Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is 'welcoming' a phenom really old school?

 -- by Josh Suchon

Cole Hamels admitted to intentionally hitting Bryce Harper on Sunday night. In his explanation, Hamels told reporters:

“I'm just trying to continue old baseball, because I think some people get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really, really small and you didn't say anything, because that's the way baseball is. But I think unfortunately sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not as that kind of old school, prestigious way of baseball."

Apparently, Hamels thinks that hitting a young phenom is old school, or a way of “welcoming” somebody to the big leagues.

Alright, let’s see how Harper’s first hit batsman compares to others. Harper was hit in his eight game, or 29th plate appearance.

In 2003, when Hamels was a 19 year old kid in the minors, Miguel Cabrera was a 20-year-old rookie. Cabrera was hit for the first time in the 62nd game of his career. Of course, Expos reliever Rocky Bibble also hit the previous batter, it was the seventh inning, his team was down 3-2, and those two hit batters led to two more runs.

In 1989, Ken Griffey Jr. was a 19-year-old rookie playing for the Mariners. In his first at-bat, he doubled off a pitcher known for his death stare and intimidation, Dave Stewart. In his second at-bat, Stewart didn’t hit him. Stewart didn’t hit him all game. Griffey’s first hit by pitch came in the 87th game of his career by Toronto’s John Cerutti.

Rick Monday was first overall pick of the first-ever draft in 1966. He made his debut the same year, at age 20, and wasn’t hit in 47 plate appearances. The next year, in the 54th game of his career, Monday was hit by Washington pitcher Phil Ortega.

Mickey Mantle’s debut came in 1951 at age 19. The first time he was hit by a pitch was opening day of 1955. It was Mantle’s fifth year in the majors and the 2,202nd plate appearance of his career. Was Washington pitcher Mickey McDermott trying to preserve an old-school way, five years late? Was he sending a message to Mantle, after he homered off him 19 months earlier?

In 1905, a hot-headed rookie named Ty Cobb made his debut at age 18. In 164 plate appearances, not a single pitcher felt the need to “welcome him to the majors” by plunking him. He was hit three times the next year, but Play-by-play doesn’t exist for which game it was.

Admittedly, this is a small sample size. It doesn’t account for “brush-back” pitches because, while Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference are great, they aren’t that great. It’s hard to tell intent decades later, but there’s little evidence that any of these first career HBP’s were done intentionally.

Hamels thought he was bringing “old school” back to baseball. But like most things in history, the facts don’t match the perception.

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