People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.
Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.
The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:
“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:
(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”
It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.
The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.
The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.
Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)
Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)
The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.
There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.
Welcome to the Fall Classic. The World Series has arrived after an exciting run through the playoffs. The Kansas City Royals will face the New York Mets for the right to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy as the champion of Major League Baseball. The Kansas City Royals last won the World Series in 1985. The New York Mets last won the World Series in 1986. The championship drought for one of these teams is about to end after many, often painful, years.
So what has led us to this World Series? How have we navigated from the Wild Card games through the playoffs and finally to the World Series? The field has gone from 10 teams down to just 2 teams.
National League Wild Card
Chicago Cubs 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 0
The Pirates were once again a formidable team during the regular season, but they fell short in the Wild Card game. Behind their young bats and Jake Arrieta’s complete game shutout, the Cubs showed they were the superior team, at least for one day when it mattered the most.
American League Wild Card
Houston Astros 3, New York Yankees 0
The New York Yankees coasted into the Wild Card game, and not in a good way. They struggled down the stretch and benefitted from early season success to make it into the playoffs. Unfortunately, they met the Houston Astros who were hungry and playing much better baseball. Each passing inning, the energy inside Yankee Stadium seemed to wane just a little more until reality could no longer be denied. Dallas Keuchel and the Astros bullpen shut down the Yankees line up and Houston rode the power of Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez into the ALDS.
National League Divisional Series
New York Mets 3 games, Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games
The Mets and Dodgers alternated wins throughout the series. The turning point of the series was in Game 2 with the injury to Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. The Mets ultimately lost Game 2, but Tejada’s injury rallied the team together. Tejada’s injury from Chase Utley’s “slide” could have derailed the Mets. Instead, behind their young pitching staff and Daniel Murphy the Mets would not quit. The Mets faced Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in four of the five games and split those games. The Dodgers were beaten with their best pitchers on the mound by a team who refused to quit.
Chicago Cubs 3 games, St. Louis Cardinals 1 game
Game 1 showed how dominant the St. Louis Cardinals could be, and it brought back the memories of the Curse of the Billy Goat for Cubs fans. However, after Game 1, the Cubs took command of the series by winning the next three straight to eliminate the Cardinals. The Cubs did not run away with the series, winning the final three games by seven runs total, but St. Louis was never able to answer the Cubs offense. The Cardinals remained competitive but, after Game 1, it never felt like they had a chance.
American League Divisional Series
Toronto Blue Jays 3 games, Texas Rangers 2 games
The Texas Rangers jumped out to a two game lead, putting the Toronto Blue Jays on the brink of elimination. The Blue Jays, the presumptive favorite heading into the series, would not go quietly. Forcing a decisive Game 5 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Blue Jays held a slim 3-2 lead heading into the 7th inning. In a bizarre moment, Rougned Odor scampered home to score the tying run after Russell Martin’s return throw to Blue Jays’ pitcher Aaron Sanchez hit the bat of Rangers’ outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, while Choo was still in the box. The Blue Jays responded in the bottom half of the 7th inning with a four run outburst, which included the now infamous Jose Bautista home run bat flip. This completed the comeback and Toronto was on to the ALCS.
Kansas City Royals 3 games, Houston Astros 2 games
The Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros went back and forth in the first four games of their ALDS. Neither team able to break the other team down and truly dominate a game. All this changed in Game 5, when the Royals’ experience and the Astros inexperience showed through. The Royals’ hitters finally broke down Houston’s pitching and were able to turn around a 2-0 deficit in the 2nd inning and turn it into a 7-2 victory. Simply put, the Royals used some of the knowledge and nerves from their 2014 World Series run to finally put away those pesky, overachieving Astros.
National League Championship Series
New York Mets 4 games, Chicago Cubs 0 games
The Chicago Cubs did not lose the NLCS as much as the New York Mets won it. The Cubs never lead throughout the four game sweep. Daniel Murphy and the trio of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom were magical, even when they did not have their best stuff. Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon were there to pick up the slack when the young arms needed a little help reaching the finish line. The Cubs simply lost to a better team, no Curse needed.
American League Championship Series
Kansas City Royals 4 games, Toronto Blue Jays 2 games
Games 1 and 2 showed the Royals were the better team. However, the Game 3 slugfest proved that the Blue Jays were not going to go down easy. Kansas City had batting practice in Game 4, winning 14-2 in Toronto. Toronto forced Game 6 with a 7-1 victory in Game 5. Back in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium, the Blue Jays and Royals proved they were an even match. The margin of victory was Lorenzo Cain’s speed and Wade Davis’ tenacity. Cain scored from first on a single by Eric Hosmer in the bottom of the 8th inning, in part due to Jose Bautista not throwing to his cutoff man. The Royals took the lead and called on Wade Davis for a little more. Davis got two outs on eight pitches to end the Blue Jays’ 8th inning, waited through a 45 minute rain delay, then pitched the inning of his life. Davis got the final out with a fast runner on second and third by getting Josh Donaldson to ground out to third.
