If there's anything that's more pointless and stupid than baseball pitchers throwing at batters to act "old school" or "make a point," it's the punishment that usually follows.
Mind you, I'm not suggesting that Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels should have escaped reprimand after plunking Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper on Sunday night and then later admitting that he had done it on purpose.
No, Hamels definitely deserved to be disciplined after needlessly putting Harper's health at the mercy of a 92 mph fastball — an act that Washington GM Mike Rizzo later described as "gutless," "fake tough" and other words not suitable for this space.
The "pointless" and "stupid" I'm referring to is the way that Major League Baseball continues to "punish" starting pitchers with terms that don't recognize they play only once every five games. While a five-game suspension is exactly that for a position player or relief pitcher, it's merely an exercise in schedule manipulation when it involves a starting pitcher.
Take this Hamels case, for example. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, Thursday's off day for the Phillies means that Hamels can immediately start serving his suspension without appealing it — a move that GM Ruben Amaro says will definitely occur — and the only consequence will be that his next start will come on Sunday instead of Saturday. Meanwhile, the person who could end up being punished the most would be staff ace Roy Halladay, who won't get the extra day of rest that Thursday's off day normally would have allowed.
I know some will respond that Hamels got his punishment when Harper stole home later in the inning or when Jordan Zimmermann hit Hamels later in the game, but how does any of this — including the fact that Zimmermann escaped completely unscathed — make sense to anyone else? While the collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow for the separate language, wouldn't it be more just for a pitcher to be punished in "starts" rather than games? Shouldn't a team have to go through nine starts without the punished pitcher for the sentence to hold any truth in advertising?
Make no mistake. When the punishment for hitting a batter really remains only one free base — which I still contend is a silly move that's a bit like undercutting a guy heading for a layup but then dunking the basketball for him anyway — pitchers are going to continue to engage in their own brand of dumb tough-guy justice. If you agree that this is wrong in the slightest bit, then you'll also agree that the punishment never fits the crime when it involves a starting pitcher being suspended for games he wasn't ever going to play in the first place.
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