Cole Hamels never struck me as a law-and-order guy. Neither did he seem the purveyor-of-tradition, molder-of-rookies, tamper-of-spirit, keeper-of-the-house type.
But, these are self-appointed positions, and the man with the baseball gets to decide his position in the world, you know, assuming he's got any fastball at all.
Then, of course, order depends on the size and agility of one's catcher, because in the off chance the keeper of the house finds his authority challenged, these uprisings generally must be dragged down from behind.
It's neater that way.
I don't know why Hamels decided Bryce Harper required a measure of molding, tamping or keeping. But it cost him a five-game suspension, meaning only that a start will be pushed back.
The Washington Nationals' precocious and rakishly coiffed outfielder, Harper stood in the box Sunday night batting .261. He didn't have a hit in the series. He hadn't driven in a run. Hadn't so much as scored one.
Something, however, drove Hamels to purvey a fastball into the back of Harper, though presumably Hamels was aiming at the psyche of Harper.
Coulda been the hair.
For rookies judged to be over their pre-assigned britches payload, the hazing goes as such:
They must prove they can hit and/or lay off a breaking ball.
They must prove they can handle a good heater.
When that fails a pitcher, then the rookie becomes an insufferable little punk who must be corporally punished for his insolence. And, by "insolence," we mean "talent."
Hamels, apparently, gets to determine when the first two methods have been exhausted (in Harper's case, 23 big-league at-bats were enough), this based entirely on, as Hamels later explained, his desire "to continue the old baseball."
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According to what Hamels told reporters in Washington on Sunday night, he learned about baseball justice while watching baseball as a youngster, and Harper had it coming because Hamels didn't get some borderline calls when he was a rookie. In the end, and you really have to appreciate his tangled logic on this, that the bruise Harper wears today should be viewed as, "that old-school, prestigious way of baseball."
Sadly for Hamels, he gets to decide most of the rules but not all of them, so when it was his turn to bat, he was hit by a pitch, too. Hamels looked none too happy with it, either, as clearly the Washington Nationals missed the memo that Bryce Harper had it coming and Hamels merely had abided by the code of prestigious baseball.
Personally, I'd have been more impressed by Hamels had he come out and called Harper an arrogant sumbitch who just rubbed him the wrong way, then admitted drilling Harper on national television was an opportunity too good to pass up. The problem for Hamels was, Harper didn't make a stink, wore it with dignity, and eventually punked Hamels by stealing home. Two summers ago, Harper raced home on the same play – left-handed pitcher, man on first, languid pickoff move – back-dooring a junior college pitcher in Grand Junction, Colo., just as he did Hamels in D.C.
It's how he plays. How he carries himself. And if Hamels believed he'd knock Harper off either with a single fastball, he hasn't been paying attention. First of all, he doesn't have that much fastball. Second, pitchers have been trying to knock the smirk from Harper's face for half his life.
[Big League Stew: Watch Bryce Harper steal home against Philadelphia Phillies]
"Everywhere he goes, he's that player," Harper's agent, Scott Boras, said. "With his skill level at such a young age, the bull's-eye has been something others have sought to pursue. And, frankly, Bryce's response is professional. He just keeps playing baseball."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was less measured. In the Washington Post, he called Hamels "fake tough." Rizzo, perhaps, was unaware that Hamels was squeezed on a few pitches six years ago.
"I've never seen a more classless, gutless, chicken-[stuff] act in my 30 years in baseball," Rizzo told the Post.
He went on, "He thinks he's going to intimidate us after hitting our 19-year-old rookie who's eight games into the big leagues? He doesn't know who he's dealing with."
You'll pardon Rizzo for going all Goodfellas at the end there. He's being protective of his guy, barely old enough to qualify as a man. That's fine, but I have a feeling Harper can handle this himself, like he's handled everything else. In fact, he seemed the least affected of anyone involved, but isn't that the way when the adults get involved?
Hamels won't be the last to take an interest in raising the young Harper. He won't be the last to be suspended for it, either. Give him this – he didn't hide from his intent to familiarize the rookie with the customs of "old baseball." Yes, he said, I hit the kid on purpose. Some would call that self-possessed. Arrogant, even.
Hamels likely would disagree.
Because, you know, baseball has a way of dealing with stuff like that. And it's not as prestigious as it may sound.
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