New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals
The 2015 World Series has the New York Mets playing against the Kansas City Royals. The National League champion New York Mets won the National League East division by 7 games, with a record of 90-72. Once in the playoffs, the Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. The American League champion Kansas City Royals won the American League Central division by 12 games, with a record of 95-67. The Royals beat the Houston Astros in the ALDS and the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.
World Series Predictions Sure to Go Wrong
Before the beginning of every season The Winning Run predicts how each team will finish, which teams will make the playoffs, and who will win the World Series. Each year we are horribly wrong about almost everything. It is with this understanding that we give our predictions about the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets.
*A note about our predictions for MVP, we did not allow Daniel Murphy to be selected because everyone would pick him. Therefore, we each have our secondary MVP prediction listed and collectively we have predicted Daniel Murphy for MVP.
The Winning Run’s official 2015 World Series predictions:
Champion: Mets in 6 games.
MVP: Jacob deGrom
Champion: Mets in 5 games.
MVP: Lucas Duda (actually Daniel Murphy in disguise)
Champion: Royals in 6 games
MVP: Alcides Escobar
Champion: Royals in 7 games.
MVP: Eric Hosmer
Collectively, beyond Daniel Murphy for World Series MVP, we do not agree on much. We are split on which team will win. We believe the series will go six games. We predict that a baseball player for either the Mets or the Royals will win the MVP (this is the only prediction we feel we definitely got right). Our predictions are most likely wrong, as is our tradition, but we might get lucky this time. The 2014 World Series was fantastic, and the Royals are back for another try with a fairly young but experienced team. The Mets are playing beyond their years with a playoff pitching staff that has not been seen since the Atlanta Braves in the 1990’s. Regardless, whether we are right or wrong, we hope the 2015 World Series will be just as exciting as the 2014 edition of the Fall Classic.
The “slide” by the Dodgers Chase Utley into second base was horrific. No one but Utley can say with certainty what his intentions were, but from what we saw Utley went in either with cruel intentions or forgot how to slide into second base. Whatever his intentions were Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada now has a fractured right fibula.
Chase Utley has played 13 seasons in the Majors, he has played 12, 954 ⅔ innings at second base, and turned 902 double plays. He is not a starry eyed rookie, Utley knows howto play the game. He knows how a player should and should not try to break up a double play. What was on display at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series was grotesque. Utley knows better, but he injured another player because he did not play the game they way it should be played. The play was dirty, plain and simple, but why when Chase Utley is generally not seen a dirty player?
People are going to argue that the play was not dirty, just Utley playing hard like they use to play. First, it was a dirty play. Second, just because that is how they use to play the game does not mean it is the right way to play. Utley was on top of second base when he began his“slide”. Tejada was doing everything he could to protect himself by being behind the bag. Turning a double play is dangerous for the shortstop or second baseman that has to make the turn. Tejada used the bag as best he could to shield himself from a clean, hard slide, which was justified. However, this is not happened. Tejada had to have his back to Utley to receive the ball from Daniel Murphy, this places him in a compromised position. As Utley is going in to break up the double play he begins his slide so late that he does not make contact with the ground as part of his slide until he is past second base. Beginning his slide so late meant Utley’s body was still high up, potentially too high for Tejada to avoid. It looks almost like a football player being tackled after an unsuccessful attempt to hurdle the defender. This is far too late for the play to be safe but hard. Utley sliding in late with Tejada’s back to him as he begins to turn places the responsibility on Utley to not do anything stupid or dirty so that both players do not get hurt. Apparently this was too much to ask of Chase Utley as he sees the play developing and goes into second base hard, late, and high. Utley also goes in with his body wide. Yes it does appear that he is trying to make contact with the base, in accordance with the rules. However, “sliding” in wide, late, and high with Tejada’s back to him in this case meant the contact was guaranteed. This is where a play turns both dirty and dangerous. The best case scenario for Tejada to be violently flipped by Utley, and even then the play would have been dirty. The reality though is much worse. Tejada was defenseless and paid the price for Utley’s inability to understand that his attempt to break up the double play in this manner was foolish and dangerous. Utley’s stupidity, regardless of intent, has resulted in Tejada having a broken leg and Utley receiving a knee to the head, likely a mild concussion or at least having his bell rung. The Mets lose their starting shortstop and the Dodgers might lose a backup second baseman. There was no need for Utley to take out Tejada. It was a stupid play.
