A pitch is thrown up and inside to a batter, grazing his neck. It’s assumed to be retribution for Cadillacing it around the bases after homering his last at-bat. Some call it chin music, but the only sound seems to be coming from the barking of the bench coach in the opposing dugout—some guy with a mustache who hit .270 in 1982 and now sleeps with a fungo bat.
“That’s horses**t. You don’t throw at a guy’s head,” he yells to the mound. To which the pitcher, wiping his brow with his hand, rubbing the baseball just returned to him, acts as if he did nothing wrong.
Perhaps he’s right.
Meanwhile, the batter can’t help but feel the rising intensity of his 50-year old bench coach yelling from his gut. ‘He’s right—this pitcher just purposefully threw at my head,’ his inner conscious rings. After all, the batter has kids and a wife, from what he remembers, throwing at his head jeopardizes more than just his career; it’s downright dangerous.
The catcher gets up from his crouch to intervene, sensing the batter—who owns the all time hits record at Cal State Dominguez Hills—is going to charge his battery mate.
The dugouts won’t stop clamoring at each other:
“The pitch was intentional!”
The dialogue pursues …
The batter draws closer to the mound. This is it. He is going to charge the pitcher, subbing verbal language for a handful of howdy and a mouth full of much obliged. The benches heighten the tensions by removing themselves from their seats, in an effort to get the stupid railing out of their way and argue their differences with the opposing team face to face, maybe hand to hand.
The event signals for the dumbest and most frustrating event in the game of baseball to undoubtedly proceed. No, not the stealing of third with two outs. No, not taking strike three with the bases loaded.
No. I’m talking about something much more destructive to the overall presentation of the game of baseball:
The clearing of both bullpens.
A dozen or so players storm out of their respective bullpen areas, tucked behind a fence like barn animals at a county fair. Like firemen heading towards a cat stuck in a tree, they collectively give their version of a sprint into the brink, as if someone asked them to be there. Meanwhile, three minutes of the game have passed by. You can bet the ranch those three minutes are about to turn into five. A pitch hasn’t been thrown. The kiss cam hasn’t been fired up. Some teenager with perfect grades at a local high school hasn’t gone on the PA System to announce the next batter.
Nothing of significance has happened, other than the clearing of a bullpen full of pitchers who grow facial hair out of boredom. They’re certainly not relevant enough to intrude into an event that at worse is an argument, at best a schoolyard fight.
Why is the bullpen emptying? It’s a question with no answer. It’s a question I’ve never heard asked.
Forget the bullpen for a second, do these players and coaches really need to leave their dugouts over the matter? Probably not, but it’s a long season and sometimes players just need to get some things off their chest. However, the question can certainly be answered as to whether the men in the bullpen are needed for this affair. That answer is incontrovertibly no.
They aren’t invested enough in the day to day to earn the right. Even if they did, most of them run to the skirmish just in time for it to be ending. Only to walk, maybe trot if we’re lucky, back to their respective pens. Another three minutes goes by—the time it takes to return to a destination given to pitchers as their penance for not be able to develop a solid secondary offering.
Or for demonstrating, appropriately enough, control issues.
Baseball has written some valuable unwritten rules, but it seems the legislation stopped sometime around the Vietnam War. We’ve seen some reminders of their existence here and there, but rarely do we see the implementation of new rules.
We’ve seen the intentional walk replaced. The neighborhood play is toast. How about a rule that actually keeps the game going?
Hockey has it: they keep their fights a one-on-one affair and end the fight when the guys hit the ground. This all from a sport that lacks a bit of self-control, but has still managed to organize its chaos.
The rule I’m putting forth for baseball is simple: players in the dugout or on the field can involve themselves as they wish in whatever skirmish or fight develops. They’ll risk suspension if they feel the juice is worth the squeeze, but for the most part, this sticks to the current system in place. However, if a player leaves the bullpen, they face an automatic ejection and five game suspension.
I understand the argument for allowing the benches to clear; this allows the numbers to even out so ostensibly there is a fair fight if it comes to it. I also understand the bullpen guys wanting to be there for their teammates. But this is 2018, the age of the 4.50 ERA. You want to get your teammates back? Retire the side in order for Pete’s sake. Wait like two seasons before you have to get Tommy John Surgery.
Get a double play.
Most of your teammates at this stage are just trying not to tear a hammy before their arbitration eligible. The emptying of the bullpen isn’t about having a guy’s back, anymore, it’s unnecessary bravado, a knee-jerk tradition most teams are programmed to engage in but no one has put in the cross-hairs and asked, ‘hey, do we really need to be doing this?’
Baseball is in the middle of targeting every second that could possibly be removed, so games lasting three hours and three minutes can be reduced to two hours and fifty nine minutes. Why not target an ancient practice that makes a handful of guys feel like a part of the team, but ultimately ends up looking like a clown factory letting out for its lunch break?
If this rule is is not to be written, I leave it up to the players, the agents of the game, whose primary mission it is to always keep the game going, to write it in amongst themselves.
Keep the bullpen for what it is: to close out the game, not to extend it for reasons no one has yet to explain.