings are accomplishing nothing, really, other than the continued cheapening of an already-declining National Pastime.

In other words, I’m with Ozzie. Fire away.


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