Baseball. Not a sport which is particularly popular in the UK, and being a fan would put you firmly in the minority in this country. This has always puzzled me; we are a nation of massive cricket-lovers, and yet have no time for a very similar game which is just as tactical, and guarantees to produce a result – something which cricket cannot always lay claim to. Being an American sport, tensions often run high and there was a perfect example on Thursday night, when the San Diego Padres hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NL West matchup. After being hit by a pitch on the shoulder, Padre Carlos Quentin charged the mound and did not stop when he reached Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke, who broke his collarbone in the struggle. Chaos then ensued, as both benches cleared, and even the bullpen came to the defence of their team-mates. Following a few more minor struggles, all was calmed and a few players were ejected from the game. Events similar to this are not altogether that common in the game, but they do highlight much of what is wrong with America’s national pastime.
As I have already mentioned, baseball is immensely tactical, even to the point of stupidity as we saw in San Diego. And whilst full-on bar-style brawls are fortunately fairly rare, it is surprising the amount of times that pitchers intentionally hit the opposing batter in retaliation for a previous event. Nobody can say whether Greinke was ordered to hit Quentin by his manager Don Mattingly in response to his star player Matt Kemp having a near miss earlier in the game. In rugby, fights happen almost on a weekly basis, and whilst I am not condoning such actions, at least the players involved can claim to have been caught up in the heat of the moment, and lashed out. In baseball, however, it is more often the case that the powers that be make cool, calculated decisions as to whether to hit the opposing batters, and it is seen as just one tactic in the wider game strategy. To me, this is shocking. Deliberately attempting to hurt the opposition to gain an advantage should not be a part of any sport.
You will probably say that I am being naive and that such events are unavoidable and are commonplace in many sports – rugby being just one. But let’s put this tactic into context a bit. Look at NFL where, following the 2011 season, a number of New Orleans Saints players and coaches were reprimanded or suspended for taking part in what was known as Bounty-gate. In it, Gregg Williams the Defensive Co-ordinator was alleged to have ordered certain players on his team to deliberately attempt to injure members of the opposition. A huge investigation was launched into the affair, and a significant number of powerful people were sanctioned (including Saints’ Head Coach Sean Peyton). If you compare this to what has become endemic in the game of baseball, it is hard to find many differences. Yes, the potential for injury in NFL as opposed to MLB is perhaps much worse given the nature of the sport, but the principle remains the same.
I love baseball and will no doubt continue to watch it as long as there is a sun, but events on Thursday have made me question this great sport. It’s refreshing to see the players stand up for their team-mates and show a desire to win, but the consequences have the potential to send the sport in the wrong direction. Something needs to be done, and fast.