Why Bean-ball is Bad Baseball

Many bloggers and sports writers will be putting together their top stories of the 2010 baseball season, and among many of those will be the August 10 game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.

On the day before, Cincinnati Reds second baseman made some inflammatory remarks about the Cardinals. As he came up to bat in the first inning of this game, catcher Yadier Molina stood up to him and voiced his disapproval, rather vigorously. Both benches emptied and a scrum soon formed that trapped pitchers Chris Carpenter and Johnny Cueto against the backstop. In the mass of players, Cueto started kicking Cardinals, striking backup catcher Jason LaRue repeatedly in the head. His injuries, combined with the wear and tear of 12 years of catching in the major leagues, ended his career.

The immediate question for the Cardinals is what should they do ?

Fans across Cardinals Nation who were outraged at Cueto’s actions screamed for some old school bean-ball, and soon. I must include myself in this group as there was nothing I wanted more than some retaliation against the Reds.

Let’s take a look at a few situations in Cardinals history and see if, after learning what resulted, we still want to see an opponent get hit by a pitch.

June 17, 1965

This was the last of a four game series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals had won the first game by the score of 5-2 with the win going to Ron Taylor in long relief of a 20 year old left hander named Steve Carlton. There was a little bit of chippiness in this game that would carry over to the next three. In the third inning, a pitch got away from Carlton and hit second baseman, Bill Mazeroski. Nothing came of his miscue, and Carlton retired the next batter to end the inning. In the Cardinals half of the fifth, Pirates hurler Bob Veale would retaliate and hit Cards first baseman, Bill White. While Carlton hitting Mazeroski was a pitch getting away from a youngster in his first major league start, this was a purpose pitch meant to deliver a message. That message would be full of irony as the next batter, Carl Warwick, hit a ball that left fielder Bob Bailey played into a 2 run error which turned out to be the winning runs in the ballgame.

The second game would be a wild affair featuring 24 hits, 14 by the Pirates and 10 by the Cardinals. Back to back triples by Jerry Buchek and Ray Sadecki of the Cardinals would be erased by a poor relief effort by Tracy Stallard. The first big blow was a game tying home run by pinch hitter Ozzie Virgil, leading off the seventh inning. Stallard would give up another lead-off home run in the next inning, this time to Donn Clendenon. The Cardinals would get back into the game late, but Donn Clendenon’s second homer of the game, a three run shot in the top of the 9th inning put the game out of reach and Pittsburgh would win, 10-6.

As wild as that game was, the next one was worse. Ray Washburn of the Cardinals would be staked to a quick 6-0 lead, but was unable to make it hold up. The Pirates chipped away, inning after inning, pulling to within a run in the seventh when Bob Purkey took over for Washburn. A single, sacrifice bunt and another clutch hit from Carl Warwick gave the Cardinals a two run lead with just 2 innings to play.

Unfortunately, Willie Stargell and Donn Clendenon had a different idea of how the game would end. After a Willie Stargell double, Clendenon ties the game at 7 runs each with his third home run in the last two games. A rattled Bob Purkey let’s a pitch get away from him and he hits Gene Alley. In the next inning, Pirates reliever Frank Caprin hits Lou Brock in retaliation. Like in the Carlton game, karma came back to bite the Bucs when Bill White sacrifices home one run and a Ken Boyer single gives the Cardinals back their 2 run lead at 9-7.

Back to the mound goes closer Barney Schultz and his knuckleball. I’m not making this next part up. Bob Uecker had replaced Tim McCarver behind the plate as part of an offensive double switch. Schultz strikes out Bill Virdon to start the inning, but the ball gets past Uecker allowing Virdon to reach first base. Manny Mota follows that up with a tailor-made double play ball that shortstop Jerry Buchek boots, allowing both runners to reach base safely. You know what happens next, right ? Willie Stargell hits a long 3 run homer to give the Pirates a 10-9 lead that would hold up when the Cardinals go quietly in the home half of the ninth inning.

So far, 2 pitches that got away and 2 retaliations – one that cost the Pirates a game, and one that should have. But that’s not the story here.

When Bob Gibson takes the mound for the final game, on June 17, he retires the first two batters rather quickly. In steps Donn Clendenon, who had 3 home runs in the last two games, and all three played a huge role in the Cardinals losses. Clendenon knew what was coming, as did the almost 12,000 fans in attendance. Gibson plunks the big first baseman, and he professionally takes his base. Gibson, being Gibson, strikes out Willie Stargell to end the inning – sending a very clear and unambiguous message.

