When it comes to beanballs, truth is impossible

There was a less controversial ejection yesterday that most people missed because it was during a Reds/Brewers game.

Alfredo Simon threw the ball at Chase Anderson’s face at 91 MPH. He did this in retaliation for getting hit by Anderson earlier in the game. Anderson hit Simon in order to prevent a run from scoring (a clever play) but Simon was having none of it. The general consensus is that Simon absolutely should have been ejected. Maybe he should even be suspended.

But the general consensus we have for Alfredo Simon is rare these days. There are very few cut-and-dry cases in the world of beanballing, as we have seen with the recent Toronto/Texas fight and Syndergaard’s ejection yesterday. Each member of the debate (and each fanbase) will give an opinion and assure themselves that they are in the right.

I don’t think Noah Syndergaard should have been immediately tossed from the game yesterday, and despite my accompanying petulant annoyance, I have calmed down enough to break my reasoning down. And yes, this is entirely because I am an arrogant Mets fan.

Major League Baseball and its umpires have lost the ability to be the arbiter of justice in these situations. To me, this is immensely frustrating. Long ago, baseball decided that the final judgement of baseball feuds would be the players themselves. This has codified itself into baseball’s DNA, and now observers and players have come to expect violence to be the way things are. Just look at Joe Buck’s reaction to Syndergaard getting tossed from the game. We expect justice and morality to be decided by an anomalous group of testosterone-fueled men on a baseball diamond.

If things get out of hand, the authorities may intervene. But it’s not guaranteed. Last week, Phil Hughes threw behind Josh Donaldson and was not ejected from the game. Donaldson’s manager was ejected. The situation was not really that dissimilar from the Syndergaard scenario (the outcome and intent were exactly the same) but because Joe West, an “old-school” umpire, was calling the game, Phil Hughes stayed. The only person to get ejected was Donaldson’s manager Jay Gibbons.

Josh Donaldson slammed the “beanball culture” of baseball after the game. He made several very reasonable arguments for anyone outside of the microcosm of baseball, including me.

  1. Beaning players puts Donaldson and others’ jobs and careers in jeopardy.
  2. MLB tries to protect players as much as possible, but they allow beanballs to persist.
  3. What kind of example is this for the general public?

Maybe Adam Hamari, the ump who ejected Syndergaard, read this article and stored it in the back of his mind. Maybe he saw the massive fight that Donaldson’s team had engaged in just a few days before and wanted to avoid a similar situation.

But what Hamari did is in direct opposition to what his counterpart did earlier in the game. The de facto law of the land changes from every game and depends on the personalities of a few umpires. Nobody actually knows the “legal” thing to do in this situation. Except we do know. It’s what has been decided by the “code of baseball” that has been passed down for generations.

So maybe Hamari was trying to take a noble stand against this culture. In his mind, the punishment was justified. In the eyes of another umpire, the punishment was not justified. In the eyes of the public…well…it’s probably better to not let the public into this, especially since Met fans have lined up to send death threats to Chase Utley and his family in the past.

After fuming aimlessly for a few hours, I calmed down and realized I disagree with the decision on a purely legal level (this is my dissenting brief, I suppose). I disagree because you can’t argue with certainty that ejecting Syndergaard was the correct decision. I have seen many players get hit and only get warnings. On rare occasions, people take a stand and try to enforce some order on the situation. This was one of those cases. The vast majority of the time, however, this culture is allowed to persist. Baseball just refuses to be consistent on these matters, so anything even remotely in the gray area has grounds for disagreement. If there is no law, or even a general consensus akin to the widespread condemnation of Mr. Big Pasta Simon, I am perfectly capable of arguing that any course of action is incorrect. So is everybody else. By this system, you can even argue that Simon has a case that he should not have been tossed (as Bryan Price does in the video).

Look, last year, Matt Harvey drilled Chase Utley with a 95 MPH fastball on the first pitch of an-bat with first base open. Both benches received warnings. Nobody was ejected. And the game had already been very contentious with a questionable d’Arnaud catchers’ interference call and the fact that it was a Mets/Phillies game. Surely, if any game is going to boil over and become dangerous, it would be this one. And in fact, in did become dangerous. Two Mets had been hit by David Buchanan earlier in the game (I actually believe those were both accidental). Utley actually got hit with the pitch on this occasion. And yet the punishments were completely different in a similar scenario.

If we are willing to accept a world in which this is not immediately ejectable (a possibly worse crime, to the same person no less, receives a completely different verdict), than I am within good reason to put forth the same argument for Syndergaard out of selfish fan reasons. And again, we see the case of an older umpire, Alfonso Marquez (umpiring since 2000) refraining from an ejection.

Right now, baseball seems to be at a moment of cultural crisis. The “unwritten rules” that have governed baseball for decades are now being cast as bad for the game, to the chagrin of ex-players current players. And the rules are objectively “bad” by any conceivable non-baseball standard of morality, to be honest. I’d much rather not see Zack Greinke’s collarbone get broken in a fight. I’d like to have Rougned Odor playing for my fantasy team instead of missing a week for a suspension. Unfortunately we watch a game where these things are not “assault” but just “part of the unwritten rules”. I hope the Mets stop trying to retaliate against Utley and focus more on getting him out, which has been basically impossible in this series.

Whatever the case, baseball’s obsession with “unwritten rules” (that includes Syndergaard as well) and the inability for anyone to agree on consistent practices have cost the Mets dearly.

The umpires, the players and the league are all wiling to let this slide. And as long as that happens, I don’t think it’s logically fair for anyone to disagree with me about a legal decision that exists in the fantasy of grown men who play baseball for a living. And it isn’t fair for me to disagree with them either.

Bonus philosophy discussion (feel free to skip):

If you’ll pardon some Kant, it is clear that defenders of unwritten rules (let’s call them “Gossages”) believe that the existence of unwritten rules has become an “analytic proposition” in that the concept is contained within the idea of baseball. To say, baseball has unwritten rules is contained within the statement. To the Gossages, of course baseball has unwritten rules. This is the fundamental problem. Gossages treat retaliation as an “analytic” proposition when it is actually a “synthetic proposition”. In reality, “baseball has unwritten rules” is an entirely false. The unwritten rules are not included within the fabric of baseball; they are synthetically derived from over the decades.

When facing people who simply believe that baseball “is the way it is”, getting them to change their minds will be difficult. Players like Donaldson are few and far between, and they usually don’t speak up. Getting someone to change the way they epistemologically understand baseball (like Syndergaard for example) is basically impossible. For them, hitting people in the head is an immovable object and the “logical” thing to do from an epistemological perspective.

In other words,  I don’t see this problem going away any time soon.




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