After the game ended with the Dodgers evening up the NLDS at one game each, MLB Network begins breaking down the game as a whole and debating whether the play was dirty or not. Eric Byrnes adamantly argued that the play was hard, but not dirty, and that this is how players use to break up double plays. (Brynes has since changed his opinion after seeing the replay more and doing further analysis, which I respect him for doing). Brynes was a fun player to watch because he brought intensity, grit, and passion to the game everyday. However, his initial reaction to this situation was wrong. Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should continue to be done that way. (Again Brynes has changed his opinion from his initial reaction, but that initial reaction is held by some people). Plays like the one Tejada and Utley were involved in have the potential to end careers; severe concussions, destroyed knees, shattered legs.
Change has never come easy to baseball. Purist usually argue that changing the game in any way will negatively impact the game as a whole. Slowly but surely baseball has changed, and usually for the better. Baseball had always allowed for home plate collisions. Talk to Buster Posey about his lost season or Ray Fosse about how his career was never the same. Baseball had allowed the spitball. Talk to Ray Chapman’s family and see how they felt about it after he was killed by the pitch. Talk to the countless African-American players who were denied the ability to play in the Majors simply because of their skin color. Baseball had not drug tested for steroids and other PEDs. Talk to the families of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi who testified before Congress in the same hearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Jose Canseco. Taylor was 17 and Rob was 24 when they committed suicide due to their steroid use. Baseball is continuously changing. Obviously some of the changes it has undergone are far more important and far reaching than others. However, the notion that continuing to do something simply because it is the way it has always been done is absurd, especially if there is a different way to achieve the same end goal while reducing the danger to the players, to individuals who look up to the players, or to end injustice.
Chase Utley is not who usually comes to mind as being a dirty player, but what he did in Game 2 was a dirty play. Trying to break up a double play during a playoff game is good, hard baseball. However, what Utley did with his extremely late “slide” was to unnecessarily injure an opposing player and change the series. There are only two times in baseball that it should ever look like one player is tackling another: when a fight has broken out and players are trying to restrain one another and when a team is celebrating a win and the team is chasing the player who got the game winning hit. That is it. Chase Utley took out Ruben Tejada on a dirty “slide”.
If people who want to defend what Chase Utley want to talk about how his play is just how baseball is and should be played, then they also need to talk about something else. Regardless if it is in the NLDS or next season there will be a purpose pitch delivered. That is just how baseball is. It could this year before Utley’s appeal is heard. It could come next year when the two teams play each other. Somewhere down the line a purpose pitch will be delivered by the Mets to the Dodgers expressing their anger at this dirty “slide” by Chase Utley. Hopefully the batter on the receiving end of that pitch will be Utley himself and not one of his teammates. Noone should not have to get hit by a pitch for this. It was Utley’s stupidity, he should have to answer for it. Baseball players have always dealt with this sort of thing themselves, and in this case Eric Brynes and others are correct that some things in baseball do not need to change. This is how baseball has always policed itself, and this is how baseball should generally continue to police itself. A player does something stupid, let him take the punishment for it.
Major League Baseball acted quickly to suspend Utley. Too bad the suspension is not long enough. He should be suspended for more than just two game, conveniently he would have missed the games in New York had he not appealed. Two games is what you should get suspended for arguing for too long with an umpire about a bad call, not for taking out an opposing player. Utley and the Dodgers should feel the pain he inflicted on the Mets. Appealing his suspension is Utley’s right, but it would be shameful if it were to be reduced. Those on Utley’s side are arguing that he has gone in to break up double plays like this before without receiving a suspension. While this is true, it does not make it right. Fortunately, Utley has not injured anyone seriously before. Even Tejada has been on the receiving end of one of Utley’s “slides”, and he was able to walk away. The “slide” during Game 2 was the most egregious of Utley’s questionable slides, and it clearly went from trying to break up the double play to taking out an opposing player. Again we will never know what Utley’s intentions were when he went into second, but ultimately his intentions do not matter. Utley made a boneheaded and dirty play.
There is nothing wrong with playing hard and trying to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs. There is however a line between playing baseball hard and playing dirty. Chase Utley flew over that line when he took out Ruben Tejada with his absurdly late slide during Game 2. Go in hard, make the middle infielder jump to avoid you, make the throw to first a little more difficult and take some of the juice off the throw. There is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong is when you slide in late, wide, and high against a middle infielder who has his back turned toward you. Ruben Tejada was trying to make a play. He used second base to protect himself, but Chase Utley took him out with simply a dirty “slide” that resulted in a broken leg and the Mets losing Tejada for the rest of the playoffs.
The NLDS has been changed, and not for the better. Instead of talking about the series being tied at a game each, all the talk is about the injury to Tejada and whether the analysis think the play was dirty. This is not good for baseball. Instead of celebrating the game and the playoffs we are arguing whether the play was dirty. What a shame that a fairly ordinary play has turned into a season ending injury for one player and a debate about whether the play and player are dirty. You were better than this Chase Utley, what changed?