Being Hit By Pitch

Probably the scariest play in baseball.

Back in 1887, Major League Baseball instituted several new rules, and one of them was the hit by pitch. Prior to 1887, pitchers threw underhand and to a specified spot over the plate. Undoubtedly, balls were pitched toward the hitter, but at that speed, the batters could easily move out of the way. It would be called a ball, and the game continued. When pitchers began to throw overhand, everything changed. Pitches came in faster and pitchers had less control over where the pitch went. It wasn’t safe to have pitchers being able to throw at hitters, so the MLB decided to award first base.

The rules regarding hit by pitches are relatively simple. First, the ball has to hit the batter. Second, the pitch has to be outside of the strike zone. Third, the batter has to make an attempt to get out of the way. And finally, the batter cannot swing at the pitch. Clothing does count as hitting a batter. If the bases are loaded, the hit batter receives an RBI.

Some noteworthy stuff has happened with HBP’s:

– Hughie Jennings holds the major league record for most hit by pitches in a career and a season. From 1891 to 1903, Jennings was hit 287 times. Craig Biggio came within 2, but he would finish at 285. In 1896, Jennings was hit a record 51 times. Seventy-five years later, Ron Hunt would be hit 50 times during the 1971 season. Rey Ordoñez holds the record for most in a game with 3.

– Walter Johnson hit a record 203 batters in his career. According to Collaborative Analytics, Ed Doheny hit the most batters per batters faced with an amazing 14.06%. However, I’m not sure how that actually works out. He threw 1392.2 innings in his career, but CA and Baseball-Reference both say that he only faced 939 batters. How? I’m not sure. Other pitchers from the era seem to have correct (or at least numbers that make sense) data. Is there a way that Doheny’s number could possibly make sense? By the way, Gaylord Perry hit the fewest per batter faced with .49%. Surprisingly, Nolan Ryan, the all-time walks leader, hit the seventh-fewest per batter faced at .70%. That’s almost more unbelievable than Doheny’s oddity.

– In 1920, Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch that struck his head. Helmets weren’t used at the time, and Chapman would die the following morning. He remains the only player to die in such a way. There is some controversy over the event, however. Chapman was known for leaning into pitches to get the free base, and it is believed he did the same here.

– During Don Drysdale’s coreless streak in 1968, he hit a batter with the bases loaded, but remember that rule about having to try to get out of the way? The home plate umpire ruled that the batter did not try to get out of the way, and he brought the batter back to the plate. Dick Dietz, the batter, flied out. There really is no controversy around the pitch as most believe the umpire ruled correctly and not to just continue the streak.

– Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis once tried to hit every Cincinnati Red during a game in 1974. He hit the first three batters before walking Tony Perez, though by accident. After throwing two pitches at Johnny Bench’s head, the Reds manager removed him from the game.

– Kirby Puckett’s career ended with a Dennis Martinez fastball to the face. In 1995, he was hit, losing teeth and breaking his jaw. Because it was the end of the season, he couldn’t make it back, and the next Spring Training, he developed glaucoma and could not return to baseball.

– A year and a few months ago on April 26, Kerwin Danley was struck by a Brad Penny fastball. The oddity? He was the home plate umpire. The ball passed over Russell Martin’s head and struck Danley without Martin getting a glove on it. The pitch gave Danley a concussion. Even worse, his wife was at the game. Even worse than that, he was struck in the head by a broken shard off the bat of Hank Blalock almost a year to the day (5 days short of a year) and received another concussion.

Given how scary this can be, a hit by pitch often involves retaliation, especially if the pitcher is deemed to be throwing at the hitter. Often, the receiving team will then hit a player of equal or greater value of the other team. Quite often, this then leads to a brawl or at least some shouting between the two teams and can lead to a rivalry of sorts. Umpires have taken significant steps in the past few years to avoid such incidents. After a hit batter, they will warn the teams if they worry about the situation escalating.

Here are my feelings:
– If it’s an accident, leave it alone even if it was your best player getting hit. There’s no reason to let things escalate. Pitchers screw up occasionally.
– If it’s not an accident, go ahead and plunk a guy on the other team. If Vicente Padilla is going to try to hit Teixeira twice, then the Rangers just have to know they deserve some retaliation. But after getting hit, both teams should just move on.
– Under no circumstances should you ever throw at a guy’s head. It’s just dangerous and uncalled for. Hit him in the butt or the ribs. He gets it without suffering what could be a serious injury.
– Does anyone else think it’s odd that a position player receives the retaliation for something that the pitcher did?

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3 Responses to “Being Hit By Pitch”

  1. Bill Says:

    – Obviously, they're missing a lot of Doheny's game data. That's strange.

    – Do you think Ryan's number is so low because hitters knew they were facing Nolan freaking Ryan and damn well better be on their toes? I'd think I'd be a lot more willing to "take one for the team" if it were coming in at 87 than 102 or so.

    – You'd think some friendly opposing pitcher would've lobbed a hanging curveball toward Biggio's hip toward the end of his last season once he got that close to the record, wouldn't you? Sort of like how Favre took a dive for Strahan?

    – Where'd you get Eckersley from? My avatar's career ended with a fastball from Dennis "El Presidente" Martinez. He always fervently denied that that pitch actually caused his glaucoma or that he resented Martinez in any way, but everyone kind of assumed that one had something to do with the other, and at some point Kirby let something slip in an interview that suggested that he kind of suspected it did, too.

    – I've always thought that the whole retaliation and "message pitch" thing was ridiculous and boring. But then, there's no IQ test or anything to be a ballplayer.

  2. Ron Rollins Says:

    One more important rule for the HBP. It's a dead ball and runners can only advance if forced. That's made a difference in a few games.

    I agree completely with your reasoning. Don't throw at a guy's head, but let them handle it on the field.

  3. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Bill,

    I was going through writing, and Eckersley must have come out without thinking too much about it. It will be changed.

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