Pirates starter, Vern Law, received that message and had one of his own to give. He immediately hits Cardinals lead-off hitter, Julian Javier in retaliation of the Clendenon plunk earlier in the game. This was not one of the harmless in-the-ribcage or on the rump pitches, this one got in hard on Javier’s hands and the result was a broken hand for the Cardinals second baseman.

The Cardinals would lose the game, 4-1, but the bigger loss was their All-Star second baseman. Javier, who had already missed the 1964 World Series with an injury, would miss the next month and a half. But it was much more than that. Hand and wrist injuries can be especially tricky, and Javier’s would haunt him for the rest of this season and all of the next. He would hit a career low .228 (just .195 after returning from the disabled list) and even lower .227 in 1966. A promising catalyst at the top of the Cardinals order had just been lost for effectively two seasons because he was the unfortunate retaliation victim of Donn Clendenon’s sudden offensive surge and two heartbreaking Cardinals losses.

September 2 and 3, 1967

These were the last two games games of the season between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros. The Cardinals had a seemingly insurmountable lead in the National League, and were nearly 30 games ahead of the hapless Astros. Ray Washburn and Nelson Briles cruised to easy victories in the first two games of the series, winning 5-1 and 5-0.

The game on September 2 featured a more confident Steve Carlton, but a little bit of wildness in the first inning gave the Astros a quick 1-0 lead. That would evaporate quickly as Houston starter, and future Cardinal reliever, Dave Guisti would have a terrible time retiring batters in the his half of the inning. Walks and wild pitches would doom Guisti and the Astros as the Cardinals took a 4-1 lead. A two run homer by Tim McCarver and continued wildness by Guisti would bring Tom Dukes into the game in the fifth inning. Dukes proceeds to hit Orlando Cepeda – not as a purpose pitch but perhaps a lapse of concentration, or maybe even some frustration. Nothing came out of this particular incident and Carlton would cruise to an 8-2 victory, just as Washburn and Briles had done in the previous two.

The final game on September 3 would feature rookie phenomenon Dick Hughes (13-5) against Dave Eilers. If there was one pitcher on the Cardinals staff you didn’t want to anger, it was Dick Hughes. With Gibson out, he became the staff ace – and he threw just as hard as Gibson.

This game would begin much like the previous one. Hughes was simply dominating, and then Eilers had trouble getting out of the first inning. Five singles, a stolen base (Brock, of course) and a double brought nine Cardinals to bat in the inning, and five of them scored.

Eilers got into trouble again in the fifth inning when he failed to get the third out, after retiring 2 of the first 3 men he would face. Reliever Bo Belinksy wouldn’t fare any better as he would give up back to back doubles with the big blow coming off the bat of Orlando Cepeda. The Cardinals lead was now 10-0, and Houston was being embarrassed terribly.

When Belinsky faces Orlando Cepeda in the sixth inning, more frustration comes out and Cepeda is hit by a pitch for the second time in two games. As with the situation in Pittsburgh in 1965, karma stuck up it’s head, and this would be followed shortly by a 2 run single by Mike Shannon.

Initially things seemed fine as Cepeda stayed in the game. He would even double in his next at-bat, giving him a nifty 4-4 day. The Cardinals would eventually win 13-1, but things weren’t right with Cepeda after this game. He finished the game hitting .347 and was in a tight race with teammate Curt Flood and Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente for the league lead in hitting. After this game, Cepeda would only manage a puny .162 batting average with 1 home run and just 4 RBIs.

Cepeda would get another close call near the end of the season when Atlanta’s Ron Reed would hit him on the wrist with a pitch. He would be taken out of the game and missed the next one as a precaution.

Cepeda would end the season rather quietly, and be completely silenced by the Red Sox in the World Series. His performance, up to those two games with the Astros, was enough to earn him the 1967 NL MVP award, but those of us that saw him play witnessed a much different hitter after those two games with Houston.

Chalking his poor finish in 1967 up to late season fatigue, Cepeda worked hard on the off-season to build up some body mass, and a bigger and stronger Cepeda showed up for the 1968 season. While offensive production was down with most of the Cardinal hitters in 1968, the exception being Dal Maxvill who turned in a career year, none saw a decline like Cepeda. When the dust settled on the the Cardinals second consecutive NL Pennant, Cepeda saw his batting average drop over 70 points. His RBI total lead the league in 1967 with 111 but would fall to just 73 in 1968. Clearly, something was not right with Cepeda.

