Commentary

Disband the beanball police

Originally Published: August 11, 2009
By Tim Keown | Page 2

Alex RodriguezChris McGrath/Getty ImagesWhat should A-Rod do after get gets beaned? Whatever he wants.

Everybody is angry. Hitters are angry, pitchers are angry and managers are angry. Prince Fielder is heading for the Dodgers' clubhouse, Matt Garza is more than willing to admit his impure intent and Ozzie Guillen is announcing a clearance sale -- buy one head shot, get one free.

You gotta love August.

And this one seems better than most. Just about every day, there's more beanball excitement, from suspects as likely as Vicente Padilla (cut by the Rangers for his indiscriminate head hunting), and as unlikely as Boston's Ramon Ramirez (ejected for beaning Alex Rodriguez) and the Yankees' Mark Melancon (credited for motivating Ramirez by hitting Dustin Pedroia, on the second try).

Through it all, there is no end to the hand wringing from MLB headquarters, where everyone furrows their brows and interviews the umpires and issues the fines. They're very serious about this business.

That's their first -- and biggest -- mistake.

If they want to clean up this part of the game, there's a really easy answer: Stop trying so hard.

If you don't want Fielder to rush the Dodgers' clubhouse, let him rush the mound. Get out of the way, and get the umpires out of the way. And for the sake of all that's right with the world, get the suits out of the way.

Think of it as going organic, letting nature take its course.

Let them fight. Let them do what they want to do. Let the game police itself the way it did before every game was televised and every highlight dissected.

(And yes, I know who does the dissecting, and I know this is one of those topics bound to have many hitting the reflexive ESPN-caused-this button on the computer. Nice try, but wrong. Let's be honest -- the dissecting isn't going to stop, but Major League Baseball's counterproductive role as hall monitor still can.)

The way it works now, the team that strikes first gets a free shot. I can hit you, and the worst I get is a warning. And that warning keeps you from hitting me, unless you and your manager want to be ejected. It's childish in its ridiculousness. Even the Sisters of Mercy back at St. Apollinaris in the '70s could see the stupidity of this. They always let each side get in a shot before they hauled us to the office and called our parents.

The current system does nothing more than fuel frustration. Take Fielder, the biggest, angriest and easiest example. The baseball world would be a better place if Fielder could have simply charged the mound and settled things with Guillermo Mota right then and there. As it stands, though, Mota knew one thing -- and maybe only one thing -- as soon as he let go of the ball: He was done for the day. The rules dictated his ejection, so Mota threw the ball, watched it hit Fielder and immediately began walking toward the dugout.

Since there's absolutely no chance Mota is ever going to come to the plate at any time in any game with the Brewers, Fielder had two opportunities to express his displeasure: (1) on the field, an opportunity dashed when Mota immediately headed for the dugout, conveniently on the third-base side; or (2) after the game, which is logistically difficult but obviously not outside the sphere of Fielder's imagination.

Without the warning, though, Mota would have had nowhere to go. Well, maybe that's not entirely true -- remember his Benny Hill scamper after drilling Mike Piazza? Still, he wouldn't have been able to throw and go the way he did this time.

Which brings up this important point: The umpires need to be relieved of the responsibility of divining intent. This isn't "CSI: Home Plate." They can't read minds, and they shouldn't be expected to try. (Garza injected a shocking bit of honesty into the proceedings when he admitted to hitting Mark Teixeira on purpose.) We all get worked up when we perceive the umps to be power-tripping egomaniacs -- running guys from center field? -- but the rules dictate a certain amount of institutionalized omniscience. Forget the warning system; relieve the umps of their mind-reading duties and tell them to use common sense. Nobody wants a beanball war, but a good bench-clearing incident every once in a while can serve to clean the pipes. And besides, there hasn't been a good bench-clearing incident since Pat Corrales tried to go all Bruce Lee on Dave Stewart.

There's one guy who clearly has had enough: Guillen. No surprise, really, since he seems to always be the first guy to reach his limit. He's tired of seeing his guys get hit more than his pitchers can hit their guys, so he's promised to hit two for every one of his. That could turn every White Sox game into a war of attrition, since it wouldn't take long for ejections to force Hawk Harrelson into the dugout and Steve Stone onto the mound. And at this point in life, nobody wants that -- except maybe Hawk.

Of course, MLB says it's going to look into Guillen's comments. And all we can say is ... good luck. Any trip into the psyche of Ozzie should be taken with extreme caution.

It doesn't have to happen, though. If baseball imposed some sense into this whole beanball situation, if it just stepped away long enough to let the solution play out on its own, nobody would have to make that trip into the nether-reaches of Ozzie's mind. That should be motivation enough.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com