The ‘code’ is outdated … and dangerous

September 2nd, 2020

One hundred years ago, on Aug. 16, 1920, Carl Mays of the New York Yankees threw a baseball that hit the Indians' Ray Chapman in the head. Chapman died 12 hours later. Here is what Joseph Wancho wrote about that game and that terrible moment on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website:

“Mays had the reputation of plunking the batter, and at times the opponents would complain that it was his main pursuit instead of pitching.”

On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, another Chapman, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees, threw a 101-mph fastball so close to the head of the Rays' Mike Brosseau that it is a miracle Brosseau was able to get out of the way. Brosseau was wearing the kind of helmet and face guard that Ray Chapman was not in 1920. He got out of the way. Imagine the consequences if he had not.

And now this has to stop, once and for all.

We have been told by now, chapter and verse, of the recent history of bad blood between the Rays and Yankees, how 14 Rays batters have been hit by Yankees pitchers over the past few seasons and how 11 Yankees have been hit by Rays pitchers. We know that CC Sabathia, when he was still pitching for the Yankees, retaliated for Austin Romine being hit by not only drilling Jesús Sucre but yelling obscenities at Andrew Kittredge, who’d drilled Romine.

Of course, this is all because of baseball’s unwritten "code" about retaliation: If they hit one of yours, you hit one of theirs. My friend David Israel, a former sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune, says that the reason some of the game's codes are unwritten is because if you actually wrote them down, people would see how dumb they are.

But it's not just dumb now. It's dangerous. Chapman threw that pitch with two outs in the ninth in a game the Yankees were winning, 5-3. He threw that pitch in the context of all that bad blood between these two teams. And when it was over, Rays manager Kevin Cash said that he has a bunch of guys on his team who can throw 98, making it sound like a threat.

Yankee manager Aaron Boone said that Cash’s words were “scary.” And they are. Just not as scary as a 101-mph fastball heading straight for the head of Mike Brosseau.

This has to stop, and not just because it is dangerous to the batters but because it diminishes a great sport. You hit too many home runs, and somebody on your team risks getting hit by a pitch. You have too much fun after a home run, you “show up the other team” and you risk taking one in the ribs. Or up in your eyeballs.

And afterward there are the tiresome and predictable defenses from teammates of the guys who threw those pitches, saying there was no intent, that the ball just got away.

Right. Those balls that Joe Kelly threw at the Astros just got away from him. Chapman is just rusty after all the time he’s missed after testing positive for COVID-19.

Here is the video of the pitch that Chapman threw up and in to Brosseau. You decide if that pitch simply got away from the Yankees closer:

Here is what former big leaguer Trevor Plouffe said on Twitter about what happened between Chapman and Brosseau:

“Another tough guy throwing at someone for seemingly no reason, damn well knowing he doesn’t have to get in the box. It’s so tired.”

Here is a subsequent tweet from Plouffe:

“Why do innocent hitters gotta take 99 to the ribs and head? Coaches and pitchers need to find a better way.”

This should have been one of the best nights of the short season for the Yankees, who were about to win their fourth game out of five after just having lost seven in a row, especially since the Rays had already beaten them seven times this season. This has been, in so many ways, a pretty amazing season after everything teams have had to overcome to just make it this far. It has been the season of Fernando Tatis Jr., and Mookie and the Dodgers, and the rebirth of the White Sox and the Blue Jays, who don’t even have a baseball home of their own in the summer of 2020 but might make the playoffs anyway. And you know that is just the short list of what we are witnessing, in a season we almost didn’t have.

Kelly got an eight-game suspension, reduced to five. Obviously, that didn’t get Chapman's attention. Plouffe is right. Managers have to find a better way, coaches have to find a better way. Pitchers have to find a better way. For the safety of players and the good of the game. Don’t ask what the suspension should be for Chapman -- ask what the conversation would be like today if Brosseau hadn’t managed to duck.