He would be traded to Atlanta following his disappointing 1968 season and would struggle in his first season with the Braves. He would rebound nicely in 1970 and post numbers nearly identical to his 1967 MVP season. As with Javier, perhaps it took him a season or two to recover from some nasty after-effects of being hit so many times with pitches in and around his hands.

May 23, 2009

The Jekyll and Hyde first place St. Louis Cardinals had just swept the Chicago Cubs and taken the first of a three game series against the Kansas City Royals. This middle game would feature Kyle Lohse for the Cardinals and Luke Hochevar for the Royals.

Lohse had just come off a career year in 2008, going 15-6 with a career low 3.78 ERA. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a four year contract extension, keeping him a Cardinal through the 2012 season. In turn, he rewarded the club by starting off strong in 2009, but had struggled in his last few starts.

In this game, Lohse was on complete cruise control, totally relaxed. Nothing but retiring Royals batters. He did run into a bit of trouble in the sixth inning. With one out, Billy Butler would single. Lohse would then throw one a bit inside to Jose Guillen, and it would hit the Royals slugger. Nothing came out of it, and the inning ended quietly.

On the other side of the diamond, Lohse as a hitter started a nice rally in the home half of the seventh inning. He would lead off with a swinging bunt single (it was not pretty, but it was effective). Tyler Greene would sacrifice him into scoring position. Ron Mahay would take over for Hochevar and get into some trouble rather quickly. A seeing eye single and infield groundout allowed Lohse to score, giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead in the game.

Mahay would get into trouble again in the 8th inning. A lead-off double by Brendan Ryan, followed by a sacrifice bunt from from Yadier Molina put another runner 90 feet from home plate. A walk to Brian Barden put the double play in order, but when Kyle Lohse turned around to execute a non-squeeze bunt, Mahay threw hard and inside to the Cardinals pitcher, and the ball hit Lohse in the forearm on his pitching arm. Karma proved to be a great equalizer as Mahay would follow that with a bases loaded walk to Tyler Greene, forcing in the fifth Cardinals run in the game.

Lohse would leave the game, and Chris Perez would finish it, preserving the shutout. The Cardinals would win the game, but would lose one of their big arms in the rotation – for the next season and a half. Loshe would develop arm troubles and struggle through the remainder of 2009 and all of 2010. He would eventually have arm surgery to correct a problem that was caused by the Mahay pitch, and has yet to return to anything resembling what we had seen prior to that game.

Once again, a valuable contributor has lost more than a season due to a stray pitch.

Do it like Yadi did

If a retaliatory pitch isn’t the answer, what is ?

Again, a bit of selective (and recent) history can help us find the answer, and we have to look no farther than Yadier Molina, who started the whole mess on August 10, 2010.

The first thing he did, and really the only one that was totally within his control, was to settle down his rookie pitcher, Jaime Garcia. If Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter were on the mound, maybe things would have played out differently, but Molina immediately took control of the game and out of the hands of Garcia. He called a normal game and let his pitcher get into a familiar routine.

The legend of Yadier Molina grew in his first at bat, when he silenced the somewhat underwhelming Cincinnati crowd by hitting a solo home run. That extended the Cardinals lead to 2-0. They would need both of those runs when the Reds answered with 2 runs of their own.

In Molina’s next at-bat, he would hit a two out single, sending Matt Holliday to third base. He would then steal second base, adding a bit of insult to the poor game that Johnny Cueto was pitching at the time. Nothing would come out of that when Skip Schumaker struck out to end the inning, but the next time the heart of the order would come up to bat, they would break the game wide open.

After a dribbler of a single by Albert Pujols and consecutive RBI doubles by Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus, it was Yadier Molina that delivered the knock-out punch with a deep sacrifice fly, scoring Rasmus who had advanced to third when his line drive double was booted. That sent Cueto to the showers and proved to be the game winning run.

As a fan of old-school baseball, I appreciate how baseball players used to police the game themselves. Occasionally it would involve a purpose pitch or two, but too often those had unintended consequences. Maybe if the pitchers today had the control of their predecessors, I might think differently – but they don’t. Instead of bean-ball, I’d like to see players do what Yadi did on August 10, 2010 and just take over the game.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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