Bean Soup With Ham(els)

During Sunday's game against the Nationals, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels drilled rookie phenom Bryce Harper during his first at bat of the game. Nothing was said at the time, no words between hitter and pitcher, and neither side was warned. Hamels was later plunked in the game whereby both sides were warned. The Hamels pitch nailed Harper square in the back between the numbers, and there was seemingly little fanfare. After the game however, Hamels admitted that he threw at Harper intentionally. Had Harper shown him up or possibly a teammate? Had Harper made comments in the media about surpassing the Phillies dynasty? Nothing of the sort. Hamels said he drilled him as a "welcome to the big leagues" type of message.

There are several things about this I don't like besides the obvious of why would you intentionally throw at a player potentially risking injury. I understand (and agree) there are circumstances in which it can be condoned. If a hitter willfully shows up a pitcher or if one of your teammates gets hit on purpose, retaliation is a tried and true part of the game that I support. To some degree, a pitcher must also assert his dominance on the mound or risk getting pounded by the opposing hitters. Indeed, history is littered with imposing figures like Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, and Pedro Martinez that would routinely throw at guys to back them off the plate. It's that sort of history that Hamels misguidedly referred to when pressed about why he threw at Harper. The rookie wasn't thrown at because he crowded the plate or was destroying Phillies pitching (0-6 in the series to that point). Hamels threw at him because he's good and he's getting crazy amounts of press coverage.

Hamels continued by alluding to the fact that he felt squeezed in the strike zone as a very young player. That sort of impish logic, that he's going to throw at Harper and 'put the rookie in his place' because he was mistreated by umpires, doesn't make sense. Hamels continued by saying the league is protecting certain players and getting away from the old-school baseball mentality. Bryce Harper had 28 at bats to that point, exactly how is the league protecting him? Assuming that you believe someone did need to teach Harper a lesson by drilling him, is Hamels really the guy with the clout to do that? Although a great starting pitcher, certainly ace material, he doesn't quite have the pedigree and career to start ministering justice to lowly rookies.

The biggest problem with the actions of Cole Hamels involves the fact he openly admitted to nailing Harper on purpose. If the intention was to send a message as he stated, enough people figured that out to satisfy the mission. No one needed to be spoon fed the rationale and decision making process behind the beaning. Harper, the object of the message, clearly understood the message. Incredibly, for as brash and cocky as his young reputation precedes, Harper handled the situation exceptionally. He ran first to third on a single by Jayson Werth and then stole home. After the game, Harper wouldn't comment on the incident except to say that Hamels is a great pitcher. Therefore, Hamels admission of intent serves no purpose except to create attention for himself. Look at me, I'm an old school tough guy pitcher, I threw at the kid on purpose. It doesn't prove he's tough or has an old-timey mentality for the game. It does, however, hurt the team as it casts more negative publicity on the team and the city as being classless and petty.

The final problem I have with this incident falls on the league reaction to the situation. The punitive action taken upon Hamels is a five game suspension. As pitchers take the mound every five days, the net result is he misses one start. Actually, if Hamels begins serving the suspension immediately, all it does really is push his next start by one day. Since he pitched Sunday, he would have pitched again Friday. Now it will have to be Saturday, causing a minor inconvenience in juggling the schedule. That isn't a punishment to push a start back one day. If the league wanted to send a message that this action is unacceptable and suspension worthy, they should have made the suspension 15 games. Making Hamels miss 2-3 starts over this would cause someone else to think before doling out false bravado rookie justice.


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